By Janet Allon AlterNet
September 30, 2016
It’s a headscratcher, really. Inquiring minds want to know: How did the race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton get so close? Paul Krugman advances a theory in Friday’s column, and expresses the fervent hope that the one-sided first debate will help to turn the tide.
One reason for that is that the debate enabled Americans to once again see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump unfiltered. Clinton exhibited “grace and even humor under pressure,” much as she did in last year’s Benghazi hearing. Trump was resplendent in his trademark “whiny braggadocio,” as Krugman puts it.
Part of the reason for the close race is extremely disturbing. “A lot more Americans than we’d like to imagine are white nationalists at heart,” Krugman concedes. “Indeed, implicit appeals to racial hostility have long been at the core of Republican strategy; Mr. Trump became the G.O.P. nominee by saying outright what his opponents tried to convey with dog whistles.”
If Trump loses, we should in no way let Republicans off the hook when they claim he was some sort of aberration.
But evil racial motivations don’t fully explain why Clinton’s poll numbers suddenly started sagging after August. Nope. Credit for that (or, rather, blame) goes to the media. Krugman writes:
[Clinton] got Gored. That is, like Al Gore in 2000, she ran into a buzz saw of adversarial reporting from the mainstream media, which treated relatively minor missteps as major scandals, and invented additional scandals out of thin air.
Meanwhile, her opponent’s genuine scandals and various grotesqueries were downplayed or whitewashed; but as Jonathan Chait of New York magazine says, the normalization of Donald Trump was probably less important than the abnormalization of Hillary Clinton.
This media onslaught started with an Associated Press report  on the Clinton Foundation, which roughly coincided with the beginning of Mrs. Clinton’s poll slide. The A.P. took on a valid question: Did foundation donors get inappropriate access and exert undue influence?
As it happened, it failed to find any evidence of wrongdoing — but nonetheless wrote the report as if it had. And this was the beginning of an extraordinary series of hostile news stories about how various aspects of Mrs. Clinton’s life “raise questions” or “cast shadows,” conveying an impression of terrible things without saying anything that could be refuted.
The Matt Lauer-moderated Commander-in-chief forum capped this trend. Clinton was hammered for her e-mails. Trump was permitted to lie freely.
But seeing the similarity between the press’s treatment of Clinton and Gore leaves Krugman to one startling conclusion: It might not be sexism that drives the coverage of Hillary. It might be more “the cool kids in high school jeering at the class nerd.” Bizarrely, Clinton was even criticized for being “overprepared” for the debate.
Try though Trump might, the debate was so lopsided as to be “unspinnable.”
Krugman believes it might have been another turning point, and recommends the media do some soul-searching for their role in bringing the country to this precipice.