• What if Political Journalism Really Can’t Snap Back from Tabloidization?

    January 25, 2019

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump


     

    After a week in which Buzzfeed published the false claim Donald Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, quickly followed by a tsunami of inaccurate reporting over a bunch of Covington high school kids and their MAGA hats, it’s time to ask: What happens if political journalism can’t snap back from its current state of tabloidization?

    Journalism is the only profession mentioned in the Bill of Rights. The Founders assigned it a specific role in helping citizens carry out informed debate. And yet in the last two years, serious political journalism has all but been pushed aside in a rush toward tabloidization, the goal of which is to do away with Donald Trump, not via informed debate but by any means necessary.

    The justification is America is on the precipice of 1933 so running Trump out of office is a moral duty. Trump is a Nazi, red MAGA caps the new Klan hood. Under such dire circumstances, media can no longer risk both sides being heard (now known as “giving them a platform”) or chance unbiased reporting might inadvertently make Trump look good. Some journalists believe they were partially responsible for Hillary’s defeat, and live in fear some scrap of truth might accidentally abet Charlottesville’s everywhere controlled by Putin. The new standard is tabloid-level journalism, so every story can be a Fruity Pebbles sugar high serving the cause. Objectivity is #Collusion.

    Classic tabloids like the National Enquirer run Elvis-is-alive articles, announce miracle cancer cures, and traffic in outrageous celebrity gossip. Sources are anonymous, conclusions spoon-fed, headlines bombastically out of line with the text. It’s OK in its place because absent a few blue haired old ladies in what used to be called the beauty parlor, no one really believes the stories. We’re spectators at a magic show where we know no one is actually sawed in half but it is fun to be fooled anyway. The concern is with the tabloidization of real news.

    The most recent example is Buzzfeed’s claim documentary proof exists Trump ordered his attorney (whom the media by common agreement libelously calls a “fixer”) to lie to Congress about the Moscow Project. Tabloids use assumed narratives and prejudices – a cure must be out there to save Mom if only Big Pharma would get out of the way – and in this case the narrative chain is Trump wanted to build a hotel in Moscow so the Russkies helped him win the presidency so he’s now their asset and so it all has to be lied about and so Trump has to be in on it.

    Lack of actual evidence has held back Russiagate in all its metastasizing forms for over two years. Enter Buzzfeed, who sets the hook with something new: its mystery sources saw the evidence Trump told Cohen to lie. One of the Buzzfeed authors, albeit one with a history of plagiarism and misreporting going back years, kinda sorta maybe said he personally saw it too.

    Same as with the miracle cure, to any objective person Buzzfeed’s story was too good to be true: a literal paper receipt for perjury! Trump can’t lie his way out of that! He’ll be out of office as fast as the paperwork can be processed! Impeach the MF!

    Legacy prestigious media outlets such as WaPo and the New York Times picked up the story, having learned how to hide behind the thong of appending “As reported by Buzzfeed…” after which for all they care they can headline The Earth is Flat! at no reputational risk to themselves. In 2019 they are no longer responsible for what they (re)print.

    Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke for the media and his fellow pols when he said “I don’t think that my Democratic friends are in any way rushing to judgment because they qualified right up front, ‘If this is true.’ When you preface your statement with ‘If this is true,’ that, to me, gives you all the cover you need.” One imagines with horror those words chiseled on a journalism building Clyburn funds at his alma mater.

    The only sort of problem is Buzzfeed’s story wasn’t true. It was shut down by a statement from the Special Counsel’s office in less than 24 hours, the first such rebuke ever issued, though to be fair, James Comey also stated some New York Times reporting on Russiagate was wrong. The media in both instances characterized being told it was wrong by the definitive source it otherwise deified as just a “dispute,” “push back,” a “controversy.”

    Buzzfeed’s specific reaction included a clumsy jujitsu of challenging Mueller to tell them exactly what he thought was inaccurate. They perhaps understood in the tabloid world truth has a viral-length expiration date, that truth is only what people are willing to believe anyway, including that magicians really can saw women in half on stage. Falsehoods are the work of bad sources, even though we’ll try again next week with basically the same story from new sources. All that matters is an infusion saying Trump is evil and that end justifies the journalistic means.

    Advocacy journalism, tabloid style, is not about pointing out real wrongs with an occasional correction issued. It is about teeing up tales to support a political goal. Let Buzzfeed open the door for WaPo to legitimize the story. Members of Congress then bypass the fuzzy source to cite the name-brand one (“according to sources” becomes “according to the Washington Post”) until Democrats want hearings into the Buzzfeed story Mueller’s office already made clear isn’t true.

