My alimentary canal got a lot of traffic this week.
“Inside Edition,” People magazine, ABC News, CNN, National Public Radio and broadcasters from Japan, Germany, Spain and Britain, among others, all took interest in me making good on my pledge to eat an entire column of newsprint if Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination. The medical-news website Stat probed the health risks I might incur and learned that newspaper ink is “less toxic than sodium cyanide.”
The most common question I was asked: Did I learn a lesson?
To this, my answer is an emphatic “yes”: Never consume newspaper with Trump wine. The stuff was undrinkable.
But the meal contained some of the best news I had ever consumed. Chef Victor Albisu from Washington’s Del Campo restaurant, using his instincts and readers’ suggestions, served me and The Washington Post’s restaurant critic, Tom Sietsema, an eight-course meal of newspaper food fine enough to be called haute-type cuisine. There was newspaper-smoked Wagyu steak, overcooked to Trump’s preferred temperature, and, to honor Trump’s fast-food tastes, a Filet-o-Fish wrapped in newspaper and fried.
Albisu artfully parodied Trump with his I-Love-Hispanics Taco Bowl with grilled newspaper guacamole and his Chinese ground newspaper and pork dumplings, spicy enough to set off a trade war. Albisu’s grilled-newspaper falafel beats the [expletive] out of all others.
Those dishes with the largest chunks of newsprint (I at one point noticed I was eating a Rolex ad) were less enticing because the paper tended to form spitballs in the mouth. But there was nothing about the experience a cordial of Pepto Bismol couldn’t fix. In the end, eating my words was perfectly palatable.
In that sense, it was a metaphor for Trump: He is unsavory, but covering him is a guilty pleasure. And this, I would argue, is the dirty secret of the news media in this election. Trump, virtually all of my colleagues in the news business agree, would be disastrous for America, and the world. But he’s good for us. Too often we tend to “vote the story” and devote lavish coverage to that which produces the most conflict, the most outrage — and the largest audience. And he can’t be ignored: He’s the presumptive GOP nominee.
But this doesn’t mean he deserves to be treated as if he were Mitt Romney, John McCain or George W. Bush. He is fundamentally different, operating outside of America’s democratic values and constitutional restraints. He talks about torturing detainees and killing the innocent relatives of terrorists. He talks about restricting First Amendment freedoms to make it easier to sue those who criticize him. He talks of banning an entire religion from entry into the United States and forcing those here to register with authorities, as was done in 1930s Germany. He winks at the violence at his events. His words have rallied millions against immigrants, Latinos, African-Americans and the disabled. Studies of his language and the attitudes of his followers show he has more in common with fascist leaders than Americans have seen at this level.
Now Trump is attempting to normalize himself, assuming voters have short memories. A large number of Republicans are cravenly choosing party unity above decency. And we in the media need a gut check (even as mine is full of wood pulp): Do we continue to give him endless airtime, essentially free ads? Let him phone into TV shows instead of questioning him rigorously? Scrape the bottom of the barrel to find pro-Trump voices in the name of balance?
This isn’t about ideology; Trump is opposed by intellectuals on the right as much as on the left. Nor is it about an out-of-touch establishment: It’s not an “elite” position to say that Trump is fooling supporters by pretending a 45 percent tariff against China or a border wall paid for by Mexico will solve their problems, or that Trump is lying when he says he’ll eliminate the federal debt while also cutting taxes, increasing defense spending and protecting entitlements.
Trump didn’t win the nomination because most Americans, or even most Republicans, support him. I had to eat my words because feckless Republican leaders were too splintered to provide voters a viable alternative.
Thanks to Chef Victor, eating those words was painless — pleasurable, almost — and I remain confident that the American voter will get it right about Trump in the end. But if my colleagues in the media continue to treat Trump as a legitimate democratic figure — well, that would be a recipe for ruin.
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.