Can media influence the outcome?
It was J. Edgar Hoover, the apparently puritan FBI Director, who had let his agents secretively investigate the love life of John F. Kennedy before and after his marriage and supply the findings to the press and Richard Nixon to destroy Kennedy politically. Hoover came to know way back in 1942 about an illicit affair between JFK and a married woman named Inga Arvad, a columnist for The Washington Post. He had asked his boys to bug her house for months. He began to hate JFK more after his affair with Hollywood heartthrob Marilyn Monroe became public.
Hoover often used the moral card to prove that John and Robert Kennedy were not fit for the high offices they were holding. His hatred for the brothers became almost pathological and many researchers pointed fingers at him after John Kennedy's assassination. In his book Enemies: A History of the FBI, author Tim Weiner wrote:
"Hoover's knowledge of JFK's private conduct and RFK's political conspiracies were potentially lethal political weapons. He brandished them now. He let the president and the attorney general know that he knew they had committed moral sins."
Years later, another politician, a Democrat, who many believed had the possibility of becoming the president of the United States of America if only media had not gone after him with such dogged determination. A brilliant politician, Gary Hart's popular support started to dwindle precariously when media ran stories of the married politician having an affair with a young woman named Donna Rice. The couple's intimate photo on a yacht was published in major newspapers of the country as proof of his secret affair.
But many of his staff members believed that voters were not as interested in the topic as the media was. Interestingly, a Gallup Poll conducted that week for Newsweek, showed that 55 percent of Democrats believed that Hart had been truthful, and 44 percent of them were unconcerned. Majority of the people thought the media treatment of Hart was "unfair", and 70 percent disapproved of covert surveillance by the media. Many even thought marital infidelity had little to do with a president's ability to govern. The poll result conducted by the Time magazine was equally interesting. Of those polled, "67 percent disapproved of the media writing about a candidate's sex life, and 60 percent stated that Hart's relationship with Rice was irrelevant to the presidency." The then Governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, commented that there were "skeletons in everybody's closet."
On May 8, 1987, only a week after the story was published, Gary Hart suspended his campaign saying that he wanted to save his family and friends from the onslaught of the press. Hart later recalled, "I watched journalists become animals, literally." New York Times wrote: "The system had gone out of control."
What is media doing to Donald Trump? Again, true to its nature, it is picking up anything that has a sexual tilt. Already his explicit comments on women have gone viral on the net, making many of his supporters blush under heavy makeup. But Trump remains unrepentant and he seems to be oblivious of the embarrassments he is causing to his family, no matter how collectively expressionless they may look sitting on the sidelines in his meetings.
Trump does not need the entire media to take him down. Bill Maher is enough to invalidate him with his sharp and comical presentation of the Republican candidate. Maher has not spared any vile language to describe Trump's idiosyncrasies in his show. He even went as far as questioning, jokingly though, whether Trump inherited his orange hair from an Orangutan! He again jokingly declared that if Trump could produce his birth certificate to prove that his ancestors were not Orangutans, he would give him five million dollars! It was a provocation and Donald Trump did not hesitate to get provoked. He produced a hurriedly prepared certificate to prove that all his ancestors were regular humans and then sued Maher for five million dollars! The whole thing became the topic of more sinister laughter in Maher's show the following week. Sensing his mistake, Trump withdrew the case.
Donald Trump, with his weird and often clownish facial expressions and gestures, his banal jokes, pathetic attempts at analysing world politics and the economy of his country, his conspicuous lack of knowledge of elementary geography and history and on top of all, his gutter-level comments on women, has done more damage to himself than has been done by Bill Maher or anyone else. Donald Trump does not know when and where to draw the line. As such, no one was very surprised when actor Robert De Niro, after calling him a "stupid, dog, punk and a pig", said, "I would like to punch Trump in the face".
Donald Trump has possibly shot the last arrow from the bow by raising his concern about the possibility of the election being rigged. He claimed that the presidential election was being rigged against him, and not only that, he even showed the temerity of questioning the legitimacy of the US political process! Many feel this could be his way of preparing a strategy if he loses on November 8. Analysts term this strategy as "dangerous".
In a series of tweets, Donald Trump said repeatedly that US media were rigging the election by dishing out stories of him making unwanted sexual advances on women. He claims, "The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary. Election is being rigged by the media, in a coordinated effort with the Clinton campaign, by putting stories that never happened into news! "
Trump seems to have a trusted friend in none other than Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, who told CNN that "Democratic districts are known for counting the votes of dead people."
In his own words: "You want me to say that I think the election in Philadelphia and Chicago is going to be fair? I would have to be a moron to say that. I'm sorry. Dead people generally vote for Democrats rather than Republicans."
Donald Trump's running mate Mike Pence said the following in an attempt at damage control: "Elections always get pretty rough," he said, but that the US has a tradition of " peaceful transfer of power".
On the other hand, Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, cracked, "Mr. Trump was swinging at every phantom of his own imagination because he knows he's losing".
Well, one does not have to be a brilliant analyst to deduce that Donald Trump has dug many trenches in his own backyard so he has to be extra cautious while venturing out there. He has played almost all his cards against a tougher if not better opponent. Now, only a strong trump card can save him from total disgrace. And blaming the media will not help much.
The writer is Special Supplements Editor, The Daily Star.