    In the same week as Buzzfeed, a selective short clip of an encounter between some white Covington, Kentucky high school students wearing MAGA hats, a Native American (whom the media falsely lionized for days as a Vietnam vet), and some black protesters was fanned into a racial showdown, when all it took was for someone to watch the whole recording of the interaction to realize that was not true.

    Or the mass-proclamation conservatives were furious over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s silly dance video when no one was. Or this long list of Russiagate game-changers that weren’t. Or two-years’ worth of false breaking news somebody in the Trump administration was about to flip, quit, be indicted, get fired or fire Mueller.

    Tabloid journalism for a political ends has assumed priority over reporting facts. People are being conditioned to overreact. Name calling is commentary. Prejudice and stereotyping are offensive when aimed left, allowed when projectiled by Pulitzer-winning columnists at Trump voters. Headlines can be less true than the text. Belief trumps truth. The ends justify the means when attacking a political opponent. Too much free speech plays into the hands of the authoritarians. The term “both sides journalism” is a now a negative one. Journalists have convinced themselves serving up the correct sort of political bias is equivalent to serving the nation.

    It’s sad some measure of the truth has to come from Whoopi Goldberg on The View, who wondered why the media rushed to judge the Covington teens. “Because we’re desperate to get Trump out,” co-host Joy Behar asserted.

    Political journalism adopting the standards and methods of the tabloids is a true threat to democracy. As one writer put it “let’s not underestimate the damage being done… people of all political stripes will acknowledge the important role that free and unfettered discourse plays in the democratic process. By extension, when that discourse is poisoned, so too is the process.”

    The Buzzfeed story, followed so quickly by the Covington high school story, should be a significant moment of reflection, when the media remember they play a critical role in our system. Yet there are few calls against the misuse of sources, the rushes to judgment, the purposeful dropping of objectivity, the loss of seeking out other perspectives, the problem of reporting wrongly too often, the slurring of editorial into reporting.

    Still no one asks why there aren’t mainstream “Sources: Trump is innocent” stories that later need to be walked back. No one demands as much emphasis on corrections as on the original false story. Instead, the standard response to being caught wrong seems to be either dig in as with Buzzfeed, or at most to delete a Tweet or two about the Covington mess, as if in the age of the Internet that makes something to have never happened.

    It is unlikely things will change, especially when this model of journalism is also good for a business where clicks equal dollars. The sad thing is craven economic self-interest is the least worst explanation for tabloidization. Democracy dies in the darkness? It’s in danger in plain sight.

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      “Political journalism adopting the standards and methods of the tabloids is a true threat to democracy. As one writer put it “let’s not underestimate the damage being done… people of all political stripes will acknowledge the important role that free and unfettered discourse plays in the democratic process. By extension, when that discourse is poisoned, so too is the process.”

      As Phil Donahue observed, “that ship sailed a very long time ago.”

      01/25/19 7:35 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      CNN and MSNBC business strategy: If you can’t beat them(FoxNews), join them.

      Chris Hedges: The trolls who currently reign on commercial television, who bill themselves as liberal or conservative, read from the same corporate script. They spin the same court gossip. They ignore what the corporate state wants ignored. They champion what the corporate state wants championed. They do not challenge or acknowledge the structures of corporate power. Their role is to funnel viewer energy back into our dead political system — to make us believe that Democrats or Republicans are not corporate pawns. The cable shows, whose hyperbolic hosts work to make us afraid of self-identified liberals or self-identified conservatives, are part of a rigged political system, one in which it is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, General Electric or ExxonMobil. These corporations, in return for the fear-based propaganda, pay the lavish salaries of celebrity news people, usually in the millions of dollars. They make their shows profitable. And when there is war these news personalities assume their “patriotic” roles as cheerleaders, as Chris Matthews — who makes an estimated $5 million a year — did, along with the other MSNBC and Fox hosts.

      It does not matter that these celebrities and their guests, usually retired generals or government officials, got the war terribly wrong. Just as it does not matter that Francis Fukuyama and Thomas Friedman were wrong on the wonders of unfettered corporate capitalism and globalization. What mattered then and what matters now is likability — known in television and advertising as the Q score — not honesty and truth. Television news celebrities are in the business of sales, not journalism. They peddle the ideology of the corporate state. And too many of us are buying.

