The 2016 presidential race has been anything but ordinary. Patrick Healy, a political correspondent for The New York Times, emphasized this point in his discussion with Boston College students on Wednesday night in an event sponsored by the Quality of Student Life Committee.
Healy is one of the leading reporters covering the current election for the Times. He began his talk by speaking about the challenges that the publication has faced while covering the unprecedented campaign and lewd rhetoric of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“Right now, during a usual presidential campaign, 27 days to go, its two candidates who are giving the same speech over and over and over again, going to like eight swing states trying to energize whoever they’ve identified as their voters, and hope that those people get to the polls,” Healy said. “Instead, you have a 2005 video tape of Donald Trump talking about sexual assault, women, and how he can use his power as a star to grab women’s vaginas and do whatever he wants with them. This has never happened before.”
Trump’s leaked vulgar comments about sexually assaulting women presented Healy with a challenge as a journalist: how to determine the ethical boundaries of a story, and how to go about writing it in an appropriate manner. After careful consideration, the Times decided to publish Trump’s exact profane language in a front-page article last Friday.
“The feeling was that people would want to know what the words were,” Healy said. “The words that were being used by the man who is now the Republican presidential nominee, at the time he was a reality TV star, matter.”
Having covered John Kerry’s campaign in 2004 for The Boston Globe, as well as current Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s run in 2008 for the Times, Healy has extensive experience reporting on presidential elections. Healy described, however, that the unusual story of Trump’s comments is a prime example of how much more controversial this election is than those of the recent past, and how this has caused him to changed his approach to writing.
“You find yourself as a journalist wondering ‘Okay, what am I covering?’” he said, “Is this just sort of like tabloid politics? Should I be only asking about and focusing on issues, or do I need to sort of push Donald Trump on his strategy and the way that he is running?”
“This has never happened before.”
Healy continued to underscore the uniqueness of Trump’s candidacy, attributing much of his success to his fame as a businessman and television celebrity, the widespread media coverage of his campaign, and his ability to appeal to nationalist sentiments in voters.
He contrasted this with Clinton’s calculated and careful campaign. Healy underscored that while Clinton has worked to remain committed to addressing important issues, Trump has plunged the race into a lower moral ground, seeking to cut into Clinton’s lead by attacking her character.
“He’s really counting on a version of a shock-and-awe strategy to ultimately bring down Hillary Clinton as far as he can, and to energize people who want real change in America, and feel like they’re not going to get it from another politician,” Healy said.
Trump’s denigrating strategy can be seen in his promulgation of controversy surrounding Clinton’s hacked emails that were recently published by Wikileaks. Trump also worked to bring Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs back into the national spotlight.
Another unique feature of the current presidential race, Healy noted, is that many experts are still unclear about what factors will most strongly influence voters on Election Day. People may vote for a candidate for a variety of reasons—they don’t approve of the way Trump talks about women, they don’t like the Clintons, they want to see a woman in office, or they want a businessman in office.
The later part of the discussion was centered on bias in the media, with multiple students questioning Healy about the liberal bias of the Times and how the publication’s endorsement of Clinton may influence its reporting on the current election. Healy was open to addressing such concerns.
“If I felt like the Times were a hostile workplace ideologically, I might not want to work there, but I don’t get that feeling in the newsroom,” Healy said of the culture of the Times. “There is a sense of ‘this is an important story, we need to cover it,’ you know, ‘is it fair? Is it something that voters need to know?’ We have news meetings every Monday, and I’ve never found those meetings to reek of liberal bias or conservative bias. What I mean by that is, I never find the ideas to essentially be like Trojan horses for Hillary Clinton.”
Healy summarized the mission of his reporting and the Times in the current presidential race.
“In trying to decide what targets you are going to look at, the goal ultimately is to give readers as much information as we can for people to be making an informed choice when they vote,” Healy said.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor