I’m A Man With a Mission on Two or Three Editions

It gets pretty old writing the book every day on how the media is fucking up. Two chapters from the last 24 hours:

One: Maggie Haberman of the Cancel Your Subscription Times bemoning and decrying the awful act of using public records to name maxed-out Trump donors. Do I need to point out that public records are the basis for a huge amount of journalism (including the ever-present mugshots of accused, not convicted, individuals):

Two: CBS News with the evergreen “Today Trump Became President” take (and Jay Rosen’s take on it):

I’m sure there are many others, but they’re all symptoms of a disease that’s pretty easily identified but apparently hard to cure. Jay Rosen’s list of the top problems in pressthink is a pretty good roundup of the major symptoms. Here are his first two issues (read the whole thing):

1. The entire system for covering the Trump presidency is wrongly conceived. It needs to be rebuilt, faulty premise by faulty premise. But there has never been such a rebuild while the story is running hot. No one knows how it can be done. Reporting what he said today amplifies his falsehoods and hatreds, which is unacceptable, but ignoring what he said pretends it never happened, which is unacceptable in a different way. (Here’s my thread about that problem. Here’s an article about it. This podcast is also good.) 

2. Explicitly or implicitly, it seems likely that Trump is going to run a racist re-election campaign in 2020, in which “othering” (not a word I like, but it’s the best I can do…) is basic to his appeal to voters. This goes way beyond noisy controversies like whether to use the term “racist.” Is the press ready for a campaign like that? Does it have the people and practices in place to respond? Is it willing to break with precedent to meet a threat without parallel? I doubt it.

In Case You Were Wondering WHY the NY Times is So Broken

Wonder no more- it comes STRAIGHT from the top:

So how does the Times negotiate the disconnect? “It is difficult,” Baquet says. “I think the way you do it is you just keep working, you keep trying to break stories, you try to do analysis that explains the moment we’re in, you try to diversify your staff to include different viewpoints. You just try to work very hard.”

If that sounds unsatisfying, it’s because Baquet, the first African-American executive editor of the Times, doesn’t see this moment in American history as particularly aberrant. “I get that people see the phenomenon of someone who says inflammatory statements as a new thing,” he says. “I grew up in the South. I covered Edwin Edwards.” (Baquet was a reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune when a candidate for Louisiana governor told him famously: “Only way I lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.”)

“Americans have a way of thinking that nothing like this has happened before,” Baquet says. “Picture what the newsrooms of the New York Times and the Washington Post were like when people thought the draft and Vietnam meant that they were literally going to have to fight a war. The New York Times has a strong view about its role. We are not The Nation, even though I have deep respect for them. I think it’s healthy for each generation to come in and discuss what the rules are. You have to accept that there’s something at the core of the New York Times and the Washington Post that won’t change, but there’s a lot that can change at the edges.”

It takes a lot of work to be simultaneously condescending enough to think that everyone else is wrong about the history of the nation and stupid enough to compare the rise of Trump and the white nationalist right to a corrupt Governor in a relatively inconsequential state with a history of fringe politicians (google the kingfish), but Baquet is up to the task.

In fairness to Baquet, though, he is upholding the NYT’s legacy of being completely ill prepared to deal with fascist demagogues and not adequately recognizing the threat:

But several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: “You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your finer real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.”

The NY Times is fundamentally broken. And Baquet is both a symptom and a cause.

Late Night Open Thread: FTFNYTimes

Once the rockets go up, who cares *where* they come down?
That’s not my department, says Wehrner von Braun…

Holy Toledo

This is just…well, watch for yourselves if you didn’t see it live:

Trump uttered the words “white supremacy” under duress in the speech, snorting, eyes darting around like a hostage forced to read a sentence denouncing his comrades for a propaganda video. That’s what the media will almost certainly focus on, that Trump acknowledged that “white supremacy” is bad.

Most won’t bother to put it in context, i.e., to point out that the acknowledgement of the obvious was made necessary because one of Trump’s deranged followers murdered innocent men, women and children after parroting Trump’s own xenophobic demagoguery as his motive. Here’s a hot take from the non-Fox News media:

The fucking fuck? No, he did not “set a different tone,” you feckless fail muppets! Trump read an error-laden compilation of shitty platitudes designed to deflect blame from himself and shield gun owners and manufacturers from any consequences. And he did it poorly. Any pundit uttering or implying a “pivot” should be kicked in the junk repeatedly (metaphorically).

Meanwhile, back in Toledo:

Fellow citizens, we either kick the Republicans out of power at every level, or their insanity will engulf this country completely. We’re more than half way there right now. It really is as simple as that.

The Context of Constant Lies

I was ready to be very irritated after getting a Washington Post news alert about Trump’s proposal for “strong background checks”, since he says something like that after every big shooting, then backs down. But the Post’s piece is pretty good at pointing that out:

Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks” in the days after the February 2018 shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school that left 17 people dead.

He later retreated, voicing support for relatively modest changes to the federal background check system, as well as for arming teachers.

The problem with the story is that all of this context happens halfway down the page, after readers are done reading (if they bothered to go past the headline of the news alert) and have internalized that Trump is willing to bargain those background checks in exchange for the Democrats dealing on immigration reform.

We all know that Trump isn’t going to do anything meaningful, but it’s always possible that he and his party will give on a small detail. For example, he was able to stop the sale of bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre, which is a tiny something more than nothing. Maybe this time he’ll close the gun show loophole, if by some miracle the GOP in the Senate passes that bill, but only an idiot would try to make a deal with Trump on gun reform (or any other hot button issue), given his long track record of not delivering after running his big mouth.

So, the Post coverage gets it right in detail, but as always with Trump, they fail at the overall message.  Any “Trump Offers a Deal on X” story has to begin with Trump’s track record on deals in general, and X in particular.  And, by now the media should know that any  Trump deal offer isn’t worth a news alert, or even front-and-center placement.  It’s not enough for the context to be in the story, the story has to be placed in the context of Trump’s track record of never delivering on what he’s offering.

Update:  I just got an alert from the Guardian, much better than the Post: