Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Yes, it's all about them
Please read this whole piece by Brian Beutler responding to the criticism of the press in this election. He acknowledges that it's complicated and that journalists have a number of different ways of looking at this.
And he has deconstructed something important which I've been harping on with my facile little bon mot "it's all about them":
The press is not a pro-democracy trade, it is a pro-media trade. By and large, it doesn’t act as a guardian of civic norms and liberal institutions—except when press freedoms and access itself are at stake. Much like an advocacy group or lobbying firm will reserve value judgments for issues that directly touch upon the things they’re invested in, reporters and media organizations are far more concerned with things like transparency, the treatment of reporters, and first-in-line access to information of public interest, than they are with other forms of democratic accountability.
That’s not a value set that’s well calibrated to gauging Trump’s unmatched, omnidirectional assault on our civil life. Trump can do and say outrageous things all the time, and those things get covered in a familiar “did he really say that?” fashion, but his individual controversies don’t usually get sustained negative coverage unless he is specifically undermining press freedom in some clear and simple way.
Even then, though, the press has no language for explicating which affronts to press freedom are more urgent and dangerous than others. All such affronts are generally lumped together in a way that makes it unclear whether the media thinks it’s worse that Trump blacklists outlets and wants to sue journalists into penury or that Clinton doesn’t like holding press conferences.
The result is the evident skewing of editorial judgment we see in favor of stories where media interests are most at stake: where Clinton gets ceaseless scrutiny for conducting public business on a private email server; Trump gets sustained negative coverage for several weeks when his campaign manager allegedly batters a reporter; where Clinton appears to faint, but the story becomes about when it was appropriate for her to disclose her pneumonia diagnosis; where because of her illness, she and Trump will both be hounded about their medical records, and Trump will be further hounded for his tax returns—but where bombshell stories about the ways Trump used other people’s charity dollars for personal enrichment have a hard time breaking through.
News outlets are less alarmed by the idea that Trump might run the government to boost his company’s bottom line, or that he might shred other constitutional rights, because those concerns don’t place press freedoms squarely in crosshairs. Controversies like his proposal to ban Muslim travel into the U.S., create a deportation force to expel millions of immigrants, and build a wall along the southern border are covered less as affronts to American values than as gauche ideas that might harm his poll numbers with minorities. Trump’s most damaging scandal may have been his two-week political fight with the Khan family, but even there, the fact that Trump attacked the Khans’ religious faith was of secondary interest to questions like whether attacking a Gold Star family of immigrants would offend veterans and non-whites who might otherwise have voted for him.
Against that backdrop, it’s no surprise that when liberal intellectuals argue the press’ coverage of Trump and Clinton is out of whack, in ways that imperil the democracy itself, members of the media don’t see a world-historical blindspot that must be urgently corrected. They see an attack on the trade itself—and reflexively rush to protect it.
This is very, very important. Right now the press is in a defensive crouch because they are getting a lot of grief on social media for their coverage. In my view, it's completely justified. This is turning into a story that rivals the "spite girls" nonsense in 2000 which pathologized Al Gore as delusional and bizarre and valorized George W. Bush as a regular dude. The subconscious motives for this had a lot to do with the fact that the media wanted to make Gore pay for their own failure to take down Clinton. It's a different set of dynamics, but the press is doing the same thing --- putting its finger on the scale. And it has to do with their own set of issues with the candidates.
They think they are representative of "the people," which is the central thesis of what I call The Village. Once you see this, you realize that it's always all about them. Normally, the country can just work through this, but we have an existential threat in Donald Trump and it must be challenged.
Right now reporters are blaming the voters (even as they mau-mau Clinton for ... blaming voters) and insisting that they have nothing to do with Trump's rise. That's simply incorrect. I know that covering Trump is extremely difficult for a straight reporter. He is unique in politics and flouts any rules that might apply. But the reaction to that is to turn their frustration away from him, since it's confusing and difficult to understand, and demand satisfaction from his more traditional rival, who also happens to be the target of right wing character assassins handing them an easy story line. They are doing a bad job at the wrong time.
Trump is not a politician. He's something else. And the media needs to stop navel gazing and recognize this. We're seeing some of that from editorial boards and pundits who are usually pretty invested in the "both sides do it" narratives. But straight reporters (and I assume their editors) are letting the country down right now. This isn't an ordinary election. And the polls are too close for comfort.
digby 9/13/2016 02:00:00 PM