Thursday, June 27, 2019
The Past 10 Days Shows Corporo Media Remains As Clueless As Ever On How To Cover Trump
"Trump spouting off doesn’t qualify as news. But will the press ever acknowledge that before 2020?"- Eric Boehlert, smirkingchimp.com,
Sad to say the past ten days shows the corporate (mainstream) media is as clueless as it's ever been in its ability to critically cover Trump's shenanigans. Even the past 48 hours have disclosed demonstrations of absolutely pathetic journalism and reporting. From NBC's Richard Engel altering the words actually used by the Iranian leaders to describe the latest White House tightening of sanctions ("having mental illness" instead of "being afflicted by mental retardation") to ABC's Terry Moron....excuse me, Moran, asking Trump yesterday if he plans to block Robert Mueller from testifying.
In the Engel case, if you're a bona fide reporter, you faithfully report the words actually used by the other side when it "fires back" (one of the media's favorite phrases) at Trump. You do not alter them to suit some notion of political correctness or whatever. In the case of ABC's Terry Moran, a serious reporter does not toss a purposeless, inciting, 'softball' question at a confirmed autocrat. But that only begins to scratch the surface.
As media watchdog Eric Boelhert recently observed on the events since Trump's Orlando 2020 rollout (smirkingchimp.com):
"Touting Donald Trump as a "rock star," and genuflecting at the altar of his "greatest show yet," the media showered the president with unnecessary attention all last week in honor of his re-election rally kickoff in Orlando, Florida. The coverage, which was so reminiscent of 2016, raises fresh concerns about whether the news media learned anything from previous campaign about covering a whiny bully like Trump. Will journalists still view him through the lens of celebrity and hold him to almost no substantive standards, while echoing his lies and bogus attacks on Democrats? Coming off monumental failures in 2016, the press seems poised to stumble through another campaign to failure. Especially since, following the 2016 debacle, most in the press refused to concede that mistakes had been made, let alone offer up much serious self-reflection.
It's likely the White House loved how rally week played out, with an avalanche of coverage that mostly just regurgitated Trump's stale, familiar rally speech, which leans heavily on victimhood. One of the media themes regarding Trump's event was that, with his endless attacks on Hillary Clinton, he's stuck in the past. But the same point can be made about the press, which seems determined to hit rewind for 2020. And that means a return of the circus-like, spectacle-type campaign coverage Trump loves."
The preceding pretty well sums up the media's passive compliance and incompetence in the face of a confirmed sociopath, con man and derelict buffoon they still treat as a legit, qualified leader instead of the abominable criminal he is. And this is damned important. Because if he's given the deference due to a real, worthy chief executive instead of a wary eye and criticism, he will act the part of an unchained loon - as he has with the migrant kids locked up in abominable detention centers, or performing like a rabid ape at his recent Orlando launch rally.
My beef? The press and media basically treats him way too seriously. Joy Reed nailed it in her Tuesday night segment on All In, calling out the New York media especially for its kid gloves approach to Trump. The reason? They've "known him for decades" and love covering him for the "entertainment value". What Eric Boelhert called "viewing him through the lens of celebrity". But see, this is no longer entertainment. This is about the survival of our democracy and not allowing it to descend into a Trumpian autocracy.(Nicole Wallace aptly says we're in a "national emergency".) Some of us can indeed see that, but too many are blind, bored or uninterested. Especially too many in the media.
Why is it even ordinary citizens are finally seeing through this miscreant's actions and behavior but so many in the fourth estate can't? As expressed by one letter writer to the Denver Post yesterday (p. 15A):
"Trump has marginalized just about every race, sexual preference and religion. He's called the media the enemy. He's ruined relations with our allies while adoring our enemies. Where's the line? What's it going to take for people (e.g. media) to condemn Trump?"
But here's the rub. The "people" (media, the press) who should be condemning his vile behavior, or at least checking him when he grants them interviews, aren't. Twice last night I watched network TV news reporters asking Trump about the disgusting conditions at the border with migrant kids wearing clothes saturated in their own snot, urine and vomit, and only a concrete floor to sleep on. In each case, Dotard immediately launched into his diatribe of lies, "Obama set up those cages!" and the reporters sat there deaf, dumb, stupid and stupefied. No comeback, no check, no challenge.
That wasn't all.
