The MSM Crackup

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.

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Books Publishing and Writing, Personal reflections, Politics and Economics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to The MSM Crackup

  1. karlub says:

    The NYT piece from Rutenberg noodling why major media have become so out of touch is on a platform that does not allow reader comments. Well, uh, I have one thought, editors…


  2. ironrailsironweights says:

    I found the best campaign coverage to be on 538. Not just leading up to the election, but on Election Day itself via their live blog.



  3. Thursday says:

    Naomi Klein: “The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned.”

    Klein wants this just to be about economics, while neglecting the social side of things. But all the hating on white men we’ve seen over the past few years was another big part of why people turned to Trump.

    And the two things go together. Nobody really cares about the working class as such, because it mostly consists of blue collar white guys.


  4. JV says:

    I agree with all of this, and appreciate the links to other articles on the subject. But Coulter? I clicked on that link thinking, OK, maybe she wrote something worth reading in between all the utter sensationalistic bullshit she normally writes. But all she did was come up with a bunch of false equivalencies, starting from the first one where she compares Trump grabbing pussies to Beyonce and Miley Cyrus singing about their own. There’s a pretty big difference there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can see your point, of course. But I don’t think that the comparison strikes a lot of people as invalid. As a Facebook friend says, “If Jennifer Lopez bends over and shows off her ass to a crowd, that’s a Hillary-approved and feminist act. If Trump looks at what she’s doing and says, ‘Hey, great ass,’ that’s an outrage.”


      • plwinkler says:

        If Trump merely ogled women and wolf whistled, it wouldn’t matter. But he told Billy Bush that he liked to physically force himself on women without consent with impunity because he’s big enough to get way with it. Saying “I’d like to grab her ass” and actually grabbing her ss are two clearly different things.


  5. JV says:

    From Rutenberg’s piece:

    “Data journalism is no substitute for copious shoe-leather reporting.”

    That’s a major point, there. There’s been great work done with data journalism, particularly at the NYT. But it can and does play into all the shortcomings of people who spend their days glued to a monitor. To borrow your term, it’s an aspie way of viewing the world, where “empirical” data trumps (oh boy, we’re gonna need another word) people’s lived experiences. That mindset coupled with the extreme youth seen in most newsrooms results in shrill, narrow reporting.


    • Agree totally. I wonder if “data” strikes the people in charge as objective and therefore more trustworthy than instincts and experience do. Of course, they’ve also rid the newsroom of just about everyone who has any decent experience and instincts …


      • JV says:

        Yep. I’m also amused at the utter betrayal people are expressing over how the media got so much so wrong. Sure, the media blew it, but I can’t fathom how people can put so much faith in pundits and prognosticators. They haven’t yet learned probably the most valuable lesson one can learn: nobody knows what the hell they’re doing or what’s coming next. Once the realization sinks in, one can sit back and enjoy the spectacle and be discerning about what to believe and what not to.


  6. When I’ve told people I don’t care about publishing anymore because editors and publishers change or suppress what I write if it doesn’t agree with their opinion (which it rarely does), I’m rebuked for rebellion and being out of step. Luckily I’m old and tough. And now you let me know I’m not alone. You already know I longform blog at, which I consider “a body of work” as much as what’s on a bookshelf.

    For several years now I’ve run across the opinion that we’ve exhausted our institutions to the point where we’re excluding the people and energy we need. This is not coming from political sources but from environmental, social action, new economy, literary, and even religious sources. We may have gone beyond nationalism and treaties. Copyright is worthless. Taxation is unenforceable. Much of our hybrid and stealth culture is totally undetected, much less included.

    But what comes after democracy? What do we call it?

    Prairie Mary


    • Questions du jour, for sure.


      • Now I’m thinking about recent experience with “” The idea was to provide a great platform for great writing, which they thought was just waiting for a way out of the slush pile, out from under those suppressive editors. The search for content was on. But posting essays there kept going two screwy ways.

