Advice To The Left: Leave The Paranoia To The Experts

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” on Sunday, host Brian Stelter began the program with a segment on the “troubling behavior by Donald Trump’s right hand man, campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski.” It was almost as if CNN just now discovered that there reliable sourceswas anything “troubling” about Drumpf’s campaign at all, let alone what his gangsterish groupies, including those working for him, have been doing at his hateful rallies for months now. But at least, you may have noticed, CNN and MSNBC have lately been critical of some aspects of Drumpf’s effort to become con man-in-chief. That’s a good thing. But.

A guest on the segment, Jeff Greenfield—a television journalist whose political experience goes back to 1960s—made the point that “an appetite for the ratings” has turned much of cable news into Castro-like “state TV” on behalf of Drumpf. Greenfield also made an additional point about the kind of journalism we have been seeing since the GOP front-runner hit the stage with his bigoted act:

I think the desire to have him on—and the unpreparedness of so many of the people interviewing him—will stand for a long time as a serious black mark on the American press.

That indictment is true enough and bad enough. But perhaps Greenfield’s most important point was something else he noted, what he called “one of the essential questions.” He explained:

reliable sources and greenfieldAs the media, some of it, had gotten critical about Trump, it has had no effect on his support, and one of the really central questions we’re going to have to face is whether a chunk of the American electorate has been taught to distrust the media so long and so completely that even when the media zeroes in on some of Trump’s blatant falsehoods or the dangerous rhetoric, his supporters say, “Oh, that’s coming from The New York Times or CNN or in some cases even FOX. We don’t believe it.”

And the whole theory about what the press is supposed to do in a free society, to put spotlights on political people seeking power…we may be in a situation where a fairly large chunk of the United States electorate is saying, “We don’t care what you say. We don’t believe you. If Trump says it, it’s true.”

And that’s a real problem. I don’t know how we deal with that.

Yes. It’s a real problem. And I don’t know how we deal with it either. For years, going at least back to William F. Buckley’s dominance of the movement, conservatives have always distrusted journalists who weren’t conservative. Beginning in the 1980s, right-wing radio made a fetish out of attacking mainstream journalism, with Rush Limbaugh calling it the “drive-by media” because it was, in his paranoid, ideological mind, completely biased in favor of liberals. In fact, there was so much distrust of the press, so much of a market for niche journalism that would tell conservatives what they wanted to hear, that a new cable channel, masquerading as a news channel, was born. And now, ironically, many conservatives, as Greenfield noted, don’t even trust Fox to bring them “the truth.”

But, sadly, it’s not just conservatives these days who are sowing seeds of distrust by attacking the press. Some liberals are doing it too. And such liberal attacks would be okay, if they were actually making specific, valid claims of bias—for instance, lefty Amy Goodman was also on “Reliable Sources” and she made the point that, in 2015, Drumpf “got 23 times the coverage of Bernie Sanders”—rather than just blanket statements that, like what conservatives do, sow general distrust of mainstream journalism. If journalistic malpractice is going on, liberals (or conservatives) should point it out, but they should be specific and not generalize. A general distrust of the mainstream press hurts the country by making us collectively dumber.

Let me give you just one example of such a harmful generalization coming from a liberal, an example from this morning. Robert Reich—a man whose opinion I normally greatly respect—tweeted the following:

reich tweet on bernie

Now, I listened to right-wing talk radio religiously for almost two decades, mostly as a right-winger myself, and I can say that the phrase, “Pay no attention to the national media, who want you to think” is exactly the kind of phrase that would, day after day, slide off the lips of Limbaugh, Hannity, and all the other conservative zealots on the air. And it’s the kind of claim that goes to what Greenfield was talking about when he said a “large chunk” of the electorate so distrusts the press that they simply refuse to believe even basic facts.

delegate count march 21 2016I realize Robert Reich is a fierce Bernie Sanders supporter. Fine and dandy. He can say all kinds of nice things about Bernie and even tell people the race is not yet over if he wants to. But come on. Just because journalists are, quite accurately, reporting how exceedingly difficult the math is for a Bernie comeback, that doesn’t mean Bernie supporters should undermine the role of journalism by resorting to that old Limbaughesque “they want you to think” nonsense. I see no difference between saying, as Greenfield put it, “We don’t care what you say. We don’t believe you. If Trump says it, it’s true,” and “We don’t care what you say. We don’t believe you. If Bernie says it, it’s true.”

The press, particularly television journalism, has a lot to answer for regarding the Drumpfing of America, that’s for sure. The CEO of CBS, Les Moonves, did really say that Drumpf’s presidential run was a “good thing,” mostly, I am sure, because of what he also said: “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.” Thus, it is completely fair to criticize on-air journalists and their producers and their corporate bosses for specific cases of malpractice, like the way coverage of Drumpf has been handled since last summer. But the conspiratorial rubbish—“Pay no attention to the national media, who want you to think”—is the kind of paranoia that belongs on the right, not on the left.

We should be better than that.