Sunday I watched slack -jawed as the CBS media lapdog Margaret Brennan interviewed Bernie Sanders on 'Face The Nation' and challenged him on his opposition to Trump's Iran response. Here's the main blow by blow from the interview which encapsulates all that's wrong with today's media and why Walter Cronkite would be gagging at Brennan's performance.
Brennan began by asking: “Was President Trump’s decision this week to call off that strike the right one?” .
Indeed, and Sanders rightly let it be known by his response that a "limited" strike might not be taken as such by an already besieged nation that felt the only recourse was to hit back with full force - missiles aimed at Israel and Saudi Arabia and thousands of strikes against shipping, planes as well as strategic sites. And this country of 80 million would not roll over like Iraq.
Sanders basically showed Brennan how to do her job as opposed to acting as a PR pawn for the Trumpies. Not that Brennan was paying any attention, any more than Chuck Todd while providing Trump a grand stage to bloviate on 'Meet The Press', all the time holding the imp to no substantive standards - again viewing the mutt through the lens of celebrity. Only occasionally trying to press him, but then allowing Dotard to gain the upper hand.
After lambasting the media's coverage of the campaign rally in Orlando, Boehlert neatly summarized how the media, namely ABC, were the willing handmaidens to Trump's ego in a shameless hour of broadcasting his lies:
"Trump talking = news is a ridiculous formula for newsrooms to be using in 2019. Yet last week, we saw ABC News adopt that premise, when the network aired an hourlong prime-time special of, well, Trump talking. There was absolutely no news hook for the unusual programming event, which featured ABC's George Stephanopoulos shadowing Trump over the course of two days last week and recorded Trump lying relentlessly. Not surprisingly, the somnolent show was a ratings flop. Still, the press seems committed to the idea that every Trump utterance is wildly important and newsworthy"
WHY? Would the press confer such gravitas on a deranged ape? I think not. What the media need to be doing is pulling the plug on the Trump show not amping it up. The WSJ's Walter Mead two days ago nailed Trump's shtick (p. A15):
"Trump has shrewdly deployed the power of fame. He has turned American politics into the Donald Trump show, with the country and the world fixated on his every move, speculating feverishly about what will come next. Whether threatening on Twitter to rain down destruction from the sky, reining the dogs of war at the last minute or stage managing high stakes summit meetings. He is producing episodes of the most compelling reality show the world has ever known".
And doesn't need or want! I mean, do I really need to state the obvious that this is unnatural? That a real leader ought to be quietly working for his country in the background and not be seen or heard at every turn? If Trump is unable to rein himself in to at least feign sanity, then it is up to the media to censor his nonstop "reality show" mindfuck barrage, to spare the sanity of the rest of us. Interestingly, this would also go hand in hand with doing its job.
"And yes, the rally coverage featured the hallmark media whitewashing that so often protects Trump supporters from the harsh glare of reality. Trump was met in Orlando by "cheering and chanting supporters," reported USA Today, and by "thousands of adoring supporters," according to Politico. Both of those cheerful descriptions remind me of the bland, innocuous ways his supporters were often described in 2016. What has traditionally been missing from the nonstop deluge of Trump voter stories? A look into the dark nature of Trump Nation, and an open acknowledgment that his base is often fueled by racism. Trump's candidacy was driven by immigrant-bashing, and so too has his presidency been. But when journalists profile his faithful supporters, acknowledgment of Trump's racist rhetoric rarely comes up. The problem with that type of whitewashing is that the Orlando rally attracted throngs of proud white nationalists, who clearly have become part of the Trump's political coalition, and whose presence was not mentioned in most press reports. And really, just the whole fascist vibe of the rallies is badly underplayed by the press."
That last sentence about white washing gets to the core of the problem - the media's selective emphasis on Trump's braggadocio while downplaying the clear fascist undertones. Oh, and failing to call out the hundreds of execrable lies each time he opens his mouth.. But alas, some Trump lubbers - like the WSJ's Holman Jenkins ( 'Trump's Finest Hour', yesterday, p. A15)- drool over his shameless prevarication:
"He is good at bringing Trumpian impulses and instincts into every situation, including in deciding which untruths to wrap himself in."
Seriously? Trumpian impulses and deciding which untruths to wrap himself in? Then we are appalled at the possibility Americans are becoming desensitized to Trump's lies and performances. 'Desensitized' meaning inured to them to the point of shrugging shoulders and saying 'So what? At least he didn't shoot anyone in the middle of Fifth avenue.'