        The first one was that the techies kept fiddling around so that today you could do this or that and tomorrow you could not. I spent a LOT of time trying to figure out where the underlining or font change went. They were so concerned about “appearance” that they advised me to changed my avatar picture to something less grim, because smiles get readers and the point was more readers. Hilary just looked grim a lot of the time — then when she was advised to smile, she started doing that Francis the Mule gaping grin.

        The other was that everyone kept reverting to Facebook, trying to make little friendship circles and share therapy stories. Soon that backfired and skirmishes got ugly. There’s something in the character of these millennials that comes from the way they were raised as an isolated generation. Maybe daycare. They do NOT trust their parents or their grandparents or any other seasoned old wise folks who could tell them anything. They have that trait in common with Trump.

        Prairie Mary


  7. plwinkler says:

    My significant other nagged me to put some election coverage on TV on election night. So I streamed NBC’s YouTube channel and here were the panel of pundits gathered around the news desk: Right wing radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, Trump surrogate Rudy Giuliani and former Bush administration PR flack Nicole Wallace. So liberal, so liberal, as Trump himself might have put it.

    If there was indeed a disparity in the amount of coverage Clinton and Trump received from the mainstream press, it can be easily explained without resorting to liberal bias.

    Trump had never run for any public office before, let alone the presidency. His entire history was ripe for being put under the investigative microscope, as is to be expected under the circumstances, and there was lots there to look at. Not only that, but he would say something new that was outrageous and inflammatory on an almost daily basis on the campaign trail.

    Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, was old news. She’d been in the public spotlight for over twenty years and all of her supposedly scandalous deeds had already been investigated to the point of exhaustion only to be found without merit. The only new subjects, her use of a private email server and attendant issues were fully covered. If that wasn’t so, then I wouldn’t have been aware of it, since I don’t read Drudge or Breitbart, which is patently a propaganda organ.

    What did you want the Washington Post or the New York Times do to prove they’re not in the tank for Hillary, run a multi-part series purporting to prove Hillary murdered Ron Brown and Vince Foster? Please.

    As for Ann Coulter, she’s not smart. She’s never had a genuine insight into anything. What she is though is street smart and shrewd. She figured out a long time ago how to make a comfortable living by baiting liberals.


    • Ah, well, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I don’t watch TV news but the Hillary bias in most of the print MSM outlets just leapt out at me as self-evident. And though I didn’t used to like Coulter I think she’s been awfully good in the last few years. She’s cartoonish and hyperbolic but so is Tom Wolfe, and he’s been right (as well as provocative and vivid) about a lot of things too.


    • amac78 says:

      > all of [Hillary Clinton’s] supposedly scandalous deeds had already been investigated to the point of exhaustion only to be found without merit. The only new subjects, her use of a private email server and attendant issues were fully covered.

      Yeah, that’s what my lefty family and friends keep telling me. Somehow those conversations never reach the level of granularity where we’d actually be discussing Clinton’s supposedly [sic] scandalous misdeeds. Example 1, either the old-fashioned Progressive ideal of Transparent and Open Government is still important, or it isn’t. Example 2, the appearance [sic] of pay-to-play means something, or it doesn’t. I won’t do 3 through 10 because tl;dr.

      Oddly, I have yet to encounter a Hillary Clinton fan who argues for the rehabilitation of Richard Milhous because, hey, in context, that whole Watergate coverup kerfluffle was really a tempest in a teapot, and is more than outweighed by the establishment of the EPA, etc.

      On the whole, the left’s and the media’s insularity seems unshaken. More Cowbells for what ails ya. Nice to see Paleo’s links to people’s actually looking for insights. I appreciate Joel Kotkin’s latest essay; he’s not Left, but disdainful of Trump, and perceptive. Sorry, linking from this device is painful, but easily found on his website. Kotkin’s not Trump’s website, that is. 😉


  8. JV and Prairie Mary — Are you guys on Facebook? If so, please let me know so I can friend you. Some of the conversations happening there have been great fun. They’ve reminded me of the early days of blogging. Or you can send me a Friend request — I’m the only Ray Sawhill on Facebook.


  9. Pingback: An open letter to my open-minded progressive friends who are upset at Trump’s victory | Uncouth Reflections

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s