Unlike everyone at the Al Smith dinner, CNN doesn’t know difference between roast humor and inept insults

It’s interesting how the various news media approach the task of holding up Donald Trump as if he were a boxer who the other fighter has to keep standing for two more rounds to complete the fix.

Setting a low bar for Trump, quoting Trump in stories on news developments without mentioning Hillary’s view, creating a double standard for Hillary, blaming her for mistakes also committed by her peers, ignoring the harmless contents of her emails, covering his rallies but not hers, not calling him on obvious lies—these are some of the many ways the mainstream news media has subtly helped the Republican candidate since the race began. One of the most frequently utilized techniques has been conflation, which in the 2016 presidential election consists of equating a minor fault of Hillary’s to a massive history of bad behavior by Trumpty-Dumpty.

CNN provided a seminal example of conflation in its coverage of the annual Al Smith Dinner, which supports charitable work by the New York Catholic Diocese and is typically attended by all the New York City movers and shakers. It’s a tradition to invite both presidential candidates to the dinner to give funny speeches that mildly roast themselves and their opponent.

This year, Donald Trump spoke first and he was heavily booed throughout the speech, and for good reason. After starting with a few excellent zingers, his remarks quickly devolved into insults, lies and accusations, none of which approached wit, satire or any other kind of humor.  His one success at self-deprecation really was a joke about his wife. Another time, his joke was to compare himself to Christ. You could see the uncomfortably ashen faces of the people sitting near the podium, aghast at Trump’s ugly transgressions against a convivial tradition.

By contrast, the audience loved what Hillary had to say. As everyone who watched on TV saw, she peppered her remarks with a number of self-deprecating jokes. She seemed to enjoy making fun of herself, the image the public has of her and even the false image of her created by lies that Republicans have spread about her for years. When she turned to Trump, her cracks were the essence of roast humor—always funny, and always hitting their mark, jokes that cut deep in the truth they revealed, but that always stayed on the side of humor. She delivered them with a good-natured warmth that made me think that she took time out from debate preparation to study the master of the roast, Dean Martin.

The audience loved it, applauding frequently. Some of the applause was at the humor, but sometimes it was because they agreed with the truth behind the humor. Her best moment was when she talked about the debates. “Sharing a stage with Donald Trump is like, well, nothing really comes to mind. Donald wanted me drug tested before last night’s debate. I am so flattered that Donald thought I used some sort of performance enhancer. Now, actually, I did. It’s called preparation.” After hearty laughter from the audience, Clinton did what every great comedian does: go for a topper. She said, “And looking back, I’ve had to listen to Donald for three full debates, and he says I don’t have any stamina!” The audience roared.

How surprised was I then to wake up to CNN equating the performances at the dinner by the two candidates. “They struggled to disguise the anger, bitterness and sheer open dislike that has pulsed through their recriminatory White House race, perhaps not surprisingly since he has threatened to throw her in jail and she says he’s a threat to the republic.”  CNN hits the daily double with this sentence, two conflations in one: 1) The conflation of Clinton’s good-natured ribbing which the audience ate up like grandma’s cannoli with Trump’s boorish ill-humor that the audience widely booed. 2) The conflation of Trump’s false and unsubstantiated accusations against a woman who has withstood decades of investigations with Hillary’s legitimate concern about Trump’s refusal to say he’ll agree to the election results, a concern also voiced by virtually the entire mainstream news media and many if not most Republicans. The CNN coverage ignores the applause and minimizes the humor that distinguished Hillary’s appropriate remarks with Trump’s transgressions.

I understand the craven Jimmy Fallon sucking up to a former star of the network that writes his paychecks, but what does CNN have to gain by its inaccurate portrayal of what happened? What does it gain from ignoring what was obvious to all? That we cannot compare Donald Trump’s boorishness in any way with anyone else who has run for president, at least since World War I. My guess is that CNN’s editorial board is still hell bent in denying Hillary the landslide that will produce Democratic majorities in the Senate, and maybe even the House.

Most of the other mainstream media outlets, like NBC, the New York Times and National Public Radio focused their coverage much more on the boos given to Trump’s mean-spirited remarks than on the applause and laughs Hillary got. In this regard, their approach resembled how they portrayed the debates and the commander-in-chief forum. In all instances, they focused on Trump’s bad performance, mentioning that he fell for many traps Hillary set for him, but often forget to note that Hillary was superb in her own right.

Hillary and Trumpty-Dumpty have now gone mano a mano five times, and all five times Hillary has defeated her adversary with ease, all after defeating the far more competent and visionary Bernie Sanders. If it weren’t Hillary Clinton, if she weren’t a woman, if the mainstream news media didn’t list Republican, maybe they would realize that we are seeing the political equivalent of the 1998 Yankees or American Pharoah’s run to horse racing’s Triple Crown.

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