Could cable news TV kiss up any harder to Donald Trump?
Two weeks ago, I wrote about how sad it was to see all TV news coverage take a timid turn on Trump after the GOP candidate lashed out at Fox News show host Megyn Kelly in response to tough debate questions she had asked during the Fox GOP debate.
In the wake of fierce social-media blowback against Kelly and the cable channel, Fox News chief Roger Ailes rushed to make peace with Trump, who immediately started getting deferential coverage on "Hannity" and "Fox & Friends," the least-journalistic shows on the Fox schedule. (I'm being nice with that description of those two "Gumby" shows.)
But last week it got worse. Almost everyone on cable news had wall-to-wall Trump and couldn't be nicer to the candidate in their conversations and coverage.
The schmooziness especially rubbed me the wrong way Tuesday night when Bill O'Reilly ended an interview with Trump by asking him if it was a "fair" one.
"You're always fair, Bill," Trump said. "And I appreciate it. ... I think you're terrific."
As the two started smooching back and forth about how much they like and respect each other, O'Reilly said, "I'm worried if you're elected, I'm getting deported."
"You'll never be, Bill," Trump joked back. "We're going to try like hell to keep you."
I understand that kind of banter. In fact, O'Reilly's fluency in it is one of the things that led me to once say he is to prime-time, cable-news TV what Johnny Carson was to latenight: He's the absolute master of performance in the genre.
But, guess what? Getting deported is not a joking matter for many families living in this country, and one of the biggest talkshow hosts in cable news shouldn't be joking about a leading presidential candidate threatening mass deportations.
O'Reilly wasn't alone last week in this kind of excessive friendliness to someone a cable news host has an obligation to be vetting as vigorously as she or he can on behalf of viewers and voters.
Joe Scarborough was worse than O'Reilly in an interview he led with Trump Thursday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," talking about calling Trump up and "advising" him on his run. Scarborough also engaged in an exchange with Trump about his brother, George, having access to the candidate at the politician's then-upcoming appearance in Alabama Friday night.
I guess his brother got the access, because Saturday morning Scarborough wrote this on Facebook:
Donald invited George on his 757 after Air Trump One landed in Mobile, Alabama. My brother and his family looked around the massive plane and then Donald jumped in and said, "Your brother always wanted one of these, didn't he? ...
That Donald, what a kidder.
I'll spare you the rest. But isn't this just the kind of coziness between the political and press elites that the public says it hates? And isn't Trump supposed to not be the guy not playing that game?
The difference between Scarborough's lollipops and the solid journalistic questions asked by Chris Cuomo last week in a one-hour interview reminded me of why I stopped watching "Morning Joe" regularly in favor of CNN's "New Day" with Cuomo.
"Morning Joe" has become gasbag central in the last year or so -- heavy on attitude, bluster and act-like-you-know political bull at the expense of any meaningful conversation, information and god-forbid actual journalism aimed at enriching viewers' lives.
Cable talkshow hosts might not be considered journalists, but they have an important journalistic function in helping shape the national conversation about important issues - like who our next president is going to be.
Those hosts, that is, who have any sense of social responsibility. And no one has a larger responsibility when it comes to GOP presidential candidates than O'Reilly, the highest-rated and most influential conservative figure on cable TV.
I know it is hard to resist the ratings juice that Trump is oozing this summer. I get that.
Latest David Zurawik
But let me make a prediction: Six month from now, those who have kissed up to get him on their shows and then embarrassed themselves in the interviews with him will be sorry.