Monday, January 16, 2017

Marshall to Press: Stop Crying and Do Your Job

Josh Marshall calls on the press to stop fretting and report on Trump as "a punk and a bully" on Talking Points Memo.

Presidents don't validate what is and isn't news. If you're expecting them to, you're doing it wrong. Almost nothing that is truly important about the work of a free press is damaged by moving the press office across the street.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that these things are not important or that all these threats aren't a very bad sign. It is vastly preferable to have a President who believes in or at least respects American and democratic values. But let's get real: we don't or wont't as of Friday. Trump is a would-be authoritarian and a bully. He's surrounded by mediocrities who owe all to him and Feel validated by enabling his endless transgressions. Of course, he's doing these things. We know Trump's MO. He will bully people until they're cowed and humiliated and obedient. He'll threaten to kick the reporters out of the White House and then either cut a 'deal' or make some big to-do about 'allowing' the reporters to stay. These are all threats and mind games meant not so much to cow the press as make them think Trump is continually taking things away from them and that they need to make him stop.
They don't need to. That access isn't necessary to do their jobs. And bargaining over baubles of access which are of little consequence is not compatible with doing their job. Access can provide insight and understanding. But it's almost never where the good stuff comes from. Journalists unearth factual information and report it. If Trump wants to turn America into strong man state, journalists should cover that story rather than begging Trump not to be who he is. America isn't Russia. And I don't think he can change us into Russia. So unless and until we see publications shut down and journalists arrested or disappeared, let's have a little more confidence in our values and our history and our country.
I've been surprised at the extent to which right-thinking people are all but threatening themselves with what Trump might do to, collapsing into their own sense of powerlessness. Maybe he'll jail his opponents! Maybe he'll call off the 2018 election! Here it is worth remembering things we learned from the campaign. Trump's one true gift is his ability to get his critics to surrender up their own dignity somehow of their own free will. That is just what he is trying to do to the press at this moment. It's no different from the dominance politics he played on his opponents in the GOP primaries.
Trump wants to bully the press and profit off the presidency. He's told us this clearly in his own words. We need to accept the reality of both. The press should cover him on that basis, as a coward and a crook. The big corporate media organizations may not be able to use those words, I understand, but they should employ that prism. The truth is that his threats against the press to date are ones it is best to laugh at. If Trump should take some un- or extra-constitutional actions, we will deal with that when it happens. I doubt he will or can. But I won't obsess about it in advance. Journalists should be unbowed and aggressive and with a sense of humor until something happens to prevent them from doing so. Trump is a punk and a bully. People who don't surrender up their dignity to him unhinge him.
Much the same applies to the endless chatter about 'conflicts of interest' and the insufficiency of his plan to separate himself from his businesses. Why are we still saying Trump isn't doing enough to avoid conflicts of interest? He's made clear he wants to profit off his presidency. Let's accept that. That is what he wants to do. If you're a journalist, start documenting the details. If you're an activist or politician start mobilizing against his corruption.
Trump is the most unpopular incoming President in American history. We only have data on this going back a few decades. But there's little reason to think any President in previous decades or centuries has been this unpopular. Indeed, he's getting less popular as he approaches his inauguration. People need to have a bit more confidence in themselves, their values and their country. As soon as you realize that the Trump wants to profit from the presidency and that the Republicans are focused and helping him do so, all the questions become easier to answer and the path forward more clear. His threats against the press are the same. He's threatening to take away things the press doesn't truly need in order to instill a relationship of dominance.
There's nothing more undignified and enervating than fretting about whether the President-Elect will brand real news 'fake news' or worrying whether his more authoritarian supporters can be convinced to believe - pleaded with, instructed to, prevailed upon - actual factual information. The answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism. And the truth is that Trump's threats are cheap stunts and bluffs, threatening to take away things journalists don't need.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Conservative Talker Quits After Trump Won

Sean Iling interviews conservative talk radio host John Ziegler who quit after Trump's win on vox.com.