      The lie of omission is still a lie. It is what these news celebrities do not mention that exposes their complicity with corporate power. They do not speak about Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, a provision that allows the government to use the military to hold U.S. citizens and strip them of due process. They do not decry the trashing of our most basic civil liberties, allowing acts such as warrantless wiretapping and executive orders for the assassination of U.S. citizens. They do not devote significant time to climate scientists to explain the crisis that is enveloping our planet. They do not confront the reckless assault of the fossil fuel industry on the ecosystem. They very rarely produce long-form documentaries or news reports on our urban and rural poor, who have been rendered invisible, or on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or on corporate corruption on Wall Street. That is not why they are paid. They are paid to stymie meaningful debate. They are paid to discredit or ignore the nation’s most astute critics of corporatism, among them Cornel West, Medea Benjamin, Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. They are paid to chatter mindlessly, hour after hour, filling our heads with the theater of the absurd. They play clips of their television rivals ridiculing them and ridicule their rivals in return. Television news looks as if it was lifted from Rudyard Kipling’s portrait of the Bandar-log monkeys in “The Jungle Book.” The Bandar-log, considered insane by the other animals in the jungle because of their complete self-absorption, lack of discipline and outsized vanity, chant in unison: “We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.”

      On to Venezuela.

      01/25/19 8:01 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      “People are being conditioned to overreact.”

      People are being conditioned like sheep. Pay no attention to the wizard behind the curtain. The politics of division is designed to distract the sheep as they are lead to the slaughter.

      “Oh, you’re an American.”

      “No sir, I’m from Kentucky.” – Edge of Tomorrow

      01/25/19 11:04 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      4

      We don’t need the Buzzfeeds to sensationalize the news. The everyday news is enough evidence of the rotting of this country.

      Item: Virginians can legally bring their guns to church under a bill that cleared the state Senate this week and sparked an emotional debate over whether packing heat in a house of worship constitutes a snub to the Almighty.

      Fire and brimstone. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

      01/25/19 11:33 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      5

      BREAKING NEWS – Trumped again.

      Presidency Trump is the failed apprentice. Loses to a woman!

      Never again will the fucking GOP threaten federal workers with financial ruin, hostages to their political terrorism.

      01/25/19 2:10 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      6

      Putin is getting angry. No return on his investment. Backed a born loser. Will he silence Trump? If he doesn’t, we may learn:

      Why didn’t Trump suspend Michael Flynn’s clearance when Sally Yates told the presidunce he was lying about his contacts with the Russian spy ambassador?

      Why did Jared Kushner repeatedly fail to disclose his contacts with Russian officials?

      Why wasJohn Bolton is NSC hanging out with known Russian spy Maria Butina?

      Why are there 130 people on temporary security clearances in the Executive Office of the President. Are you guys just incompetent, or are you spies?

      Answer: Incompetent spies.

      Mueller is shooting a bunch of retarded fish in the barrel.

      01/25/19 4:27 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      7

      Talk about beating a dead horse…

      Trumpie: I wish people would read or listen to my words on the Border Wall. This was in no way a concession. It was taking care of millions of people who were getting badly hurt by the Shutdown with the understanding that in 21 days, if no deal is done, it’s off to the races!

      So the clown who was badly hurting the federal hostages was really concerned about them. But if no deal, it’s off to the races?

      Stewards should call for an inquiry. The guy has obviously been doped. Speed don’t make you run faster, Demented.

      01/25/19 9:20 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      Bubbleboy’s bubble burst

      “I want to thank all of the incredible federal workers and their amazing families who have shown such extraordinary devotion in the face of this recent hardship. You are fantastic people. You are incredible patriots. Many of you have suffered far greater than anyone but your families would know or understand. And not only did you not complain, but in many cases you encouraged me to keep going because you care so much about our country and about its border security. Again, I thank you. All Americans, I thank you. You are very, very special people. I am so proud that you are citizens of our country. When I say make America great again, it could never be done without you great people.”

      Reality is a bitch, dickhead.

      01/26/19 9:27 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      9

      When you take the bread away from the mob, all you have left is the circus…clown.

      01/26/19 9:58 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      10

      “The justification is America is on the precipice of 1933 so running Trump out of office is a moral duty.”

      The Dumbocrats need to tread carefully not to run Trumpie out of office. They need him to run in 2020 to complete the tidal wave that was created in 2018 and drown the other Repugnicans in its wake.

      01/27/19 11:18 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      11

      USS Trump, fool speed ahead

      Here’s how the nation assesses Trump’s performance:

      The AP poll finds 34 percent of Americans approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president, compared with 65 percent who disapprove.

      Trump’s current approval rating nears the lowest measured in an AP-NORC poll since he took office.

      01/29/19 12:36 PM | Comment Link

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