Last week an anti-Trump political action committee not tied to any candidate issued a Facebook ad it said was targeted at Mormon voters in Utah. The ad used one of Melania Trump’s many professional nude modeling pictures, over which was written “Meet Melania Trump. Your next First Lady. Or, you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.” Trump was a model in her career prior to marrying businessman Donald Trump. She is his third wife thus far.
This independent group is called “Make America Awesome” and is led by consultant Liz Mair. Ted Cruz was on track to win Utah by huge margins before the ad ran. The extremely low-budget ad made a splash, as ads featuring naked women tend to. As a result of the splash, some criticized it for crossing the boundary that typically prohibits political groups from going after a candidate’s family. But such lines have been obliterated by the Donald Trump campaign this year. Trump had previously disparaged Jeb Bush’s wife, among other women.
Trump’s response to the ad was to threaten Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz’s wife. He has continued to threaten to reveal negative information about her and has disparaged her looks. Cruz had nothing whatsoever to do with the ad — if he did, it would be a serious violation of federal law — and yet has spoken against it. In response, to Trump’s threats, Cruz has repeatedly told Trump to knock it off, while also defending and praising his wife, Heidi, and speaking well of Melania. Here’s an example of that:
And, for example:
So to review. An anti-Trump group unaffiliated with any campaign hit Melania Trump. Cruz denounced that attack ad that he had nothing to do with. He defended his own wife and he spoke well of of Trump’s wife.
Here are three completely dishonest ways the media are responding to this turn of events.
Ye Olde ‘Both Sides’ Template
So here’s how National Journal‘s Ron Fournier is characterizing these events:
The GOP can't get any lower, you say? Its top two presidential candidates are abusing each other's wives.
Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) March 24, 2016
This is simply not true. Trump has abused Cruz’s wife. But Cruz has praised Trump’s wife. There is not any reason to believe that Cruz has done anything that Fournier accuses him of. I asked Fournier for evidence of his incendiary claim. He didn’t provide any.
Howard Fineman offered his own tortured construction for the “both sides” canard, in which he seems to attack Cruz for simply defending his wife.
ThinkProgress characterized these events passively and generally: “Republican presidential race devolves into sexist competition over whose wife is hotter.”
CNN also used a misleading “both sides” approach, as is seen in this chyron that ran last night:
Donald Trump gets the media to dance to his tune every single time he says anything and this was yet another great example of the complete control he has over them.
Pretending Not To Know Anything About Campaign Finance Law
Fournier did put forth the rather shocking claim that Cruz was actually behind the ad. This is a claim also made by Donald Trump:
Over at the Washington Examiner, T. Becket Adams wrote an entire story on the phenomenon: “Some Fox News staff claiming incorrectly Cruz affiliated with anti-Melania Trump ad.”
Greta Van Susteren falsely accused the political action committee and Ted Cruz of having ties (This is somewhat funny, if you know who all the people behind the PAC are).
No matter how often Mair and her team explained that they did the ad, various journalists tried to confuse the issue.
To his credit, one FOX host admitted his error — on Twitter, at least:
Earlier I said a pro-Cruz PAC pushed the Melania ad. Incorrect, the group has no affiliation with Cruz & as I said, Cruz condemned it
Sean Hannity (@seanhannity) March 24, 2016
Back to Fournier:
That’s some goalpost moving there, hoss! We’ve gone from accusing Cruz of abusing Trump’s wife to then claiming he was tied to an independent PAC in violation of federal law, to, now, this. This is so mind-numbingly hackish it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s set aside Fournier’s goalpost moving (I’ve perhaps never seen goalposts moved this far). Let’s set aside the falsehood he perpetuates regarding whether Cruz had denounced the ad (he’s denounced it repeatedly). The idea that if he hadn’t done these things he did he would “own” the PAC is just illogical horsepuckey. There are thousands of PACs doing who knows what at any minute. Candidates are forbidden by law from coordinating with them. And the idea that it would be prudent of Cruz to waste time “telling donors not to donate” to this one? That’s just stupid. I can’t roll my eyes enough at this. Talk about false equivalency.
Media Demands That Cruz Not Support Trump If Nominee
Ted Cruz went to town on Donald Trump, calling him a sniveling coward for going after Heidi. You can watch it here.
NBC reporter Hallie Jackson excited many folks in the media by then asking Cruz to say he wouldn’t back Trump if he’s the nominee. Cruz responded that he’s going to handle the issue by beating him. You can watch that here:
One interesting thing about social media is to see how it creates something of an echo chamber. It is this precise issue of the pledge to back the GOP nominee that gives us a great example of that echo chamber in action. People on social media who oppose Trump hate the fact that Rubio, Kasich, Cruz and others had pledged to support Trump if he were the nominee. But off Twitter, my reporting indicates that average GOP voters are more than fine with such a pledge. In fact, before the Michigan primary, many non-Trump voters there specifically said how much they appreciated the pledge of unity. Even some non-Trump voters who said that they would never even consider voting for Trump said they were fine with the pledge. Some said it had given them comfort about the steadiness of the candidates. Others said they thought some anti-Trump activists were getting too extreme. Others said it was just a stupid distraction from the actual campaign.
I get that the media have decided that pressing candidates on whether they will continue to support Trump is their favorite thing to do, and that’s fine, but let’s spend some of that energy persistently asking Trump allies to denounce his statements against Heidi Cruz. Or let’s get some persistent questioning of the scandal-deluged Democratic front-runner, who has been avoiding press conferences for months. Or let’s just consider the fact that every campaign has declined the opportunity to back out of the nominee pledge and that this probably indicates that there is little to be gained politically by jumping to this media request. The voters that they seek to secure are different from the voters in newsrooms, after all.