There are a lot of reasons why it (his radio show as an experiment in calling it straight to a conservative audience) failed, but the straw that broke the camel's back was the election of Donald Trump. The part of this equation your audience will be most interested in is the reality that talk radio, in the era of Trump, isn't remotely conservative. It's also no longer about the truth. It's about telling people what they want to hear.
It's very much like a cult now, where the purpose is to substantiate what the religion is telling you and anything that runs counter to the religion is inherently false and blasphemous, even evil. So anyone who breaks from orthodoxy is a traitor.
(Iling mentions that Wisconsin conservative radio host Charlie Sykes had a similar experience.)
For instance, you can't simply say, as a conservative radio host, that Donald Trump lost the popular vote. Now that's an obvious fact, but listeners can't deal with it, they won't deal with it. Fifty-two percent of Republicans, in fact, don't accept this fact, and they don't accept it because they don't have to in their echo chamber.
They live in an alternative reality in which Trump won the popular vote and the Electoral College vote, and that reality is propped up by conservative media.
As a Never Trumper, I'm basically selling beef to vegans at this point. There's just no interest in what I'm saying. If you weren’t prepared to toss out your principles and drink the Trump Kool-Aid this year, conservative audiences weren’t listening.
Sean Hannity (is the worst panderer) without a doubt. Here's a guy that's worth tens, maybe hundreds of millions of dollars, whose guy won and he still spends Friday nights attacking guys like me on Twitter. I think he realizes what he's done on some level and I think he's incredibly insecure about it.
But he's completely sold out whatever principles he had and he's an abject hypocrite. It's been great for his ratings, though. I’m sure he sleeps well at night.
A good fairy tale will always be more sellable than a harsh truth. Truth is not always comfortable for people, and we're living in an era in which you don't have confront the truth if you don't want to. There are a couple of things that have happened in terms of the economics of media that have altered the content.
In the past, talk radio basically had a monopoly on non-liberal thought and opinion. But Fox News emerged and the internet exploded and talk radio lost that monopoly. So talk radio was then forced, increasingly, to pander to its niche audience in order to compete for their attention.
Now, no matter how insane or crazy a belief is, you can find a media outlet that will affirm it for you. So the pressure to feed the crazies is immense in this media environment. What this means is that talk radio hosts are now gravitating toward their audiences rather than audiences gravitating to hosts. If a host refuses to do this, the audience disappears.
People like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin were so afraid of pissing off the Trump supporters that they were co-opted, and that's about ratings, not conservatism or truth.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Media Ethicists: Buzzfeed Memo a Mistake

Sean Iling interviews mdeia ethicist Kelly McBride on whether Buzzfeed should have published the Trump/Russia memo on vox.com.

I think the real problem is the impact this has had on the conversation. Before BuzzFeed published the dossier, the conversation that we were having, and CNN was leading on the reporting, was that four senior intelligence officers or officials were so concerned that they had briefed both the president and president-elect on the existence of this dossier and what they were doing in response to this dossier.
Now that is a very different story than asking about whether the contents of the dossier are accurate. So we’ve gone from looking at the fact that there was a report that the Russians had compromising information to trying to figure out if the information itself is true or not. Those are two completely different stories. And you saw Donald Trump very effectively dismiss them both.
He lumped CNN and BuzzFeed together and called all of it “fake news.” And that’s what happens when you hand people the bat to beat you with. You paint a target on yourself and undercut your own arguments.
Glenn Greenwald makes a similar point on TheIntercept.com.
 There is a real danger here that this maneuver can harshly backfire, to the great benefit of Trump and to the great detriment of those who want to oppose him. If any of the significant claims in this “dossier” turn out to be provably false — such as Cohen’s trip to Prague — many people will conclude, with Trump’s encouragement, that large media outlets (CNN and BuzzFeed) and anti-Trump factions inside the government (CIA) are deploying “Fake News” to destroy him. In the eyes of many people, that will forever discredit — render impotent — future journalistic exposés that are based on actual, corroborated wrongdoing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Trump's Rationale: It's OK Because I Won

Matthew Yglesias on vox.com on the two most important words from Trump's presser today: I won.


Donald Trump explained very clearly at Wednesday morning’s press conference why he won’t release his tax returns, thus leaving the public entirely in the dark as to who may or may not be paying him off: “I won.”
It’s as good an explanation as any. Norms are important in politics and government. But norms get a fair amount of their bite from fear. Fear that if you break them, you’ll come in for damaging criticism and lose public support. But while there probably was a public opinion backlash to Trump’s norm breaking (he was very unpopular on Election Day), the backlash wasn’t enough to cost him the race.
To Trump, winning retroactively justifies everything that came before, and the fact that his win was so unexpected will give him confidence that future taboos can be shattered without cost. This was evident in his behavior long before he entered the political arena.
Business norms say that if you hire someone to do some work for you, you ought to pay them. Trump doesn’t follow those norms. He stiffs contractors everywhere he goes and is happy to wade into litigation rather than pay, knowing that many people can be bullied into accepting less than 100 percent of what they are owed to avoid high legal bills.
Before Trump became a major political figure, I would have thought you couldn’t practice business this way because nobody would work for you. But Trump just moves on to newer places. There’s no Trump Hotel in New York, but he does have a brand new one here in DC, and DC-area contractors are learning what contractors in Atlantic City learned long ago — Trump doesn’t pay up. He defaults on his debts, rips off his shareholders, and defrauds the students at his fake university.
Trump was able to keep making more and more money and becoming more and more famous acting this way, and so he did. By the same token, all his political norm breaking — from his bizarre tweets to refusing to release his tax returns to suggesting Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination — didn’t derail, and may at times have helped, his election. He’s going to do what he’s going to do, and the reality is he’s right: He won.
But what comes next, in ways Trump may not realize, is different. Lots of presidents have won elections. What they’ve generally found is that the United States is not a plebiscitary dictatorship. The presidency is a powerful office, but its powers are shared with Congress, and to a considerable extent, you can only do what Congress lets you get away with.
For now, though, congressional Republicans seem convinced that Trump will stick to tax cuts and deregulation as the core of his agenda — with protectionist tweets serving more as a theatrical sideshow than as the dawn of a new heterodox approach to policymaking. As long as that’s the case, they’re willing to hold up their end of the bargain. But that’s the real reason Trump doesn’t need to disclose anything — it’s not that he won; it’s that his allies in Congress think letting him get away with it is the best way for them to get their way on policy.