Thursday, September 8, 2016

Style vs. Substance: Why the Public Hates the Media

Chuck Todd is at the front of the chorus today signing 'Both sides do it.' Both Hillary and Trump were equally awful last night according to Todd.

I was just watching his show and finally get why he's saying that. His argument is that Trump failed on substance and Hillary failed on style.

Exactly. I mean she said nothing false so they have to attack her on style. Talk about the last refuge of scoundrels. Todd is using weasel words.

Indeed, he's even holding her having a press conference against her which proves what we know all along. The media furor over pressers was never sincere but just another talking point against her.

If Clinton campaign was happy with last night's forum, they wouldn't be looking to do a presser this morning to provide new Clinton sound."

Actually she's done three pressers this week now, though, maybe only this one counts as she finally had a vaunted podium.

I didn't read her presser as defensive and desperately trying to change the subject.

"Media Matters' Eric Boehlert:"

"btw, maybe Clinton wanted to answer Q's this morning to highlight what a complete fiasco Trump's performance was last night. #justanidea"

Meanwhile. Todd had Maine Independent Angus King who while identified as a Clinton supporter piled actually claimed that Hillary would be much better off if she apologized over using a private email server.

Which makes me wonder if King lives on some other planet than I do as I've seen her apologize many, many times for it. Not only have her apologies failed to end the media feeding frenzy, but Beltway insiders like Todd can even lie and pretend she hasn't apologized yet.

All of this makes James Fallow's piece over 20 years ago very topical: why Americans hate the media.

"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.”

When trying to explain the rise of Trump, there is no doubt that the media has a lot to answer for. Indeed, while they duly note that Trump doesn't actually have policies as such, that he is essentially pure affects, they never ask themselves how he happened.

One way the media has facilitated this is by trying to equalize the two major parties when they are not equal. And Todd does a classic example of this here. He acknowledges Trump's utter lack of policy substance and knowledge that ought to be disqualifying.

But by saying that Hillary also failed by not conforming to his own style preferences, Todd is essentially saying that Trump's lack of policy knowledge is not disqualifying.

A total lack of policy knowledge and substance, is, while bad, not any worse than whatever Hillary's stylistic sins are, real or imagined. This is what the press did in 2000 as well with Bush-Gore.

Bush's greenness, his lack of knowledge, his policies that didn't add up were equalized against Gore's alleged 'unlikability' of a man so pitiful, he needed Naomi Wolf to dress him in earth tones. who allegedly was fundraising at a Buddhist temple.

For some reason, the media was not so much outraged that Gore was fundraising-and rightly so, as so was W and he got a lot more cash that year than Gore-but because it was at a Buddhist temple. This somehow was just as bad as W having a poor command of the issues and giving us fuzzy budget math which didn't add up.

Then there was the obsession over 'who invented the Internet.' So the media has done this for years. In truth this is how they normally play it. They criticize the GOP some on policy but equalize it by criticizing Dems on some real or imagined stylistic sin.

As Krugman says, it's policy that informs us of a candidate's character not whether or not they wear earth tones or are fund to have a beer with.

"And here’s a pro tip: the best ways to judge a candidate’s character are to look at what he or she has actually done, and what policies he or she is proposing. Mr. Trump’s record of bilking students, stiffing contractors and more is a good indicator of how he’d act as president; Mrs. Clinton’s speaking style and body language aren’t. George W. Bush’s policy lies gave me a much better handle on who he was than all the up-close-and-personal reporting of 2000, and the contrast between Mr. Trump’s policy incoherence and Mrs. Clinton’s carefulness speaks volumes today."

UPDATE: Yes, MSNBC"s All Due Respect with Mark Halperin and John Heileman played the same tired game of Trump failed on substance and Hillary failed on style. 

In other words, they too are giving lies equal weight with the truth.


  1. You hit the nail on the head. Keep hitting -- it's just a damn nail!

  2. Thank you! I'm going to keep hitting!

  3. Its the narrative set by the corporate bosses at NBC, and tools like Todd, and Halperin follow dutifully in line.