I teach a biennial course called Media & Politics, a catch-all course of the type you find in any half decent political science department in the country. We cover topics like the various theories of how viewers are affected by what they see and read on the news, how structural changes in the media over time have changed the way news is reported, forms of bias, and how political actors try to manipulate the media to their advantage. As far as academic courses go, it's pretty interesting. One thing we cover in depth is the impact of professional norms in journalism on what we see and read. Journalism is no different than any other profession in that there are broadly agreed upon standards of professional conduct (which are flouted on more than a few occasions, of course). One of the most important norms in recent years is objectivity.

Long story short, conservatives have succeeded since the 1970s in beating the "Liberal media" drum so loudly and insistently that journalists are now, as a group, quite defensive about it. Accusing the media of bias is a low-cost and fairly effective strategy. Even if the coverage one receives remains negative, the accusations will at the least lead reporters to pull back a little to prove just how Objective and Fair they are. In the Republican primaries, for example, most of the coverage of people like Trump and Carson is negative. But on the merits it should be a lot more negative. Basically the media should be telling viewers "This is a modern fascist movement driven almost entirely by racism, stupidity, and xenophobia." Since that is a true statement, anything short of that shows that reporters are more interested in being perceived as Fair than in taking any professional risks by inviting the ire of a campaign and its supporters. The path of least resistance is to hold back a bit, play the Objectivity game, and let the campaign pass into the shit heap of history.

It is fair to wonder, though, when a bunch of frothy-mouthed white people literally administer a gangland beatdown to a black protester at a Trump event if treating his campaign like a legitimate political phenomenon is not far more irresponsible than it would be to openly insult and reject it, forsaking all pretense of professional neutrality. There comes a point at which simply covering this without being explicit about what it is abets it. Were I a journalist (a lamentably easy construction to use, as of course I am not) I would have some reservations about what responsibility I might have as a professional in legitimizing that movement. It's obviously difficult to single out just one GOP campaign, and deciding which one is the most openly fascist, racist, and dangerous is like trying to pick the worst L.A. Clippers team from the 1990s. Competition among superlatives is never easy. Nonetheless the Trump campaign is openly embracing email forward / Facebook comments level racism and racist memes at this point. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary responses.

The whole Trump campaign is a live-action internet comment section; nobody feels compelled to take the latter seriously, so why do we have to treat the former with a disingenuous objectivity that it does nothing to deserve?


  • The WaPo once again providing a master class on weasel words:

    "At one point, Southall fell to the ground and was surrounded by several white men who appeared to be kicking and punching him, according to video captured by CNN."

    So there's video of white men kicking and punching him, and all the WaPo is prepared to say is that they "appeared to be kicking and punching him", so that anyone who is inclined to doubt reality as documented on video is free to do so. Opinions on the shape of the earth continue to differ.

  • A popular bumper sticker in my area is the one that says, "I don't trust the liberal media". The low-information belligerent mouth-breathers have been trained to respond to any news from non-Fox, non-Newsmax sources–however innocuous–with derision of the "liberal media". ("Hey, did you hear Our Team won last night in overtime?" "Huh, I don't believe the LIBRUL MEDIA!")

    The Washington Post has been a rightwing mouthpiece for close to a decade now. My local tv news also hasn't been liberal for quite some time.

  • "B-b-b-but what if I don't have ACCESS to Herr Gobbels anymore? I won't be able to get propaganda quotes I need to print verbatim!"

  • Meanwhile the right-wing pundits and commentators continue to call out the horrible fascist empire that Obama has wrought with the ACA.

    On a somewhat related topic: the sight of all of the toughguys with their arsenals — who are ready to take on the jackbooted government thugs at a moment's notice, donchano — peeing their collective panties in fear over Syrian refugees would be amusing if 1) it wasn't actively helping the actual terrorists, and 2) feeding into the possibility that one of these actual fascists might actually win the presidential election.

  • I don't think it's so much a matter of journalists collectively trying to placate the GOP as it is the senior editors and owners dictating what can be covered and said, based less on their fear of being labeled liberal than their sense of common cause with their social and economic peers. Not that there aren't a good many ambitious and unprincipled people eager to carry the water and get ahead in the business. Scruples are one thing in J school, and quite another when one has to pay Manhattan rent.

  • Mark Twain: "History doesn't repeat itself…but it does rhyme."

    As much as I think the Nazi card is way overplayed, the parallel between the Trump rally where the BLM guy was beaten up for protesting—with Trump's later approval—and a similar rally held in New York in 1939 needs to be pointed out:


    Although the caption to the video is misleading…the police didn't so much "capture" the man as rescue him from the thugs beating him up.

  • I'm sure you're aware, and you should make your students aware, that the major media outlets are deeply, pervasively non-objective; that the idea of objectiveness is just a shield to hide behind.


