Friday, September 9, 2016

Simply Beltway Media Malpractice

I'm with Jason Yates Sexton on how the media should cover Donald Trump:

"Imagine a giant asteroid is heading toward the Earth. The news wouldn't treat the rock as if it deserved the space the planet inhabits."

This is decidedly not how the media covers Trump. Their default position is to treat him as just another candidate. After all, the Republican party nominated him and the GOP is just as legitimate a party as the Democratic party.

The choice is no more fraught for most Beltway insiders than a choice between 'tastes great' and 'less filling.'

Again, I urge folks to read James Fallows who has written about this for years. The media is undermining democracy.

"Twenty years ago I published a book called Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy. The Atlantic ran an excerpt as a cover story, called “Why Americans Hate the Media.”

"The main argument was that habits of mind within the media were making citizens and voters even more fatalistic and jaded about public affairs than they would otherwise be—even more willing to assume that all public figures were fools and crooks, even less willing to be involved in public affairs, and unfortunately for the media even less interested in following news at all."

"These mental habits of the media included an over-emphasis on strife and conflict, a fascination with the mechanics or “game” of politics rather than the real-world consequences, and a self-protective instinct to conceal limited knowledge of a particular subject (a new budget proposal, an international spat) by talking about the politics of these questions, and by presenting disagreements in a he-said/she-said, “plenty of blame on all sides” fashion now known as “false equivalence.”

If you want to see false equivalence and the Beltway preference for mechanics over substance and real-world consequence, you have to read Chris Cillizza who is almost the perfect protoype of this sensibility.

But if you want proof of how pernicious this media attitude is, consider this appalling find: according to a CNN poll, Americans believe Donald Trump is more honest than Hillary Clinton.

"There it is: 51% say Clinton is more apt to flip-flop for political reasons than Trump, per CNN. 42% say Trump is."

Charles Blow with a reality check:

"Presidents lie. Politicians lie. People lie. But Trump lies with a ferocious abandon."

"For instance, the fact-checking website PolitiFact found that of the statements by Hillary Clinton that it checked, 22 percent were completely “true” and another 28 percent were “mostly true.”

"But Trump is another animal. There is no true equivalency between Trump and Clinton, or between Trump and any other politician, for that matter. Only 4 percent of Trump’s statements that PolitiFact checked were rated as completely “true” and only another 11 percent were even rated as “mostly true.” Seventy percent of Trump’s statements that the site checked were rated as “mostly false,” “false” or “pants on fire,” the site’s worse rating."

"The truth shifts beneath Trump like sand. He has no regard for the firmness of fact. For him, fact is as pliant as that Play-Doh he handed out to flood victims in Louisiana."

"And yet in polls like the CNN/ORC poll released Tuesday, Trump leads Clinton on the issue of being honest and trustworthy by 15 percentage points. (I should point out that some have raised questions about the methodology of that poll.)"

Here''s why I give Charles Blow a lot of credit. Unlike so much of the media, he doesn't pass the buck and blame everyone and anyone but the media.

"I believe that this is in large part because we, an irresponsible media, have built a false equivalency in which the choice between Clinton and Trump seems to have equally bad implications, because we have framed it as a choice between a liar and a lunatic."

"But this obscures the fact that the lunatic is also a pathological liar of a kind and quality that we have not seen in recent presidential politics and perhaps ever."

"Trump is in a category all his own."

"Part of the reason for Clinton’s problems is that she is being held to a traditional level of honesty and integrity, as she should be."

"But Trump is being held to a wholly different, more flexible standard. When he takes a different position over years or months or days or even hours, that is not simply an innocent evolution, but a flat-out lie."

"This is not an honest man. This is not a trustworthy man. The fact that people believe he’s honest is a result of a failed media that aims its sincerest critique at Clinton’s deficiencies with the truth, but applies an entertainment standard to Trump that corrects falsehoods but doesn’t castigate him for them."

There is no reasonable explanation or salable excuse for the media’s behavior this presidential cycle. History will look back at this period and it will not be kind to the Fourth Estate. We will all have to one day ask ourselves, “Where was I on Trump and the truth?” Far too many of us will be found wanting."

Hopefully more journalists will want to be with Charles Blow and Chris Cillizza.

To be sure, it's no accident that Blow is an African-American journalist. I find that far more black journalists don't go down the rabbit hole of false equivalence.

Many of the white, elite journalists never seriously consider that they could face any sort of personal threat from a Trump Presidency, despite the fact that he's pretty clear that he believes that press freedom should be clamped down on.

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