Matt Taibbi writes: Trump’s monstrousness is ironic, since the image of Trump as the media’s very own Frankenstein’s monster has been used and re-used in the last years. Many in the business are of the opinion that, having created Trump and let him loose in the village, we in the press now have a responsibility to hunt him down with aggressive investigative reporting, to make the world safe again.
That might indeed be a good idea. But that take also implies that slaying the monster will fix the problem. Are we sure that’s true?
Reporters seem to think so, and keep trying to find the magic formula. Just this week, staffers at the Wall Street Journal rebelled against editor-in-chief Gerard Baker. Baker, who has long been accused of being too soft on Trump, blasted his people for going too negative on the president in their coverage of the Arizona speech. He sent around a letter asking staff to “stick to reporting what [Trump] said,” rather than “packaging it in exegesis and selective criticism.”
Reporters fought back by (apparently) leaking the memo to the rival New York Times. This followed an incident in which a transcript of Baker’s recent interview with Trump was leaked to Politico earlier this month. In it, Baker mentions being glad to have seen Ivanka Trump in Southampton, and small-talks with Trump about travel and golf. The implication here is that it’s improper or unseemly for a newspaper editor to have a chummy relationship with this kind of a president.
And it is, sometimes. Reporters who should be challenging presidents and candidates are pretty much always cheating the public when they turn interviews into mutual back rub sessions.
But these intramural ethical wars within our business may just be deflections that keep us from facing bigger problems – like, for instance, the fact that we have been systematically making the entire country more stupid for decades.
We learned long ago in this business that dumber and more alarmist always beats complex and nuanced. Big headlines, cartoonish morality, scary criminals at home and foreign menaces abroad, they all sell. We decimated attention spans, rewarded hot-takers over thinkers, and created in audiences powerful addictions to conflict, vitriol, fear, self-righteousness, and race and gender resentment. [Continue reading…]
While there is a measure of truth in Taibbi’s observations, an irony that he must be acutely aware of is that his own commentary comes with a click-bait headline and lots of hyperbolic overstatement. In other words, while assuming the posture of a mainstream media critic, he nevertheless makes use of the same tools that the rest of the media employs as intellectual honesty gets trampled on in the pursuit of profit.
“The Media Is the Villain – for Creating a World Dumb Enough for Trump.” With the pretext that it’s legitimate to echo Trump’s claim that the media is the enemy of the people when the writer’s intent is to engage in a cogent critique of media complicity in Trump’s rise, Taibbi is nevertheless trying to hook readers in the competitive sport of grabbing attention. No doubt, like countless others, he feels like the end justifies the means.
More importantly, the villainization of the media treats journalists as America’s preeminent educators, yet there are many other lead characters in the cast that keeps Americans dumb: teachers, preachers, politicians, celebrities, and others.
At the same time, a current of anti-intellectualism has long infected American culture, privileging sensationalism above thoughtfulness, and twisting ignorance and small-mindedness into folksy virtues in a country built by the toil of humble settlers.
Before getting too indignant about the idea that Trump is essentially a mainstream media creation, it’s also worth reflecting on the role played by those who have for years been demonizing the mainstream media and fueling hostility and fear of government, and recognizing that these trends in shaping public opinion have also played a huge role in facilitating the rise of Trump.
So, when it comes to attributing blame for Trump’s ascent to power, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
That said, ultimate responsibility for this mess still falls into the hands of a single man: Donald Trump.