When it comes to irresponsible rhetoric, the media have long adhered to an unbelievable political double standard. We didn’t think it was possible, but Donald Trump has managed to heighten the contradiction with his ill-considered comment last week about "Second Amendment people." To review, while riffing to the crowd in his characteristic fashion, Trump said the following: "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment. By the way . . . if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don't know." There's more than one way to interpret the comment, and none of the interpretations is flattering to the candidate. At the less-malignant end of the spectrum you could say it's just another instance of carelessly worded, crowd-pleasing stand-up. But the media almost universally settled on the most-malign reading: Trump was calling for Hillary Clinton's assassination.
We can understand not giving a provocative blowhard the benefit of the doubt, but the Washington Post went so far as to publish an op-ed condemning Trump, "Political violence is no joke." As of this writing, it is the second-most-read item on the Post's website. And the notable thing about the piece is the authorship. The Post identifies the writers up top: "William Kennedy Smith and Jean Kennedy Smith are the nephew and sister of President John. F. Kennedy and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated on June 6, 1968."
Certainly the Kennedy family has been uniquely afflicted by political violence. But the description of the authors here is woefully incomplete. Aside from his famously assassinated relatives, William Kennedy Smith is best known for having been the subject of a very public rape trial. While Smith was acquitted, three other women went public with accusations that he had also raped them, but their testimony was not admitted.
Notably, Smith was partying the night he was accused of rape with his Uncle Ted Kennedy, most notorious for having abandoned Mary Jo Kopechne, still alive, in a car he had driven off a bridge, while it sank and she drowned. Ted Kennedy didn't go back to help her and nonetheless went on to be venerated as the "lion of the Senate." After he died in 2009, former Newsweek andNew York Times editor Ed Klein said on the Diane Rehm Show, "I don't know if you know this or not, but one of [Ted Kennedy's] favorite topics of humor was indeed Chappaquiddick itself. And he would ask people, 'Have you heard any new jokes about Chappaquiddick?' " (Yes, Klein's credibility has taken some hits in the years since, but it's also undeniably true that he had a cozy relationship with Ted Kennedy.) Suffice to say, it is pretty nauseating to see the Post give a prominent platform to a man whom many suspect of committing actual acts of violence, from which to tut-tut about the rhetoric of others.
The Scrapbook has long been concerned about the rise of Trump and what he represents. If the media were genuinely distraught about him, as opposed to glorying in the unhoped-for gift to their favored candidate that his candidacy represents, they might do a bit of overdue soul-searching. Long before Trump ever arrived on the political scene, they destroyed their credibility by proffering and sanctioning unfair condemnations of rhetoric from the right while excusing irresponsible comments, not to mention actual violence, from the left. Sometimes a bit of moral authority can be useful; but they have none left.