Saturday, November 12, 2016

President-Elect Trump: The Complicit Press

For the purpose of this piece, I will allow the press this caveat: I think their slack-jawed acquiescence to position-driven journalism was propelled by the rise of a very unusual candidate. He said things nobody who hoped to grace the most powerful office on earth had ever said, about the very people he hoped to lead.

I have no idea how to even begin defending the press. In their zeal to focus on the (truly offensive) things this candidate has said, and in an admitted vacuum of an actual plan or position on many of the issues with which voters were concerned, the press tried to fulfill their quota of clicks, and provide
24-hour-a-day coverage, with conjecture, outrage, and their own vacuum of quality journalism.

I will cut them some slack because there aren't many outlets providing a budget for deep journalism. The kind of reporting we saw during Watergate was expensive, and today's business model for most newsrooms has changed greatly. Most truly motivated journalists today are forced to use their own time and money to chase a story. Been there, done that.

I also think the press rightly assigned a certain weight to a fact not in dispute: a US president has the unique position of being the sole arbiter of the most dangerous weaponry on the planet, a fraction of which could eliminate all life.

The landscape is different today in the news business. With lowered budgets and raised expectations, they aren't able to deliver the same journalistic integrity required of a diligent, responsible press. You might construe this as another feeble attempt at a defense. I watched hours of coverage featuring an anchor allowing a pundit to lie provably and extensively. It wouldn’t cost a dime for the anchor to drill deeper for the truth. Unfortunately the two are bedfellows, as the anchor needed the pundit to be back next hour, and the next day, and next week.

The press might also be somewhat forgiven if, in fact, they were determined to add a counterbalance to the criminal theft and release of one of the major campaign's planning and strategy emails. That seems to run counter to reality, as they aided and abetted that very act of international espionage by self-servingly propagating it, with no concern for fact-checking and no ability to validate authenticity. Hey, why not, it's news, right? Then came the alligator tears as they lamented a political system that had been hacked by a foreign government. Journalistic principles? None.

No doubt, Trump is his own worst enemy. He gave the press plenty of fodder for bad journalism. Garbage in, garbage out. Even the press’ portrayal of some sort of major groundswell is false, Trump’s popular vote count totaled barely 25% of the voting population, well short of Obama’s totals and nothing even close to the level required to condemn the entire United States as a nativist, racist country.

But I’m convinced the press’ obsession with Trump’s personal shortcomings, the failure to push him on real policy positions, and their abject failure to dig deeper into why Americans were willing to vote for him, caused those voters to be re-entrenched. They had reasons for their votes, but the press took the easy route and assigned simple labels instead of doing their job.

The Unbearable Smugness of the Press - from CBS News

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