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Monday, September 05, 2016

That depressing media story

by digby

When I first started writing online many moons ago, the issue that drove me to it was the fact that we were dealing with impeachment and a stolen election substantially because the media was putting their thumbs on the scales in our politics in ways that enabled a malevolent right wing force to take advantage. I never thought they were right wing themselves, simply that they found it easier to capitulate to the right's pressures and were far too willing to chase the narratives the right helpfully provided for them. This helped pave the way for some horrifying disasters --- the Iraq war and the financial crash among them. It has certainly prevented real progress and led to cynicism. And they simply don't seem to be able to see it. (What's even more depressing is the fact that so many people who are able to see media malpractice when it comes to government malevolence can't see it when it comes to political coverage.)

Anyway, James Fallows has written an important post about the media at The Atlantic that you should read. Here's an excerpt:

Twenty years ago I published a book called Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. The Atlantic ran an excerpt as a cover story, called “Why Americans Hate the Media.”

The main argument was that habits of mind within the media were making citizens and voters even more fatalistic and jaded about public affairs than they would otherwise be—even more willing to assume that all public figures were fools and crooks, even less willing to be involved in public affairs, and unfortunately for the media even less interested in following news at all. These mental habits of the media included an over-emphasis on strife and conflict, a fascination with the mechanics or “game” of politics rather than the real-world consequences, and a self-protective instinct to conceal limited knowledge of a particular subject (a new budget proposal, an international spat) by talking about the politics of these questions, and by presenting disagreements in a he-said/she-said, “plenty of blame on all sides” fashion now known as “false equivalence.”

I could explain it more, or I could suggest you go read the article. (It’s free, but it never hurts to subscribe!)

Through the rise of Donald Trump, I’ve been watching to see how these patterns of mind might reassert themselves, particularly in the form of normalizingTrump.

That is: The argument of the previous 90-odd entries in this series is that Donald Trump is something genuinely new in the long history of major party nominees. He has absolutely no experience in public office. Almost every day he says or does something that by itself would have disqualified previous nominees. He does not have policies so much as emotional stances. What he has done renders irrelevant the normal “Trump says, but critics answer” approach to journalism. Donald Trump says, “Mexico will pay for that wall!” All relevant figures in Mexico say, “Like hell we will.” And Trump says it again the next day.

There's a lot more and it's all important. But what he says about all this making people jaded is very important. It's not just the press, of course. We're in the middle of an epic hangover from the economic crisis and people are still feeling the pain. It takes a while to work that out an the political ramifications of big jolts like that can be huge. So, a lot of this is real --- or it's sincerely felt anyway.

But the way the media is covering this campaign is making things worse. And, as usual, they seem not to give a damn.

Here are a few more pieces you should read on this subject if you're wondering why it feels as if the media is operating on another dimension right now:

Paul Krugman: Hillary Clinton gets Gored

Josh Marshall: About as clear cut as they get

And this, from some months back from Jonathan Allen: The Five Unspoken Rules for Covering Hillary Clinton

That last link may be the most important. This isn't some crazy partisan delusion. It's real.