Groundless political innuendo is the new gold standard for cable news.
And we got here how, exactly?
The 2016 Presidential election was supposed to be just another standard political fisticuffs match, the next chapter in the carefully orchestrated American culture wars. A battle of billionaire donors, pitting liberals against conservatives. We could all call each other names on Facebook. Get poorly designed political flyers in the mail. Give our beer money to politicians. It was gonna be great.
And that was TOTALLY the plan. But then, Trump called the entire population of Mexico rapists, drug dealers and murderers and all bets were off. Now we have the electoral equivalent of an English soccer riot, the screaming skinhead fans spilling onto the field, clubbing each other on the muddy turf as the bleachers burn in the background. We’re doing Presidential election Fight Club. Except this time, we all talk about Fight Club. In fact, we ONLY talk about Fight Club. This time, the media is reporting every mad ravening minute, as people are literally punched in the face on national TV.
Remember when Jeb Bush was gonna be the GOP’s main man? Now, just a few months later, his toxic just-like-dad brand of trickle down economics seems strangely quaint. His brother? George W. Bush has been remade, a paragon of political nuance compared to our current GOP nominee. So what if George started a war based on lies and destabilized the entire Middle East? So what if George’s “bless his heart” intellectual limitations ultimately collapsed the global economy? Who cares? Get that man a smoking jacket. He now exudes that rarified air of last century political civility which, in this election cycle, has lasted about as long as a paint job at a demolition derby.
Because this year? Trump. And man has been DAMNED good for ratings. He says women have blood coming out of their “wherevers” and viewership climbs. This guy is good for every engagement metric we can track. Never mind the fact that rational political debate just died a horrible screaming death, like the naughty blonde boyfriend in a slasher flick.
And please, don’t get me wrong. Many journalists do good solid reporting. To those members of the 3rd estate who continue to write thoughtful well researched stories about this election, we thank you. Keep it up. But, ever since Roger Ailes created Fox News and made it an unapologetically partisan source for political spin, the news business has been in an ugly no holds barred race to the bottom.
Now news outlets frantically pander to the most partisan segments of our political landscape; the loudest voices; the most outrageous claims. The logical outcome? The media gave Trump unprecedented coverage effectively shutting out his dozen or so competitors.
Since then, everything has spun out of control. The more strident and unfounded the claims, the more the press scrambles to give them air time. And the result? The background for much of our public discussion regarding the election of the President of the United States is paranoid innuendo sourced from crackpot web sites; acknowledging neither the complexity, nuance or facts of the issues of the day. And its the battle for news ratings that got us here.
And just for good measure, the alt whatever squads are directly attacking the credibility of our elections. (Nice move. Next logical step. Should have seen that one coming.) Should they fail to win, Trump’s supporters are poised to reject the outcome of our presidential election. Trump will file lawsuits in every jurisdiction with a Tea Party judge and attempt to tie up the outcome for months. Just imagine what that will do to world economic markets.
A significant number of Americans are now convinced that a thirty-shot magazine in an assault rifle will solve any minor problems that might arise from encouraging total anarchy. Its the zombie apocalypse as a model for good governance. But if we really do let it all go to hell, I have one question: will we really have enough bullets to be truly happy?
I think not.
Meanwhile, the media is just trying to make their revenue projections. And it ain’t pretty. The cable TV industry is dying. As in, riddled with cancer, on fire, in a pit of alligators dying. Ask a millennial what cable news is. They don’t know and they don’t care. Its a dying business model serving a dying demographic. Namely, angry white people in gated communities who like to be told what news stories matter by catastrophically undereducated announcers who can’t be bothered to take a critical angle on this week’s gotcha moment.
The irony is not lost on me that Trump WANTS me to undermine the press. But he hates the press. While I’m skewering them for reporting innuendo as fact, creating the kid of ratings focused news that launched Trump, he’s after them for reporting on his racial comments and occasional bribing of ethically flexible Florida AGs.
