Media's Trump Mea Culpa
In his post election ’08 book Slobbering Love Affair: The True (And Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media, CBS veteran Bernard Goldberg says the double standards demonstrated during and after the Obama campaign illustrate the power of the media when they line up behind their chosen candidate.
8 years later the media still won’t take responsibility for “moving from their usual unthinking liberal bias to crass partisanship of the crudest kind, practically acting as spin doctors for the presidential campaign of Barack Obama.”
Now, in 2016 we see the results of another politically slanted media effort; a potential President Donald Trump. This time the reasoning is less ideological and more economic. Mainstream media have invested more ink and airtime covering Donald Trump than any candidate could ever dream of.
The New York Times published Nicholas Kristof’s piece which is likely the beginning of a long series of mea culpa’s from reporters who have awoken to the reality of their Franken-candidate:
“Trump is not just an instant ratings/circulation/clicks gold mine; he’s the motherlode,” Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit.”
Curry says she’s embarrassed by the unfairness to other Republican candidates, who didn’t get nearly the same airtime.
An analysis by The Times found that we in the news media gave Trump $1.9 billion in free publicity in this presidential cycle. That’s 190 times as much as he paid for in advertising, and it’s far more than any other candidate received. As my colleague Jim Rutenberg put it, some complain that “CNN has handed its schedule over to Mr. Trump,” and CNN had lots of company.
In the media’s insatiable desire for ratings and advertising dollars, the once unprofitable news divisions of the alphabet networks are now very much focused on their bottom line. Trump, the quintessential marketing genius, knows this and continues to serve treats to the Pavlovian profit focused newsroom editors who must answer to stakeholders. Partisan politics are no longer the motivation, for whoever participates in the political story of our lifetimes will indeed prosper.
In fairness, issues such as Trump University, his often narcissistic, juvenile and xenophobic statements, and long list of failed businesses have received their share of coverage. If the 2008 media focused the same amount of time on Reverend Wright, Bill Ayres, Obama’s shady business dealings with convicted criminal Tony Rezko, as well as the countless scandals after his election, the world may look very different today. Trump’s negatives would be more than sufficient to sink any normal candidate. But as Trump plays Svengali the open-mouthed media follows suit and provides mass amounts of free live coverage. While it seems that Trumps negatives have permeated the public consciousness, it has blended with so much other noise, many are simply apathetic.
Beyond the self-serving coverage of Trump, the media’s most glaring error is that they will not explain the genesis of why Trump appeals to so many. The general consensus of the collective punditry suggests election 2016 is simply about ‘anger’ (or as my son and his high school buddies would say “voters are salty, dude”).
The media’s narrative about voter’s outrage is the animus for justification to award a normally unelectable candidate the keys to the country; yet they only go one level deep explaining the complicated nature of ‘anger’. Yes, people are angry. They’re angry at politicians, the stagnant economy, lack of world leadership in the face of terrorism, and illegal immigration. Each is a legitimate grievance. The Bush era Prius clad bumper stickers said it best: If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention. Google ‘Trump and angry voters’ and you will find 3,760,000 results.
But to their discredit, journalists have mostly illustrated the nation’s ire as the ‘Hulk smash’ sort. It’s easier to laugh at ‘they took our jerbs’ instead of seeing anger as a symptom of something much deeper and more dangerous than the simple catharsis of yelling at our television and each other online. Anger is the result of fear, depression and anxiety. Anger stems from a very real trauma.
8 years ago America’s perceived stability was shattered due to series of economic and political earthquakes that were decades in the making (pointing at you, Great Society). Outside of the cozy confines of the 1% and D.C. insiders, many people have not recovered, either financially or psychologically. A PhD in political science is not necessary to see there are tens of millions of disaffected Americans who have watched as a series of Nero’s and their wealthy court jesters fiddled while people’s lives burned and are still being rebuilt.
Washington D.C. property values mushroomed as politicians, connected insiders and government workers elbowed each other to feed from the ever-ballooning publicly funded trough. Politicians and their party vultures circled around donors for campaign cash espousing issues that tickled partisan sensibilities, yet ultimately treated their voters as expendable cannon fodder.
These voters have eyes; they saw the profligate spending, increasing centralized government and control, the weakening of individual liberties and the massive build up of Ponzi styled economic bubble policies. Intellectuals, economists and concerned citizens spoke out and were swiftly accused of racism, homophobia and being haters of the poor and puppies. How dare you question the great and powerful Oz!
Voters, especially on the Right, view the landscape and realize it wasn’t Trump who lied to them; it was their own political party. They see both parties and how the wealthy bourgeoisie have rigged the system for personal benefit. The remaining 2016 candidates were also part of that corrupt system, while Trump made his bones playing those greedy politicians like game pieces.
It’s easy to assume this anger is found with the workers in the oil fields of North Dakota and Texas, the assembly line workers in Michigan and Ohio and those disaffected by Obamacare. While all true, the blue collar narrative only presents half the story. We also see it among the sophisticated and highly educated. Articulate business leaders, small business owners who employ 67% of America’s workers, and even Hollywood producers and writers vicariously see Trump as their bomb thrower. Many may not even admit their tacit support for Trump in mixed company. But he has articulated their frustrations and threatens to blow up the system.
As far as specifics, well, those really aren’t all that important. Once a system is destroyed is must be rebuilt anyway. The idea of destroying a system which has abused and ignored you can be more alluring than continuing to award those who neglected you.
These people were not attending rallies or sending checks to politicians. They were too apathetic for that. The current system is beyond repair so why should they care? Then comes the hero; someone who can disrupt business as usual. A person that becomes the cure, killing the cancer; Collateral damage to surrounding cells be damned. Hero’s are created in the minds of those who feel victimized and can’t exact retribution alone.
The political parties have consistently lied to their constituents, whether it’s promoting their own habitual liar and likely criminal on the Left, or their own habitual liar and panderer on the Right. After a series of institutionally approved Presidents who failed to solve the problems, voters will gladly elect another man of questionable integrity if he is able to stop both parties dead in their marauder tracks.
Trump has latched onto that seething resentment which has blurred lines between political parties, classes, ethnicities, sexes and age. This is not something that the media, in their quest to simplify issues into listicles and 30 second sound bites, have encapsulated. Election 2016 is often referred to as the craziest election of our lifetimes, but to not see it for what it is, for what the voters truly feel, may be the worst mistake the mainstream media will make this election cycle.
In 2008 the media aligned themselves with a perceived history-making candidate based on race and ideology. Issues and experience were but a second thought. In 2016, as journalists start coming out of their profit-driven ratings stupor and admit the mistakes in how they covered this election, maybe it’s not too late for them to delve into the economic and social problems that occurred under their chosen 2008 candidate along with members of Congress. With a fresh approach they then may be able to explain why Trump is viewed by so many as the necessary agent of change that can create the desired tectonic shift, realigning D.C.’s priorities.