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Opinion | Trump’s Lesson for the Media

Of all the reporters who were there, only MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt and ABC News’s Tom Llamas defended me against Mr. Trump. I was soon allowed to return to the room, where I was finally able to ask Mr. Trump some questions. David Gergen, a longtime presidential adviser, told The New York Times soon after the news conference that my exchange with Mr. Trump was going to be “one of the lasting memories of this campaign.”

After my confrontation with Mr. Trump, several journalists expressed their solidarity with me. And yet, strangely and dangerously, the incident failed to shift the media’s obsessive coverage of Mr. Trump, which over time normalized his rude, abusive and xenophobic behavior. Some members of the press seemed fascinated by the Trump phenomenon; others wrongly thought that he would soon change his ways. The prevailing attitude was something along the lines of “That’s just the way Trump is, and we have to cover him no matter what he says.”

Unfortunately, the things that Mr. Trump kept saying were fundamentally against the idea of equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. He insisted that he would build a border wall between Mexico and the United States — and that Mexico would pay for it. He said he would consider closing mosques in the United States as a way of fighting the Islamic State.

None of these odious comments, and many others like them, should have been surprising given that the same candidate, back in 2011, falsely claimed on a radio program that President Barack Obama “doesn’t have a birth certificate.”

Despite that behavior, journalists sought constant access to Mr. Trump during the campaign, and the media aired — sometimes without any criticism or context — many of his most mind-boggling comments.

All of which contributed to Mr. Trump’s surprise, poll-defying victory in the 2016 election. And yet the attitudes and behaviors that came to define Mr. Trump as president were already visible in 2015. Several journalists — especially those of us who had worked in Latin America and covered strongmen there — saw this dynamic clearly and denounced Mr. Trump. But it wasn’t enough.

At the time, I believed, as I still do, that the new normal established by Mr. Trump was great for ratings, but not for civility or democracy — and I made this clear publicly. If Mr. Trump could attack me, he could attack other journalists. And that’s exactly what he did as president, by calling certain media organizations “the enemy of the people.”

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