    If you actually watch newstainment shows with an eye toward objectivity, you'll find them absolutely loaded with opinions and bias – but only the approved kind. If you're treating "objectivity" as any sort of real thing, you're doing your students a disservice.

    "The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate." –Chomsky

    The current debate limits in the major media are constrained between "lots more bombing in the Middle East" and "even more bombing than that". As long as you have an opinion somewhere in that range you can have a lively debate. And if you watch CNN or any of them, you'll see that in action every day.

  • I keep thinking Rump, is trolling everyone. Trying see how far the discourse can go before even his most ardent supporters have to say, "Wait! WOT???!!!"

    Unfortunately, I don't think anyone will call him on his behaviour.

  • "The whole Trump campaign is a live-action internet comment section; nobody feels compelled to take the latter seriously, so why do we have to treat the former with a disingenuous objectivity that it does nothing to deserve?"

    This should be a good point, but the cable networks' insistence on reading people's Tweets and Facebook comments aloud on air would suggest otherwise.

  • Trump also promised to bring water boarding back, a free he's elected.

    I think I'll have to start asking his supporters if they're really that into supporting a draft dodging piece of shit like the Dongald as they were into supporting an AWOL piece if shit named Bush.

  • Donald Trumpet says:

    I always argue that we don't have a liberal media, we have a corporate media, one that is biased toward the interests of the wealthy few who own the six giant corporations that control 90% of the media.

    This seems blindingly obvious, as long as you have any idea of how money and power work. But I have never expressed that idea to a conservative who didn't react as if I had suggested that Martians had infiltrated the government, or that Kennedy shot Lee Harvey Oswald. "Liberal media bias" is such a core principle to them that they can't conceive of questioning it.

    It's more dear to them than any religion.

  • Ed, in the class, do you discuss manipulating search engines results as well? One famous example of that, for sure. And I think an industry today?
    Keep up the good fight…

  • Well, if you've got two hours, I can explain the whole thing. I've been a journalist, in one form or another, since 1964 and I've seen the whole thing go to hell. This could actually be a nice semester-long seminar. But I'll try to be brief.

    At the root of the whole thing, as @Donald Trumpet says above, is the corporatization of the news business. When I was a lad, newspapers were corporations, but we lacked the severe media concentration we have today. Also, and most important, the owners and managers were the same people.

    My first publisher was also the CEO and chief stockholder. He was also a newsman and cared about the news product. He could make decisions that would negatively affect the bottom line to provide good news coverage. Those days are gone.

    Today, the owners, i.e. stockholders, are hedge funds, mutual funds, foreign stockholders, whatever. The people who work for the news outlets — even the publishers — are employees and they must make sure the stockholders make as much money as possible — news coverage be damned. So they have to do what make the most money. They care about the community they "serve" only to the extent that it improves the bottom line.

    As far as the idea of "balance," when I was starting, the idea was that reporters kept their personal opinions out of news stories and gave each side their due. As time went on, at the behest of corporation and right-wingers, that became ridiculous. For example, if scientists came out with a study about the dangers of smoking, it became mandatory to contact the Tobacco Institute — a tobacco industry phony pressure group — so so that they could blow smoke (pun intended) to confuse the issue. And it has gotten worse.

    When I was fired from my last full-time job for the crime of being too old, I resorted to taking on free-lance assignments. One was for a metro newspaper — very right wing — about 60 miles away. If I covered any story that had even a hint of being "liberal," I was required to get an opposing view — even if the person giving that view had no connection to the story.

    The best example was a lecture on stem-cell research at a local hospital. This hospital is located in the most Republican city you can imagine. At the lecture were all these old Republican types, all of whom were enthusiastic about the prospects of stem-cell research helping with their degenerative diseases. The discussion was about advances and problems with the research. It wasn't political or polemic in any way. I covered it straight and thought it was a good story.

    I got a call from the editor wanting to know why I didn't include the opposition. I explained that there wasn't any. Everyone in the room was in favor. Not one person objected. She was furious with me and refused to run the story.

    On the other hand, when I was sent to cover a serviceman returning from Iraq, I asked if they wanted me to contact the local anti-war group to get an opposing comment from them. Oddly enough, they didn't.

    There's more, but I think this gives a flavor of what's going on.

  • As y'all can tell by my address, I work at a liberal arts college (as a staff member/ vending machine). In conversations with students about the State of the World I often bring up history to show that things have been this way before: ansrchists in the early 20th century, the ominous cloud of the Cold War, the Tylenol scare, "ending gridlock" in the first Clinto campaign. MY QUESTION is, is this true? Am I being fair to history? (We know that global warming is the scary exception.)

  • With Reich-Wingers, it's all about "projection."

    'Obama is a Fascist Tyrant!'
    Because saying that that takes away from their candidates, who'll want to be real Fascist Tyrants.

