Paleo Retiree writes:
As a former MSM flunky, I spent much of the campaign marveling at how clueless and often plain wrong the establishment press coverage of the election was. The reporting was so out of touch with middle America, and the commentariat was so obviously shilling for Hillary, that the election results have been as much of an embarrassment to the press as they were to Clinton. Yet during the campaign itself acquaintances in the business were arguing to me that what was wrong with their coverage was that it needed to be even more aggressively pro-Hillary and anti-Trump than it was …
Why did so many outlets fail entirely to probe such basic questions as: What was the significance of the Trumpening? What nerves was the Trump campaign hitting? What uncomfortable but interesting fault lines and issues were being unearthed and revealed? How fed up were many people with the Democratic and Republican establishments, and why?
One of my own principles — not just journalistic but personal — is that if something comes along that demonstrates real impact and resonance, it’s idiotic, unprofitable and sometimes even offensive to simply dismiss it. Instead, you open yourself up to it, and you probe it. No matter what your own particular tastes and inclinations are, you try to summon up some sincere interest in it and make some respectful sense of it. Yet, even while hundreds of bloggers, commenters, Twitterers and Facebook posters were sharing eloquence, brains, insight, humor and ideas, there was hardly any such attempt happening in the MSM.
And, not for the first time, I often found myself wondering why so many in today’s media are so quick to use racism/sexism/xenophobia as an all-purpose way to explain the motivations of people who see things differently than they do. There’s something about a PC education that seems to switch curiosity, not to mention brains, off. I suspect that it must be the “we have an easy, quick explanation for every bad thing that happens on earth!!!” factor.
The coverage was such a disgrace that, since Trump’s victory, it’s left me wondering about two different questions:
- Will 2016 go down as representing the end of the traditional MSM in the same way that it has spelled an end to Hillary’s political ambitions (as well as, we can hope, an end to the recent incarnations of the Democrat and Republican parties)?
- Given that the establishment press isn’t about to abandon its business or its position in society without a fight, what will their efforts to redeem themselves and to win back our trust look like?
In any case, I’m pretty certain that the old “we will supply you with fair and balanced coverage” understanding that the establishment American media used to share with the public has been violated once and for all. The pretence was always a bit of a joke. Nothing’s really objective, after all; everything, even raw information, comes with some kind of point of view attached to it. Nonetheless, the “objective journalism” contract kept a lot of people’s behavior in check and delivered, in the midst of all the pomposity and dross, a fair amount of good work and even glories. But a binding contract once violated ceases to be a binding contract at all, and the internet has made it possible for everyday people to see through the press as easily as they can see through the politicians. So maybe from here on out, all American journalism will be openly partisan.
FWIW, and assuming that I’m actually on to something: while I see the end of “objective journalism” as an interesting development, I don’t see it as a tragedy. In many other countries all news coverage is openly partisan, yet these societies function well enough. The non-dumb news fan simply knows to compare and contrast three or four different sources (left, right, monarchist, socialist, whatever) before assembling an impression of what may really be going on.
A personal note: In my small, non-political way I had my own experience of all this. For a couple of decades my beat was the publishing and showbiz cultural worlds, mainly based in New York City. I explored, I poked around, I learned, I compared notes with people in the fields, I noticed much and I even came to make sense of a few things … My experience left me with observations and information — stories — that I wanted to share, stories that I thought the public deserved to know about, and that I was well-equipped to tell. But my MSM bosses turned down 99 out of 100 of the story ideas I pitched to them. In the rare cases when they did let me run with a story, they often diluted it or wrecked it before publishing it. What they wanted — and ordered — me to do instead of share my knowledge and discoveries was go out and help them sell the lies and myths about the cultural world that they were comfortable with and approved of.
Short version: I had useful and interesting stories to tell the public about the cultureworld and the culturebiz — and my bosses in journalism actively prevented me from telling them. That wasn’t their intention, granted — but so far as the impact of their behavior went (and so far as the content we were presenting to our readers went) it might as well have been. That’s why, when blogging technology came along, I eagerly took it up. My initial motivation was simply to share what I’d found out about the world — to tell the truth — as simply, directly and amusingly as I could. A pleasing irony was that I did most of my blogging during slow hours in my work office. I took a lot of perverse pleasure in keeping my mouth buttoned up and putting on a deadpan facial expression during meetings when higher-ups ridiculed this new-fangled “blogging” thing and wondered why it was taking off so spectacularly. Fuck ’em, you know? Once I had the tools to express myself and connect with others directly and cheaply, I lost all interest in trying to force my observations and ideas through the old channels.
Fun fact: So far as cemographics and education went, my bosses and colleagues were generally indistinguishable from Democratic Party staffers and bigshots. One time I was in Nashville for a story — a good story (about the advent of print-on-demand technology) that turned into yet another one of my ideas that didn’t finally run in the magazine. I was crossing my hotel’s lobby when a swirl of people moved past me in the opposite direction. They were such familiar types that I had the distinct feeling that I was among fellow MSM staffers. When I asked at the front desk who they were, I learned that they were Al Gore’s staff, in town for a few days.
The point of this anecdote: National news people and Democratic Party people are, practically speaking, the same kinds of people. They come from the same backgrounds, they attend the same schools, they share the same attitudes … Even their kids are friendly with each other. (You’ll have to trust me on this.) I take all the above as evidence that these people — often very bright, nearly always hard-working, and often likable as individuals — do in fact inhabit a bubble, far from the realities that 80% of the country is living, and sharing mental space and opinions largely with each other.
And here’s a factor that I haven’t seen discussed openly enough: the youth of many of the people who are working at media outlets these days. As the traditional media have struggled to adapt to the internet age, these businesses have, over and over again, shed their older, better-paid staffers and filled desks with younger workers. Upside: the youngsters are eager, bright, forward-looking and technologically savvy. Downside: they may be competent and energetic but they’re often excessively eager to please as well as plain vapid, not just because of their youth but because of their PC educations. They have no skepticism or experience. If we as readers and viewers have a sense that American news outlets are sounding ever more wet-behind-the-ears and shallow, it’s likely that one factor has been that many of the well-seasoned old-timers who gave the old outlets some worldliness, cynicism and depth aren’t around to take part in the process any longer. These days, the public discussion really is often being conducted by people whose mental and emotional age is around 13.
- An eloquent scolding from Glenn Greenwald: “The institutions and elite factions that have spent years mocking, maligning, and pillaging large portions of the population — all while compiling their own long record of failure and corruption and destruction — are now shocked that their dictates and decrees go unheeded.”
- Sharp stuff from Thomas Frank: “Democratic leaders made Hillary their candidate even though they knew about her closeness to the banks, her fondness for war, and her unique vulnerability on the trade issue – each of which Trump exploited to the fullest.”
- As well as from Naomi Klein: “The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned.”
- Robert Reich blames the Dems for losing track of the working class.
- Ann Coulter is no dummy.
- Steve Sailer has been sensational.
- Scott Adams has brought a lot of weird-but-shrewd, Aspie-style brilliance to his discussions.
- Reason’s Robby Soave wonders to what extent Trump’s victory represents a reaction against political correctness.
- Some amusingly self-righteous chestbeating and grandstanding from Salon.
- A terrific piece from the New York Times’ Jim Rutenberg.
- More from him. I’ll note that Rutenberg is in his mid-40s and has had a lot of experience delivering old-fashioned shoe-leather-style reporting: gossip, local politics — even what Wikipedia calls “the transit beat”!
- Some more first-class MSM soul-searching.
- Milestone du jour.