Election 2016

The Media's Worst Impulses are Responsible for 'National Disgrace' Donald Trump, Says Colin Powell

Powell: "Trump has no sense of shame.”

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - DECEMBER 20: American former Secretary of State Colin Powell attended the conference held at the Conrad Hotel on December 20, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Photo Credit: thomas koch / Shutterstock.com

You may have read about the latest hacks of Colin Powell’s emails, in which the retired top general and secretary of state called Donald Trump "racist," a “national disgrace and international pariah” and vented that “everything H.R.C. [Hillary Clinton] touches she kind of screws up with hubris.”

But the unfiltered Powell was equally vehement that the national news media’s insatiable appetite for broadcasting all things Trump is to blame for the Republican nominee leading in polls in the swing states of Ohio, Florida and Nevada.    

“I am being called by everyone re Trump,” Powell wrote in a December 2015 email to CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria. “It is time to start ignoring him. You guys are playing his game, you are his oxygen. He outraged us again today with his comments on Paris no-go for police districts. I will watch and pick the timing, not respond to the latest outrage.”

The no-go districts were a fabrication by Trump, who claimed police abroad are afraid to go into Muslim neighborhoods. The story was part of his call to bar Muslims from overseas from visiting the U.S.

“To go on and call him an idiot just emboldens him,” Powell wrote in another email, saying the press should stop giving Trump media attention, because in Trump’s shame-free universe there is no such thing as bad publicity, just dominating the news cycles.

This same dynamic played out on Thursday, just hours after Powell's hacks were headline news. Trump's campaign issued a statement walking back his racist "birther" claim that President Obama was born in Kenya and thus ineligible to be president. Trump later ludicrously blamed that controversy on Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign, another big lie, and the national political media just dropped the day's serious coverage, such as Trump's fabricated medical reports, his refusal to release tax returns, and a new prosecutorial investigation into his foundation's apparently illegal political donations. 

But as the Powell email hacks underscore, this dynamic of Trump idiocies dominating the news has been going on for more than a year. In a July 2015 email, commenting on Trump’s giving out the cell phone number of then GOP presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Powell lamented the “celebrification of society,” adding “Trump has no sense of shame.”

Powell says the mainstream media has legitimate and useful roles, but when it comes to Trump they have dismally failed. On Clinton’s private use of an email server at the State Department, he also said that the press and the Clinton campaign are missing the main point: that her handling of the episode reveals more about her character and impulses than the possibility that anything classified was somehow imperiled.    

"I have told Hillary's minions repeatedly that they are making a mistake trying to drag me in, yet they still try," he wrote to Washington lawyer Vernon Jordan. "The media isn't fooled and she is getting crucified… I had two IG [Inspector General] sessions and one FBI session. She and her staff refused to cooperate. I wrote a chapter about it in my book and am proud of what we did. She had a State Dep. guy taking care of the system and was also paying him!!! And he was an old campaign worker. Unbelievable.”

Despite Powell’s indignant frustration with Clinton and her campaign over this (he said in another email that he avoided her at a California event so reporters would not see them talking to each other), the bottom line is clear. The national political press helped empower and unleash a monstrous Republican presidential nominee in 2016.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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