Eric Alterman, writing in a piece ('Lord of the Lies') appearing in a recent issue of The Nation (June 5-10, p. 10) notes, for example:
"Daniel Dale of The Toronto Star, who tracks Trump's deceptions, says that most journalists rarely bother to mention that Trump's statements are filled with falsehoods. 'If you watched a network news segment, read an Associated Press article, or glanced at the front page of the city that hosted him, you'd typically have no idea that he was wholly inaccurate'. Most coverage, Dale points out, reads something like 'Trump speaks to big, excited crowd, insults X and Y, talks policy Z'"
Which is a sorry, cartoonish template that - if Walter Cronkite were alive today - he'd laugh at. He'd wonder what school of journalism the perpetrators had attended - if they did at all. Incredibly too, Trump often lies about the lies and the media almost never really hone in on it. Well a few did when Trump blurted out in a tweet several days ago: "I had nothing to do with Russia helping to get me elected!" Huh? The detestable toad then denied it, insisting to the yapping press corps that he never said any such thing. A Freudian slip then?
Alterman near the end of his piece writes "thankfully most Americans don't believe Trump" - citing fewer than 3 in 10 according to a WaPO Fact Checker. However he also writes:
"What worries me, however, is that people don't realize how much more dishonest Trump is than any of his predecessors. Only about 50 percent of Americans think he is 'less honest' than any previous president".
Which thereby conflates most presidents as liars in some form and worse, fails to hurl Trump into the depths to which he belongs. Much of this again, is because of the media and mainstream press which often repeats his idiotic tweets without criticizing them properly - merely assuming (as in the case of the Pelosi fake video) most Americans have the intelligence and sense to separate what's factual from rubbish. Well, they don't!
How to respond? In particular how should the media treat them: as official communications with all the gravitas of a presidential official statement or announcement - through the orthodox, standard channels? Or as disruptive refuse no better than environmental toxic waste?
Some (e.g. Journalism prof Indira Lakshmanan) have proposed repeating the tweets, but then doing a fact check. The problem with that is twofold: first, most people will have already seen the tweets say on the morning or evening news. Doing a follow-up fact check will then be too late and of minimal impact. Thus, Trumpers' erroneous beliefs and fables are merely reinforced in a kind of confirmation bias. (As manifested in a recent Justin Amash town hall, with one of his conservo constituents, see e.g. the lead off link below.)
Second, the very act of repeating the offending tweet has the effect of dignifying it - even if unintentionally. (The same, obviously, applied to the treatment of the Pelosi fake video). All of which speaks to the media, national press' problem of how to cover Trump. A problem that - from where I stand - still hasn't been solved. I fear we are going to see a replay of the "celebrity" treatment seen in 2016, as opposed to relentless and hard hitting critical coverage. Making Trump prove all his assorted outlandish statements in interviews, at rallies etc., not just blindly accepting them because. "he's the president".
The WSJ's William Galston at least sounded an optimistic note when he wrote ('Trump's Polling Proves Character Counts', yesterday, p. A15), noting how even polls of Republican voters show disapproval of his behavior (e.g. 41 % are "exhausted", 53% are "embarrassed"). Writing based on this:
"If my hypothesis is correct, then Mr. Trump's conduct and character will be a central issue in the 2020 general election".
Maybe, IF the media does its job and stops treating him like he's a celebrity, and instead holds him to account as an unqualified buffoon who snuck into power using the Electoral College.
"With his interview of Donald Trump, Chuck Todd threw the country under the bus. He gave the president a prime-time platform to peddle his sociopathic lies, with little pushback. He gave legitimacy to those lies and the liar who tells them.
It is almost impossible to overstate the damage Todd’s boot-licking performance has does to civic discourse, public trust, cultural norms, respect for journalism, and even constitutional government. For, now, where is the bottom? What is the institution in our society that people can trust to ferret out truth from lies, sociopathy from civility? "
"The bar has gotten so low for the Trump administration these days that there’s a temptation to praise the president every time he makes a decision that, accidentally, if you squint and tilt your head a little, looks like a good idea. Take last week, for instance, when Trump called off a last-minute retaliatory strike on Iranian regime targets in response to the loss of an unmanned surveillance drone. The press, a lot of the time, goes along with this. Here’s CBS’s Margaret Brennan, framing the question in a predictably dumb way when interviewing Senator Bernie Sanders on Sunday’s Face the Nation. ...Lean in, Bernie. You’re an utterly mirthless old man confronted by a perfect encapsulation of the hypocrisy of both your potential opponent and how the press covers him. "