Trump’s NATO threat is more serious than Biden’s gaffes. Act like it.Rex Huppke 

Gun Rights


If we’re going to argue that the level of media hysteria following the Biden news was appropriate, then the attention paid to Trump’s anti-democratic posturing should sure as hell be equivalent.

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A few days ago, one Republican special counsel declared 81-year-old President Joe Biden old and questioned his memory. The president then, in a detailed and wide-ranging news conference, misidentified the name of a world leader.

That one-two punch of news sparked a political media freakout of volcanic proportions – all hands on deck, wall-to-wall coverage. It was a cataclysm. Perhaps the end of the road for the incumbent Democratic president.

But at a campaign rally Saturday, Biden’s likely opponent, 77-year-old former president and current criminal defendant Donald Trump, made some news of his own.

Apparently thinking NATO is a social club with a membership fee, he’d encourage Russia to attack any NATO allies who “didn’t pay.”

Trump claimed that some unidentified NATO member asked him if the United States would protect them from a Russian invasion if they hadn’t met their defense spending target. Trump said he responded by giving Russia the green light: “No, I would not protect you, in fact I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want.”

That comment led NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to release a statement saying: “Any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the U.S., and puts American and European soldiers at increased risk.”

Trump’s fine with Russia invading a US ally, but Biden is old. Samesies?

Trump’s cavalier NATO comment is as ignorant as it is unhinged, and as dangerous as it is stupid. The likely Republican presidential nominee said he would encourage Russia to attack a U.S. ally, for God’s sake. That the “Republican special counsel questions Biden’s mental acuity” story received at least as much, and I’d argue considerably more, media attention is a damning indictment of our political press.

But Trump threatening to upend Western democracy was just one of the notable things he did since Biden mixed up the presidents of Mexico and Egypt.

Late Thursday night, after winning the Nevada caucus, Trump kept referring to something that had happened Tuesday night (Nikki Haley losing to “none of the above” in the Nevada primary) as though it happened “last night,” which would be Wednesday. He said it over and over.

There was no news network shock over that memory lapse.

‘Final Battle’ and hate and hate and hate

On Friday, during a rally, Trump proudly told an NRA conference, “During my four years nothing happened, and there was great pressure on me, having to do with guns.”

In the same speech he pronounced “subsidies” as “subsies” and said it was “Saturday afternoon” when it was actually Friday.

On Saturday, Trump posted on his social media site: “2024 is our Final Battle. With you at my side, we will demolish the Deep State, we will expel the warmongers from our government, we will drive out the globalists, we will cast out the Communists, Marxists, and Fascists, we will throw off the sick political class that hates our Country, we will rout the Fake News Media, we will Drain the Swamp, and we will liberate our country from these tyrants and villains once and for all!”

I assume that sounded better in the original German, but whatever. Trump’s violent, conspiratorial and bat-crap insane rhetoric registered nary a blip in terms of news coverage.

Forget the Supreme Court. Voters will be the ones to rid us of Trump.

The 2024 election has a serious both-sides problem

That’s the problem we’re facing heading into the 2024 presidential election. The special counsel report on Biden’s handling of classified documents was significant and newsworthy. It found, at least in its summary page, that he “willfully retained” highly classified information from his time as vice president, but that charges were not warranted.

(A careful read of the report shows the special counsel repeatedly noting a lack of evidence to support suggestions that Biden “willfully retained” documents, instead suggesting “other innocent explanations for the documents that we cannot refute.” And the report’s characterization of Biden’s memory amounted to a political hit job that many have argued is far outside the bounds of a special counsel report.)

Biden’s news conference gaffe in the wake of the special counsel report certainly played into the swirling questions about his mental sharpness.

Concerns about Biden are important, but Trump’s rhetoric can’t be deemed acceptable

But if we’re going to argue that the level of media hysteria following the Biden news was appropriate, then the attention paid to Trump’s repeated gaffes, memory lapses, anti-democratic posturing and description of all who disagree with him as “tyrants and villains” should sure as hell be equivalent.

And it’s not. Not even close.

Trump is a wide-open firehose of hateful, dumb and precedent-demolishing rhetoric. He is also facing more than 90 state and federal felony charges, has been found liable for sexual abuse and continues to deny the results of the 2020 presidential election, eroding the public’s faith in our democracy.

Republicans are following orders: GOP lawmakers won’t govern while Trump runs for president

The political press is putting Biden and Trump on the same footing

I’ve defended my friends and colleagues in the political press for a long time. I know how hard this profession can be, particularly on the news side where objectivity is king and opinions like mine aren’t allowed.

But the out-of-whack nature of the coverage of Biden and Trump has simply become laughable.

No news organization would be biased to treat the cruel or racist or dishonest or gibberish-y things Trump says each day as newsworthy. Trump could absolutely become president again, and anything that downplays his true nature while zooming in tighter on Biden’s issues is irresponsible and not proper news judgement. It’s a play for balance, not reality.

Biden mishandled classified documents, cooperated fully once it became clear what happened, answered hours of questions from the special counsel and couldn’t remember some stuff that happened years ago. That’s news. Report it. And questions about Biden’s age are fair game as well. People are worried about that. 

Trump as a dictator? Republicans assure us it was a joke. What could go wrong?

Treating Trump like anything less than what he is does a disservice to voters

But in the days since the report on Biden came out, Trump has done things over and over that are orders of magnitude more serious, and the lack of commensurate attention shows it’s well past time news organizations stop both-sides-ing these two people.

One is a normal candidate with ample flaws and policies some will dislike. The other is a criminal defendant who constantly shows he’s a raging narcissist and a profound threat to this country and the world.

Pretending otherwise isn’t objectivity. It’s journalistic malpractice.

Follow USA TODAY columnist Rex Huppke on X, formerly Twitter, @RexHuppke and Facebook facebook.com/RexIsAJerk

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