Sunday, November 13, 2016

Questions for the media in the Trump era

Donald Trump portrayed himself as the victim of a media conspiracy.  The media hated him.  And yet, at many points throughout the campaign, they made decisions that benefited him.

1.  How do the media decide how much time to give to any one scandal?  (Yes, "do" not "does."  Latin).  Compare the amount of press coverage to the email "scandal" and to Trump University, for example.  One will go to trial.  The other won't.  That requires some media introspection.  Yes, Comey forced the press at the last minute with his bullshit violation of DoJ policy, but there was a lot of coverage beforehand of the email stuff, even when the press knew there was no "there" there.  On the other hand, Trump University was a scam, and everyone knows it.  Trump probably used money from the Trump Foundation "charity" to bribe Pam Bondi to call off a criminal investigation in Florida.  That is at least highly plausible.  Which got more media attention?  Some media introspection is probably in order.

2.  Polls consistently showed that voters believed Trump to be the more honest candidate, even though, well, no.  PolitiFact has problems, but they can at least convey how asymmetric the lying was.  How do the media convey the reality when one candidate is as shameless and brazen as Trump?  If voters thought that Trump was more honest, the media failed.  Period.

3.  Is there a point to the debates?  My analogy is as follows.  A law firm brings in a group of job candidates.  At some point during the interview, each interviewee is handed a violin and asked to play some Bach.  The task of debating is unrelated to the task of presidentin'.  At no point in Obama's term has he been asked to do what he did on the stage with either McCain or Romney.  Never.  It just isn't part of the job.  Clinton destroyed Trump.  Three times.  And apparently it didn't matter.  And this has happened before.  Kerry destroyed Bush.  And it didn't matter.  Why do we do this?

Because the media need something to cover, and because we have done it in the past.  This is a media spectacle that doesn't appear to me to serve any purpose.

4.  How should the press conduct interviews?  People like Trump, in particular, are a problem.  I've been comparing him to the Andy Kaufman character of Tony Clifton for a while, which makes interviewing him a challenge.  He's a performer who never breaks character.  Trump is an extreme example, but the more disciplined candidates get, the more pervasive the problem gets.  Clinton herself was pretty disciplined.  Try getting a straight answer out of her on the email server issue.  Yes, it was a bullshit scandal, but the real deal is that it was driven by her personal paranoia, which she couldn't admit in an interview, for obvious reasons.  This is pervasive, and the press needs to figure it out as candidates become more disciplined.  Yes, I just called Trump disciplined.  It takes a form of discipline to never break character.

5.  What should the role of the press be?  In traditional views, there is a tension between the idea that the press should be a neutral provider of information, and a watchdog in the muckraking tradition, hostile to all power.  Is there anything unique and different about Donald Trump, though?  Yes.  Let's not delude ourselves about this.  Donald Trump has threatened to work to open libel laws against journalists who criticize him, threatened to go after Jeff Bezos because the Washington Post was critical of him, yanked press credentials for organizations whose coverage he didn't like, had a campaign manager-- Corey Lewandowski-- who assaulted a journalist, who regularly leads rallies that border on calls for violence against the press, and who idolizes Vladimir Putin.  Is the normal, watchdog role of the press sufficient in this situation?  Or, does Trump's behavior necessitate a more hostile response from the press?

6.  What can Trump do to the press?  Realistically, very little.  Yes, the voters just gave nuclear weapons to an impulsive, vengeful, idiot child who doesn't understand nuclear deterrence.  Yes, you should worry about that.  But, we have a constitutional system in which the president, despite his love of telling people, "you're fired!" cannot simply fire civil servants to force them to do whatever he wants.  The president has a great deal of power, but this is not 1930's Germany and Donald Trump, unlike Hitler, is a fucking idiot.  Journalists are not in any direct, serious, immediate danger.  They do, however, have to worry about access to information.  At this point, everyone should read an old book by Bernard Cohen called The Press and Foreign Policy.  Old and largely outdated, what remains relevant is that the press is still dependent on the White House for information on international security issues.  This is a problem for those journalistic outlets who are critical of Trump.  They still need access to the White House, and Trump can cut them off.  See 5.  That matters.

There are a lot of questions and concerns for the press going forward.  There are a lot of questions and concerns period.


  1. However, does any of this matter when people go around the gatekeepers to get info?

    Breitbart is the shit these fuckers eat up. What brings the fucktards back to legitimate sources of information?

    1. The question is about what information reaches that narrow slice of swing voters. They don't click on Breitbart. Then again, if they just rely on Facebook, we're fucked.