Saturday, February 25, 2017

What Trump's attacks on the press can and cannot do


Yeah, let that word sink in.  John McCain has thrown it around in reference to Trump's attempts to denigrate the press, and if you haven't seen it, even Sean Spicer used to acknowledge that the government can't ban press outlets from White House briefings the way the Trump campaign did from campaign events.  Of course, now that Trump is President and still setting land-speed records in sprint-lying, the White House is holding briefings that the New York Times, CNN and other outlets are banned from attending.


Yeah, we're there.

And it's only February 25.


He was just inaugurated last month.

Donald Trump idolizes dictators.  He idolizes Putin, who murders journalists for criticizing him.  This is not a coincidence.  But this is also not a dictatorship.  Trump does not have the institutional capacity to do what Putin does.  If he did, he would have shipped CNN off to concentration camps rather than just banned them from a press briefing.  There is a real worry here, but that is not it.

Here is the real worry.  Information bubbles.  Trump can't destroy CNN, the New York Times, or other news organizations he doesn't like.  The more he criticizes them, the more Democrats like them, and the more locked in some of their business gets.  What Trump wants to do is convince as many voters as possible to depend entirely on Fox and other Republican-friendly outlets.  We like to talk about the polarization of the media, but the thing is, most people who pay attention to the news in some form are news grazers.  Very few people just get home from work, turn on Fox or MSNBC and rely exclusively on that network.  Very few people make either HuffPo or RedState their home page and stay there for all news.  The sharing of news stories through social media makes news grazing even easier.  If you are clicking on a link sent to you by some friend/relative/coworker/troll, it could be from a variety of sources (and might be total bullshit).

No, Trump isn't shipping the employees of CNN off to a Siberian gulag, although Putin might offer soon.  Ya' know, as a gesture of friendship.  What he wants to do is convince people to stop grazing.  Get their news exclusively from Fox, Breitbart, and other news sources that won't challenge him.  Or better yet...

It is strange to think about the fact that this is the most generous, least scary reading of what Trump is doing.  The least terrifying version is that he isn't planning to go full Putin-- he just wants to marginalize real journalists as much as possible so that as many people as possible listen to shills who never challenge anything he says, even when he tells blatant lies.

Checking in at PolitiFact (with the usual warning that I don't like a lot about how they work), Trump currently has a 17% "pants on fire" rating and a 33% "false" rating, with another 19% "mostly false."

Information bubbles are extremely dangerous.  What I find fascinating and terrifying is that elite Republicans know that Trump doesn't have any commitment to their cause.  Rubio, Cruz, Romney, Perry... Think of the shit they have said about him.  They know that Trump is a con man, who will turn on anyone because he has no loyalty to anyone other than himself.  Yet, they are willing to hand him the power to be the sole arbiter of truth for half the country.

Here, Mr. Psychopath, sir, have a knife.  Now, let me turn my back to you because I trust that you will use the knife only on the people that I don't like and never on me.  If I get stabbed, please rename the Darwin Award in my honor.

Oh, and that dictatorship thing?  After what I just wrote, in Russia, I'd be dead (told in Yakov Smirnoff accent).  Those articles I keep writing for The Conversation?  They get picked up by major news outlets, and they'd get me on a list.

Hi, Mr. Comey!

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