Since the beginning of the 2016 Presidential campaign, the media has been put in an awkward position. How much and what do they cover of a candidate, now President, who seems to use them as a foil?
I can’t think of a national leader in the modern era that has posed this challenge.
Its made worse by the President’s ability to reach out to millions of readers directly via twitter.
That has put the media on edge. It has pushed them to cover every bowel movement of this President as if its news, even if it isn’t.
So what’s the media to do?
How We Got Here
The how and why we are where we are with this President goes to a fatal flaw the media has pushed for decades: false balance.
Since the mid-80’s, in an effort to appear balanced, outlets have given air to all sorts of half-cocked ideas, as if they carry the same weight others. This was especially put forward on the now prevalent “news-talk” shows that dot the Cable TV news landscape.
What this has ultimately led to is a media that hears two sides, a false binary to begin with. Outlets treat both with equal respect, even if one is the most cockamamie idea ever. Then cops out at the end (after copping out at the beginning) with some “you decide” garbage, as if they’ve provided something valuable to the viewer to base their opinion on.
More often than not, they haven’t. They HAVE maintained a false duopoly of ideas that some producer somewhere thinks either seems reasonable or will catch eyeballs.
After decades of normalizing ridiculous ideas and never really calling bullshit, the media helped create a scenario where the current President could thrive.
In that time, they also lost a sense of what’s an outlier idea and what’s reality. By listening to the loudest or the most outrageous voices, they ultimately normalized outrage. That outrage has turned in on the very group that helped foster its growth.
The Media is just part of the puzzle
TV media is not the only group to blame. The main political parties and the continuing cavalcade “info-news-tainment” complex talking heads helped get us here as well.
These talking heads parrot the finely tuned talking points they’ve been handed for the day. That’s the only way so many people with so many backgrounds could possibly be so “on message”.
Now don’t get it switched. You never see Democrats that “on message” because Democrats don’t operate that way. For their independent thinking, Democrats get portrayed as a party in disarray.
Add to that, the steady proliferation of “sock puppet” groups brought on by dark money. Their funders crafted those talking points, so they parrot them as well. This creates the appearance of wide acceptance by a group of people, even though it may be a very small group.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
So what does this have to do with 45’s attack on the media?
Welp, news, especially TV cable info-tainment-news is so accustomed to regurgitating whatever narrative they’ve been fed, they don’t know how to do much else. They’re normalization machines.
Unfortunately, this has also carried over to a lot of the “24-hour political press” in print media as well.
So while there are some really smart people who don’t eat the daily shitburger that’s put in front of them, many do. In fact, enough reporters are happy to eat that shitburger so they can get the story tomorrow and make their editor/executive producer/news director happy.
Its called access journalism. Its one of the biggest contributors to the media’s current conundrum.
The 45 Rally Problem
In the 500+ days of the current administration, the media has consistently been used as a foil. This really started before the administration, but its kicked into high gear lately.
The daily fragility play of the President, displayed on twitter and his expanding number of rallies, puts the media in the awkward position of playing both foil, and amplifier of rhetoric that seeks to undermine them.
After a rally in Wilkes-Barre, PA earlier this week where journalists were threatened, some outlets, including Fox News have suggested pulling coverage of the rallies to remove the foil.
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has a good editorial about the problem.
While the issue has been framed as pulling coverage to ensure the safety of journalists, its also about the choice of amplifying a hateful message.
No one ever said the media had to give air to shitburgers. Nor did anyone say that the media has a duty to report the destructive ravings of a President ad nauseum.
The problem is, many newsrooms don’t know how to do it any other way. And in a highly competitive media environment, no one wants to get left out of a story, lest they lose eyeballs.
So it really is a conundrum. But its not unsolvable.
Media outlets don’t have a duty to play into the reality show this President is selling.
You control the print and airwaves. You’re ultimately the producers of the show. You can pull the plug any time you want.
So why not take that power away from a President who seems hell bent on blaming journalists for all of his problems?
Take the Attention Away, and Report The Underbelly
Personally, I like the idea of ending the breathlessness of coverage of this President. Send those pool reporters out to cover what the administration is doing behind the scenes rather than amplify the President’s ridiculous message.
Sure, you want one or two cameras there to document the rallies, should anything important happen. That also means a reporter and a producer. But you don’t need the whole pool.
News outlets could also beam that camera feed to wherever they need to, so beat reporters can see what’s happening without actually being there. Then you decide if you want to amplify the message.
You do this, while working to find out everything the administration is doing from Ag policy, to Education, to the Military. That’s how you stop the breathless twitter regurgitation daily.
Another idea is just simply publishing a list of false statements, like the Washington Post does.
Report the meat of the issue. The administration policies, the false statements, the outright lies. Report that stuff. Not the reality show shitburger you keep getting fed.
You don’t have to eat it. And you don’t have to serve it up to the public either.
This is a challenge because the media has relied on the “he said, she said” side of politics for a really long time. Breaking that habit will be hard. But you don’t have to play their game.
You decide the rules of the game. The courts have decided the rules of FOIA law. Use that and if they try to freeze you out, sue them.
While I’m generally sympathetic to the media’s plight, their breathlessness over the problem mirrors the general breathlessness about everything else.
It feels a little “boy who cried wolf”-y.
No one is going to save journalism but you.
So stop looking for a savior. You’re the savior.
That may not be very comforting. But through your actions. Through your reporting, you have the power to both save your profession and the republic.
But you’ve got to stop playing the Administration’s game.
Stop complaining that the President doesn’t like you. Stop setting yourself up as a foil.
Stop listening to the chronic talking-point repeaters. Stop asking them questions. Stop booking them on your shows.
Book each other. Talk about each other’s reporting. Talk to academics, or industry folks. Fuck the politicians playing the President’s game. Fuck his apologists. Hell, even Fuck the people on my side of the aisle who offer nothing but platitudes. I’m sick of them as well.
Tell the public more than what’s happening. Tell us why it matters.
We don’t care much about the President’s most recent twitter-tantrum. We want to know the stuff you’re not reporting. You know, the stuff that’s happening right under our noses without our knowledge. Like the policy of not being organized enough to get the 500+ kids and their parents back together. Or the reasoning for the administration’s policy against breastfeeding. Of the litany of other ridiculous changes this administration has made with little public disclosure or factual basis.
That’s not activism, that journalism.
Do your job. Report the news.
And if the President wants to continue using you as a foil. If the President keeps setting his most rabid supporters against you. Use his administration’s own FBI to investigate every threat.