The media’s hypercritical — and often hypocritical — coverage of President Donald Trump is palpable.
The kerfuffle over Trump’s purportedly uneasy descent of a ramp at this weekend’s West Point graduation ceremony is a perfect example.
The media reports were alarming. His descent raised “new questions about his health,” according to The New York Times.
CNN chimed to say it matters because of his age and his purported lack of transparency regarding his health records.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow posted on Facebook that his appearance “generated a new round of questions” and that his explanation for the episode “appeared to be untrue.”
I’m confused. Is Trump a dangerous would-be strongman intent on bending democracy to his will, feathering his family nest and single-handedly destroying truth, justice and the American way of life?
Or he is also a doddering old man physically incapable of doing the job?
There’s only one problem with this story: It’s false.
In the video, he’s walking fine on a flat platform as he approaches the ramp. It has no handrail, so he slows down and walks carefully as he descends. He returns to walking perfectly normally when he is again on flat ground.
I’m 58, and this is exactly how I would approach such a situation to avoid falling.
This is not a story in the slightest.
Trump’s explanation is consistent with this. He tweeted that the ramp was “very long & steep, had no handrail” and “was very slippery.” The first two assertions are obviously true. Reporters, including at The Washington Post, noted that the ramp was not wet because the weather was dry and sunny. But everyone knows a ramp can be slippery for many reasons other than being wet. Lots of ramps are smooth surfaces meant to facilitate wheelchairs, which can make them slippery to people wearing leather-sole shoes like Trump was wearing.
Trump tweeted that he didn’t want a slip to become media fodder, and he was right to try to avoid that. President Gerald Ford slipped descending stairs from Air Force One while it was raining. That one, unremarkable event sparked a meme that he was clumsy, which made him the butt of jokes on the then-new “Saturday Night Live” as comedian Chevy Chase repeatedly portrayed Ford as a clumsy oaf.
So Trump walks carefully to avoid slipping — and gets criticized anyway. Damned if does, damned if he doesn’t.
Contrast that with media coverage of President Barack Obama. He slipped and almost fell on the stairs of Air Force One while president, but that did not become a national story. He tripped trying to run up some stairs at a Florida rally, but that didn’t spark national outrage, either.
Neither slip should have caused worry or concern, but then neither should Trump’s careful descent.
The media double standard is also obvious when compared with how Hillary Clinton’s health was treated. Her stumble at a 9/11 memorial event elicited media mention, but the issue was dropped once her campaign said she was being treated for pneumonia.
That was despite the fact that she had stumbled in public previously and had also been criticized by Republicans for not being transparent about her health. The media largely ignored those claims. Had she won, would the media have treated her like they have treated Trump’s nonslip?
There’s another candidate whose health deserves more scrutiny than it has received: former vice president Joe Biden. He has made verbal slips during his campaign. He told one audience he was running for the Senate earlier this year.
He’s lashed out angrily — often incoherently — at voters asking simple questions. And he’s often responded erratically and confusingly to reporters’ questions during the coronavirus lockdown — and that’s when he’s rested and in his basement.
Being president isn’t easy, and a 78-year-old man, as Biden would be if he takes office — or a 74-year-old man like Trump, for that matter — can be perfectly fit for his age and still not be up to the job.
Yet not one of these worrisome events has sparked the same level of concern from the mainstream media that Trump’s slow and uneventful walk down a ramp has elicited.
There are many reasons to vociferously oppose Trump, but a physical incapability to do the job isn’t one of them.
“Ramp-gate” is not a story about Trump’s physical health; it is a story about how unhealthy media coverage of Trump has become.