Reprinted from Media Matters
Like cigarette smokers who have admitted they have a nicotine problem but can't stop puffing, can journalists who have already admitted they use a weaker standard to score Republican nominee Donald Trump make a clean break while grading the Republican's debate performance next week?
By all indications, reporters know using the double standard is wrong, and that it's not okay to demand Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton regularly clear higher hurdles than her opponent. They know adopting different standards to grade presidential candidates disregards rules of campaign fair play for the press.
Yet even though the double standard has been widely acknowledged in recent weeks, there's still a likelihood it will be employed for debate analysis. That's how strong the allure seems to be.
Already we're hearing rumblings that Clinton has more to lose at the debate, and that if Trump manages to not insult large portions of the electorate, the event will represent a victory for him. What's doubly concerning is that Trump already appears to be actively trying to intimidate the debate moderators in hopes they'll go easy on him. (According to network news executives, moderators Lester Holt from NBC and Fox's Chris Wallace were chosen to "appease" Trump.)
If Trump bullies the moderators, and the press uses a weaker standard to grade him, then the debates are no longer fair campaign fights because a media-sanctioned "victory" for Clinton will be that much harder to obtain.
"He won't have to win policy arguments or outshine Clinton's qualifications -- anyone who's been watching this race will already know he can't do either," noted U.S. News & World Report contributor Cary Gibson, who noted that Trump is "generally held to a lower bar than Clinton and this dynamic is likely to prevail during the debates." She continued, "But if he makes it through the debates with no major gaffes and his composure intact, his performance could get high marks anyway."