Ah, to be a billionaire and have political aspirations in America.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz wants to be president. Well, he might want to be president. Schultz used a softball interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night to indicate he's thinking about running for the White House as an independent, but he says he won't make any decision for months to come.
Schultz for now is dealing in generalities. He's "thinking deeply about his future and how he can best serve the country," according to an unnamed aide. But for the press, news that a billionaire with no background in governance and with no natural voter constituency wants to sit in the Oval Office is treated as a Very Big Deal.
Note that in one 24-hour cycle, Schultz has already garnered more TV time on ABC World News Tonight than candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders logged for the entire year of 2015, when Sanders was an announced candidate. It's true. Sanders officially launched his campaign in April 2015, and over the following eight months, ABC World News Tonight dedicated a grand total of 30 seconds of airtime to his campaign. Yet immediately following Schultz's 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, ABC World News Tonight aired a minute-plus report on the former Starbucks CEO.
Obviously, Sanders logged more network TV time during 2016 as the Democratic primary season played out. Yet Schultz, nearly two years before Election Day, is already ahead of where Sanders was in terms of coverage, and Schultz isn't even a declared candidate.
The Schultz media rollout has been eye-popping, with the billionaire sitting down for interviews with not only 60 Minutes, but CBS This Morning, CNBC, Goop, the New York Times, ABC's The View, MSNBC's Morning Joe, and NPR's Morning Edition.
Schultz has spent the week being ushered into television studios, where he's miked up for extended interviews and treated with utmost deference and respect, as well-paid journalists nod knowingly in response to his mostly detail-free answers about being a uniting centrist, whatever that is.
But why the red-carpet treatment for Schultz, especially when he's not yet willing to commit to his candidacy?
In terms of American voters, virtually nobody knows, or cares, who Howard Schultz is. He's never worked in politics, and he's done nothing in recent years to create any kind of base of awareness. Instead, he's a very rich man who has hired political aides and consultants, who have in turn booked him on television so he could talk about maybe wanting to be president someday.
For comparison, I have more Twitter followers than Schultz, and I have just as much public policy experience as he does. (Hint: none).
Schultz is clearly benefiting from our Davos-style political culture, where billionaires are automatically held up as symbols of what is right and just. And if a billionaire raises his hand and says he wants become president without facing any primary-season opponents, the media parts like the Red Sea and prepares a seat for him in front of an eager television host.
Schultz is also singing out of the same “both sides” hymnbook that the Washington press loves so much. He constantly stresses the idea that both Trump and Democrats have become dangerously out of step with mainstream America—that Democrats are just as radical as Trump, and that the two parties always represent mirror opposites of each other on the political spectrum. “Not only the fact that this president is not qualified to be the president, but the fact that both parties are consistently not doing what’s necessary on behalf of the American people and are engaged every single day in revenge politics," Schultz told 60 Minutes.
This is pure nonsense. Trump has ripped families apart at the border and housed children in cages, and Democrats have tried to stop him from doing that. Democrats are trying to contain a mad man in the Oval Office—period. End of discussion. There are no “both sides” nuances in play these days.
Schultz is simply advancing a fraudulent narrative, and the press is mostly letting him get away with it. Over and over, Schultz denounces today's "far left" Democratic Party, portraying it as a suddenly fringe operation that's no longer part of mainstream American politics. In truth, of course, Democrats just had their most successful midterm election cycle since Watergate, picking up 40 seats in the House. One could argue Democrats have rarely been more in sync with the voting public than they are today.
What's worse about the media's courteous free ride for Schultz this week is that the campaign press just did this during the 2016 campaign, when it concocted special media rules for a Republican supposed billionaire running for the White House. The media gorged on all things Trump during 2015 and 2016, with one news channel famously cutting away from candidate Hillary Clinton speaking during a debate in order to show Trump's empty podium.
Let's not do this again. This time around, let's make billionaires earn their media coverage.
Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.
This post was written and reported through our Daily Kos freelance program.