    Only, you know, "Christian" ones.
    Not like that Kenyan SocialiFasciCommuniHeatheAtheiMusliTyrant Usurper in the (formerly) White (people's) House!

  • Oh yeah – and one who's a Tyrant at home, while being a timid surrender-monkey to other countries – especially, Muslim ones.

    Countries that Trump/Carson/Cruz/Rubio/etc…, would nuke!

  • @Major K: You took the words right out of my mouth. I'm becoming less and less amused by Trump and his partisans and more and more frightened. It CAN happen here. Especially if there's another economic crash, which looks more likely all the time.

    @Skipper: Thanks and condolences. Gannett is buying our local (Memphis) paper and I'm afraid they're essentially going to kill it.

  • @ Major Kong == You can actually buy a brown shirt with the Trump logo on it. It's on the Internet.


    @ geoff. I worked for Gannett when they were good. They have gone over to the dark side. Gannett owns our newspaper here. It is total shit. I read it online and am actually relieved when I hit my 10 free reads per month. (Although they haven't quite figured out that I can just clear their cookies and read more.)

  • Here's another example of granting respectability where there obviously is none, from NPR on Carson's claim about West Point. The announcer said that his claim was "not entirely true".

    Really. That's what he called it. Not entirely true.

    The press doesn't even know how to report anymore. Carson patently made up his claim about having a full scholarship to West Point. It isn't "not entirely true", it's a LIE. That's like saying my claim that I invented the electron microscope is not entirely true. When they say things like this, they give cover to the people who should be exposed.

  • Calling political scream fests "debates," doesn't count. They aren't really political anyway. These so-called debates are similar to rants against fluoridation. The debate however, is long over.

    I'd like to see media acknowledge this but of course not doing so is safer and more importantly, by keeping things simple, cable news sells mass quantities from Big Pharma. Corporate media has won and we're not supposed to talk about it.

    I can only imagine what the reporting from the floor of the 1968 Democratic Convention would be like today.

  • Major K –

    Black shirts, brown shirts, red shirts, black shorts …
    Today, in the 21st century, the New Fascism look is [you heard it here first]:


  • Do you know when this will be explicitly condemnef? When the Repubs lose a few elections. Then the press will be.beating up someone sad and defensless, which is the only way cowards beat on bullies. Until then they will be afraid of losing access to the winning side.

  • Another perfect example of this was the coverage in the New York Times of the Iowa primary season. They interviewed one 77-year old farmer from rural NE Iowa who intoned seriously that we "might as well give it all to the Muslims". No context. No discussion of how and why this gentleman could have developed this opinion.

  • The journalism community won't bite the access to the hands that feed them. If there is no hope for a subject to spin, they will naturally shut out reporters and opt for reality TV.

  • I hope some time to see Herr Trump…

    In The Flesh!!

    Are there any queers in the theater tonight?
    Get them up against the wall
    There's one in the spotlight, he don't look right to me
    Get him up against the wall
    That one looks Jewish!
    And that one's a coon!
    Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?
    There's one smoking a joint!
    And another with spots!
    If I had my way
    I'd have all of you shot!

    Roger Waters is a PROPHET!!

  • I also worry a lot about the right-wingers who heap praise on Putin, for the Constitutions sake! I agree the Nazi insult is overdone but I'm really at a loss for words at this point.

  • I disagree that the Nazi reference is "overdone." Godwin's so-called law was, and is, a joke.

    The Nazi movement did not begin with the Holocaust. There was a lot that went before that — and what went before culminated in the Holocaust. Without what went before, the Holocaust wouldn't have been possible.

    This is why we need to look closely at the post WW1 antecedents in Germany and nip them in the bud when we see them today. The early days of the Nazi movement were marked by such things as thugs beating up protestors at meetings, pervasive propaganda demonizing entire classes of citizens, scapegoating those classes for systemic problems they had nothing to do with, a cult of personality, fetishization of the military, encouragement of a climate of fear, xenophobia, and national exceptionalism.

    Invoking the idiotic "Godwin's Law" to stop people from making these very apt comparisons is playing into the hands of the fascists.

  • We in our western NY town have nothing to fear when it comes to fair and unbalanced journalism. Our local paper, which is to the right of Louis IV, runs Michelle Malkin's childish column every fuckin' day.

    I was surprised that their latest readers poll said that only 50% of us think Trump would be a good President. As many "Make America Great Again" Trump caps are worn around here as "I'm With Stupid" T-shirts.

  • It's two months until Iowa.

    What, between now and then, can possibly derail Trump? When he says something stupid / racist, his numbers _improve_.

    He's gonna win the GOP nomination.

  • About the only bright side is that Trump is turning himself into a fascist cartoon for the privilege of coming coming in second in the Presidential race.

    Not that it might not be an even uglier race than usual.

  • The GOP may have to find something in its history of shitty convention politics to dump Trump. I'm betting something like it will occur.

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