Maureen Dowd: Even if we hate what Trump says, we must hear it

I am gobsmacked Trump could again become leader of the US but given his landslide in Iowa, we must accept it

Maureen Dowd has a cold.


Not quite the same ring as “Frank Sinatra has a cold”, Gay Talese’s 1966 Esquire profile of the crooner.

Nonetheless, I did catch a cold in arctic Des Moines. So on caucus night, I stayed in my hotel room watching TV and munching on Cheez-Its, flipping between wins and losses in Hollywood and Iowa.


There wasn’t any custom Louis Vuitton on display in the tundra of Iowa, but there were some parallels — beyond the abysmal turnout for both shows.

The Emmys did a tribute to The Sopranos and James Gandolfini. Donald Trump, who loves to style himself as a tough mob don, facing down a Rico charge, recently bragged about a character reference he’d got from Sammy (the Bull) Gravano, once a hit man for John Gotti.

Succession, which collected a bouquet of Emmys, is a scorching dynasty drama — the kind we have seen in the Trump and the Biden clans. Accepting his awards, the show’s creator, Jesse Armstrong, referred to its inspiration, Rupert Murdoch, the cynical Aussie who created the rainforest of disinformation in which Trump has flourished.

“This is a show about family, but it’s also about when partisan news coverage gets intertwined with divisive right-wing politics,” said Armstrong.

Flipping back and forth, I couldn’t help thinking that Trump was at the wrong celebration. He shouldn’t be swanning around Iowa, flinging puerile insults at his rivals and gabbing about “nonliquid gold,” as he called corn. He should be in Hollywood, attending the Emmys as a bombastic reality TV star who leered at beautiful actresses and rated them on a one-to-10 scale. (“From the midsection to the shoulders, she’s a 10,” he once told Howard Stern about Halle Berry. “The face is a solid 8, and the legs are maybe a little bit less than that.”)

Trump shouldn’t be in the heartland, triumphantly ramping up a plug-ugly presidential campaign. He should be peacocking around the Peacock Theater, looking like a gilt statuette himself.

Even after four years of Donald the Menace in the White House, I am still gobsmacked that he could be on his way to another stint as the leader of the free world. But given his landslide in Iowa, we must accept it, no matter how ludicrous it seems.

So we’re stuck with two narcissistic, circa-80 pols in a race most of us don’t want.

One of them has been cut off from a lot of media coverage because of fears about his deteriorating performances. The other has been cut off by some media outlets over fears about his deceptive performances.

The media has been avoiding falling into Trump’s quicksand of mendacity, but it still struggles. How can it be fair without airing all the crazy garbage he spews?

He puts you in an impossible situation. Interviewing him, some say, is like interviewing a stand-up comic. You’re not asking him questions; you’re feeding him lines.

This dilemma was in evidence on Monday night when MSNBC refused to carry Trump’s victory speech at all and CNN cut away from the 25-minute remarks after 10 minutes. Fox News, of course, played it all.

Rachel Maddow said her network’s decision was “not out of spite”. It’s not personal — it’s strictly business, as Michael Corleone said. MSNBC’s business model, after all, is flaying Trump 24 hours a day.

Mark Thompson, the new CNN chief executive, is taking a different route, trying for judicious coverage. Give a representative sample; don’t take Trump in his entirety. Try to capture, rather than censor, his character. Take Trump for as long as it’s justified by news value, but no longer point the camera at him and let it run.

CNN took Trump’s rant after court in New York on Wednesday live, even though he was attacking Judge Lewis Kaplan as “nasty” and “a Trump-hating guy”, smearing E Jean Carroll some more and lamenting “election interference”. Afterwards, Jake Tapper and Elie Honig rebutted his vitriolic babble.

But there is still debate within CNN, according to the New York Times’s Michael Grynbaum. On a conference call on Thursday, an executive pushed back against Thompson, arguing that the network gave Trump too much time for the court diatribe.

Here’s the reality people don’t want to accept: Trump is likely to be one of two candidates who will be the president in 2025. Even if we despise the things he says, we’ve got to hear them. If he engages in disinformation, we need to call him on it.

The Emmys now have an ingenious device: They display the stars’ ancillary thank-yous — to management teams, for instance — on a navy blue chyron at the bottom of the screen while the winners talk. The idea is to get shorter, more heartfelt (and less boring) acceptance speeches.

Maybe we should just run a chyron under Trump at all times: No, the election wasn’t stolen ... No, your opponents aren’t “vermin” ... No, migrants are not “poisoning the blood of our nation” ... No, January 6th was not “a beautiful day” ... No, presidents should not have “total immunity” because, as we know, crooks can be president.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.