But let’s be clear, we need more concise factual reporting about the issues that are impacting our daily lives. Not what Anne Coulter talks about. Not that Breitbart talks about. Not the culture wars. We need reporting about employment, education, diplomacy, the environment. You know, policy stuff.
(BTW. Hillary’s proposal to make a huge investments in America’s crumbling infrastructure, bridges, roads, schools, renewable energy, next generation internet, will create a massive number of good paying American jobs. Some people would like to have jobs. At least, that’s the rumor I hear going around.)
Instead we get the news media asserting a false construct of moral equivalency. Telling us that Hillary’s emails and her work with the Clinton Foundation are the same as Donald Trump’s pending rape allegations and penchant for stoking a race war. Two moral failures. What is wrong with our system? Gosh.
Never mind that there is no evidence of any kind to support these attacks against Clinton. Dishonest? No, actually she has been shown to be, by far, the most honest candidate out there. Pay for play in the Clinton Foundation?… No, actually none. Its been looked at and carefully by people who would love to find misdeeds. None. Nothing.
I spent 2 much wasted time digging through Clinton Foundation financials searching for something to write about. There. Is. Nothing. There.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 7, 2016
And the emails hurt whom, in what way exactly? Broke what law? Name it, please… But this is what we hear about. Over and over. And Benghazi? Please. As if the press has a moral obligation to report, not facts, but the opinions of people who are either ill informed, hired partisans, or simply crazy. Ben Carson? Hello?
Arguing the central value of facts vs. spin is a crucial part of the civil discourse we must insist on if we are to hold on to any semblance of civilization. Its all fine and good to say we are in a culture war, but culture wars are notoriously low in their intention and their expression. Obama has won the battle against an army of Breitbart inspired partisan hacks by, as the FLOTUS reminds us, relying on the following: “when they go low, he goes high.” This includes a dogged insistence on the facts.
Remember, somewhere out there lurks the rational voters of the middle. People who seek out and support rational policies for the governance of our nation. (Crazy, I know.) As much as the media wants to tell us over and over about the latest political outrages, I believe those folks in the rational middle are quietly sorting out the facts from the hyperbole.
In support of the idea of rational governance, we have to resist the pavlovian bell of outrage and instead decide which roads we might like to repave. Which programs we’d like to fund. This is governance for god’s sake. Literally, fixing roads and bridges should matter. Making trains run on time. Getting our kids to school.
Its up to us as a nation to disprove the notion that in our elections, hyped up culture wars hold more sway than facts. The argument can be made that we did this four years ago by re-electing Obama, but its clearly time to make the point again.
In addition, we need to keep calling out those in the media who are failing us, promoting innuendo, either out of laziness or for some darker purpose, ignoring their civic and moral responsibility to provide factual thorough reporting. We need to protect our governing institutions from the cancer of political anarchists like those at Brietbart, whose sole goal is to bring down the government and all that it represents. We must ask ourselves who profits from undermining our institutions? We must reverse the carefully engineered collective loss of faith.
Right now, today, by broadcasting every word out of his mouth, the worst of the cable news media are normalizing innuendo as a valid form of political discourse. They are normalizing Trump’s nasty insinuative style of politics, along with his racist positions, his loathing for immigrants, his contempt for our governing institutions and diplomatic agreements, his refusal to share his tax returns, his flip-flopping, his lack of cohesive policies and so on.
The media will continue to spin innuendo and supposition when Clinton debates Trump, shifting people’s perception of the outcome as they spin for clicks and eyeballs, defining the outcome in whatever way best serves their revenue projections. But we will push back on social media, in the press, in places like this.
So, to recap. First and foremost, facts matter. And remember, “When they go low? We go high.”
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Comment: “Social is on the same page. With “fear” “lies” and “smear” making it into the top terms used to express opinions about cable news it’s not surprising cable news comes in at 61% negative in social media.” – Howard K 30dB