Eat­ing my words

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Dana Mil­bank

— My al­i­men­tary canal got a lot of traf­fic this week.

In­side Edi­tion, Peo­ple mag­a­zine, ABC News, CNN, Na­tional Pub­lic Ra­dio and broad­cast­ers from Ja­pan, Ger­many, Spain and Bri­tain, among oth­ers, all took in­ter­est in me mak­ing good on my pledge to eat an en­tire col­umn of newsprint if Don­ald Trump won the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion. The med­i­cal-news web­site Stat probed the health risks I might in­cur and learned that news­pa­per ink is “less toxic than sodium cyanide.”

The most com­mon ques­tion I was asked: Did I learn a les­son?

To this, my an­swer is an em­phatic “yes”: Never con­sume news­pa­per with Trump wine. The stuff was un­drink­able.

But the meal con­tained some of the best news I had ever con­sumed. Chef Vic­tor Al­bisu from Washington’s Del Campo restau­rant, us­ing his in­stincts and read­ers’ sug­ges­tions, served me and The Washington Post’s restau­rant critic, Tom Si­et­sema, an eight-course meal of news­pa­per food fine enough to be called haute-type cui­sine. There was news­pa­per-smoked Wagyu steak, over­cooked to Trump’s pre­ferred tem­per­a­ture, and, to honor Trump’s fast-food tastes, a Filet-o-Fish wrapped in news­pa­per and fried.

Al­bisu art­fully par­o­died Trump with his I-Love-His­pan­ics Taco Bowl with grilled news­pa­per gua­camole and his Chi­nese ground news­pa­per and pork dumplings, spicy enough to set off a trade war. Al­bisu’s grilled-news­pa­per falafel beats the [ex­ple­tive] out of all oth­ers.

Those dishes with the largest chunks of newsprint (I at one point no­ticed I was eat­ing a Rolex ad) were less en­tic­ing be­cause the pa­per tended to form spit­balls in the mouth. But there was noth­ing about the ex­pe­ri­ence a cor­dial of Pepto Bis­mol couldn’t fix. In the end, eat­ing my words was per­fectly palat­able.

In that sense, it was a metaphor for Trump: He is un­sa­vory, but cov­er­ing him is a guilty plea­sure. And this, I would ar­gue, is the dirty se­cret of the news me­dia in this elec­tion. Trump, vir­tu­ally all of my col­leagues in the news busi­ness agree, would be dis­as­trous for Amer­ica, and the world. But he’s good for us. Too of­ten we tend to “vote the story” and de­vote lav­ish cov­er­age to that which pro­duces the most con­flict, the most out­rage — and the largest au­di­ence. And he can’t be ig­nored: He’s the pre­sump­tive GOP nom­i­nee.

But this doesn’t mean he de­serves to be treated as if he were Mitt Rom­ney, John McCain or Ge­orge W. Bush. He is fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent, op­er­at­ing out­side of Amer­ica’s demo­cratic val­ues and con­sti­tu­tional re­straints. He talks about tor­tur­ing de­tainees and killing the in­no­cent rel­a­tives of ter­ror­ists. He talks about re­strict­ing First Amend­ment free­doms to make it eas­ier to sue those who crit­i­cize him. He talks of ban­ning an en­tire re­li­gion from en­try into the United States and forc­ing those here to reg­is­ter with au­thor­i­ties, as was done in 1930s Ger­many. He winks at the vi­o­lence at his events. His words have ral­lied mil­lions against im­mi­grants, Lati­nos, African-Amer­i­cans and the dis­abled. Stud­ies of his lan­guage and the at­ti­tudes of his fol­low­ers show he has more in com­mon with fas­cist lead­ers than Amer­i­cans have seen at this level.

Now Trump is at­tempt­ing to nor­mal­ize him­self, as­sum­ing vot­ers have short mem­o­ries. A large num­ber of Repub­li­cans are cravenly choos­ing party unity above de­cency. And we in the me­dia need a gut check (even as mine is full of wood pulp): Do we con­tinue to give him endless air­time, es­sen­tially free ads? Let him phone into TV shows in­stead of ques­tion­ing him rig­or­ously? Scrape the bot­tom of the bar­rel to find pro-Trump voices in the name of bal­ance?

This isn’t about ide­ol­ogy; Trump is op­posed by in­tel­lec­tu­als on the right as much as on the left. Nor is it about an out-of-touch es­tab­lish­ment: It’s not an “elite” po­si­tion to say that Trump is fool­ing sup­port­ers by pre­tend­ing a 45 per­cent tar­iff against China or a bor­der wall paid for by Mex­ico will solve their prob­lems, or that Trump is ly­ing when he says he’ll elim­i­nate the fed­eral debt while also cut­ting taxes, in­creas­ing de­fense spend­ing and pro­tect­ing en­ti­tle­ments.

Trump didn’t win the nom­i­na­tion be­cause most Amer­i­cans, or even most Repub­li­cans, sup­port him. I had to eat my words be­cause feck­less Repub­li­can lead­ers were too splin­tered to pro­vide vot­ers a vi­able al­ter­na­tive.

Thanks to Chef Vic­tor, eat­ing those words was pain­less — plea­sur­able, al­most — and I re­main con­fi­dent that the Amer­i­can voter will get it right about Trump in the end. But if my col­leagues in the me­dia con­tinue to treat Trump as a le­git­i­mate demo­cratic fig­ure — well, that would be a recipe for ruin.

Dana Mil­bank is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at danamil­bank@ wash­post.com.

WASHINGTON

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