For all Donald Trump’s ranting and railing against the media, they are and always have been Trump’s most valuable asset, boosting his signal exponentially — largely on his terms —…
He’s a pathological liar and a lifelong racist, with a plethora of dangerous psychological symptoms. But when Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced her potential 2020 candidacy, much of the mainstream media eagerly let Trump set the narrative, recycling his racist taunts and questioning Warren’s grasp of reality — an over-the-top example of how well they serve his needs.
Trump is hardly alone. The media has persistently benefited conservatives in a similar fashion. The general press ethos of symmetrical “fairness” is vulnerable to asymmetrical exploitation and attack, as is liberal culture more generally. Witness the decades of bad-faith attacks on climate science promoted by the fossil fuel industry which has known about its own culpability at least since the 1970s.
On “Meet the Press” last weekend, Chuck Todd of all people said he wasn’t going to play the “both sides” game about the science of climate change — a sharp reversal from decades of their usual practice, as seen just a month earlier, of giving “equal time” to ideological industry shills. This comes three decades late, compared to James Hansen’s 1988 warning to Congress, and more than five decades late, compared to the first warnings to President John F. Kennedy in February 1961. But better late than never, right?
But that was just one show and just one issue — though the future of humanity hangs in the balance. With the 2020 presidential campaign just getting started, and Democrats taking over the House, the media’s “both sides” obsession — making absurd, baseless policies seem the equal of serious proposals — is a tremendous boon to the GOP. You could even call it their ace-in-the-hole. As, Bill Kristol, a lifelong beneficiary of this false balance logic, put it recently:
As a non-Democrat, I’m struck by how much the media seem obsessed by possible rifts among Democrats, narrow lines they’ll have to walk, stray utterances of their backbenchers, etc., than by the rather more massive fact that we have a president and administration in total meltdown.
Indeed, this vastly understates the media’s false balance response to Warren’s 2020 campaign announcement — an event that served to highlight just about everything wrong with our contemporary media system: its vacuousness, sexism, racism, classism, short attention span, lack of historical awareness and more.
Warren released a powerful announcement video combining her own personal story with the economic devastation of the American middle class, a terrain where she’s been fighting for decades.
“After my older brothers joined the military, and I was just a kid, my daddy had a heart attack and couldn’t work. My mom found a minimum-wage job at Sears and that job saved our house and our family,” Warren narrates over family pictures, a story that sounds like a fairytale today: “My daddy ended up as a janitor, but he raised a daughter who got to be a public school teacher, a law professor and a senator. We got a real opportunity to build something.”
Then Warren turns to the reality she’s struggled to understand, explain and fight against for decades now. “Working families today face a lot tougher path than my family did,” she says, as a chart traces the declining middle-class share of U.S. income, from the late 1960s to now, “and families of color face a path that is steeper and rockier, a path that is made even harder by the impact of generations of discrimination,” she says, as another chart shows how the wealth gap between black and white families has only grown wider over the past 30 years.
A lot of people saw that video for themselves, but not that many heard it analyzed, echoed and discussed — treated with the seriousness and respect it deserved, whether one agrees with Warren or not. As former Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook tweeted the next day:
“Without intervention or some counter movement, the savvy press are going to do a number on us in 2020,” media critic and NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen added, retweeting Mook. (Even though I don’t believe the “media only covers insult” statement is true.)…