[Delegate graph: AP]
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9 Comments

  1. Ben Field

     /  March 21, 2016

    Duane,

    You have also criticized the media for their unpreparedness in asking the proper questions in candidate interviews. It is understandable that one might confuse incompetence as favoring one candidate by giving a pass on legitimate concerns voters might have in mind. After all, locally the Globe selected the hateful ramblings of Geoff Caldwell over your reasoned approach. The Globe made front page news of a councilman driving with a dog in his lap solely because he sought the dismissal of their favored city manager after police were called to the manager’s home for a domestic violence call. The journalistic bar is very low these days.
    Robert Reich supports Sanders over Clinton and you compare him to Rush Limbaugh? Sander’s should stay in until at least California, less than two years ago nobody knew him, and now he has amassed a sizable percentage of Democratic voters. With the influence he has earned, Hillary should at least concede that she will sign the revised Glass-Steagall bill to prevent another disaster.
    It would appear that Democrats have utilized the GOP tactics when they refer to a respected Democrat as a hate spewing Rush Limbaugh. Reich once dated Clinton, so I think there is respect among the two, I don’t think he was searching for a trophy wife as Trump did. Clinton can’t win without Bernie’s supporters, period. I would think the wise course would be to embrace them, not alienate them. Reich is right, the contest is not over, and it is not in Sanders or his supporters best interests to concede until the math is indisputable, regardless of the media or pundits assertions.

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    • Ben,

      I guess I didn’t make my point clearly enough, even though it seemed pretty clear to me. If what you got from the article is, “It would appear that Democrats have utilized the GOP tactics when they refer to a respected Democrat as a hate spewing Rush Limbaugh,” then I either made a mistake in the writing or you made a mistake in the reading. And by the way, I don’t even understand what that sentence means. First of all, I never “referred” to Reich as a hate-spewing Limbaugh. I compared his attack on the press to Limbaugh’s decades-old attacks on the press, as well as other attacks by conservatives. Second, even if I had referred to Reich as a hateful Limbaugh, how would that be a “GOP tactic”? They love Limbaugh, remember?

      In any case, I have no problem with you or Robert Reich or anyone defending Bernie Sanders’ chances of winning the primary. Go at it and make your case. It is a difficult case to make, but marshal all you can to support it. You are right about one thing: Bernie’s chances to win are still mathematically possible, just not very likely. But that wasn’t the point of this piece. It was about mischaracterizing the “national media.”

      And I will not refrain from criticizing the claim, from whomever it originates, that there is a vast conspiracy in the national media—a claim Reich was clearly advancing in his tweet—to essentially prematurely hand the race to Hillary Clinton. I can’t help it if Reich ventured into Limbaugh territory with his ridiculous claim, but he’s the one who did it, not me. I only pointed out that Reich’s claim was the mirror image of the claim that conservatives make about the media: that there exists a conspiracy in the national press against them. It’s all nonsense.

      And as much as I have always admired Reich, I can’t stand it when people, who are clearly losing the battle for hearts and minds—and, more important, delegates—resort to saying “the media” is at fault. The math is what it is and no amount of whining about the national media “wanting you to think” this or that about it will change the math. Bernie has, at best, a diminishing chance of winning and that is what most outlets are reporting. There’s no national media conspiracy to cheat Sanders out of his nomination.

      Which leads me to my real point. I don’t want our side to descend into and embrace the conspiracy-laden nonsense that exists on the right in this country. I know we have our share of conspiracy believing nuts, but I’d like to do what I can to reduce their numbers, not increase them.

      By the way, your criticism (with which I agree) of our local paper, the Globe, is a perfect example of how to fairly criticize the press: with specific examples. Likewise, Randy Turner’s critique of the Globe’s news coverage is usually accompanied by specific examples of misleading stories, or, more often, of what the Globe should but doesn’t report. I have exactly no problem with any of that. What I would have a problem with is saying that “all local papers” are like the Globe. Obviously, they are not. Some are better, some are worse. But there is no one critique, especially involving a conspiracy, that applies to all of them.

      And that’s the point I am making about the national press. It is fair to point out examples of malpractice in the press or to point out biased and misleading stories or, as in the case of Drumpf, point out examples of unbalanced coverage, but merely saying not to trust the press generally is a dangerous thing to do in a democracy that depends on the press to challenge political power. As I said, doing so makes us dumber as a people, just as it has made conservatives dumber as a movement.

      And whether it is a “respected Democrat” or a “hate-spewing” Republican saying such dangerous things, I will call them out for doing so. I’m sorry that appears to have upset you, but that wasn’t my intent. My intent is to preserve at least some respect for an institution that is vital to our democratic experiment.

      Duane

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  2. Excellent points, sir. I wonder if we are experiencing a “sea change” in dissemination of information because of the Internet. Perhaps blogs and other internet media are replacing more conventional modes. That is already occurring or has occurred for me, and it may be a generational phenomena, being more the case for younger people and technically savvy older people (in which category I like to count myself, to the amusement of my grandchildren).

    I count your blog as one which informs me about what is happening in the country and the world. I also follow other blogs routinely for the same purpose, the only drawback being that I am selecting sites mostly having opinions I like and agree with. I also follow NPR, regarding them as fairly even-handed if still somewhat left leaning.

    I have tried following conservative blogs and sites. I usually find them too biased and strident to follow. I have a number of conservative friends who post on Facebook, and I read their posts, but I find their information somewhat suspect. Do you, or your readers, have any recommendations for conservative plugs that are more reasonable? It is difficult to determine what the facts are these days, but maybe that has always been the case.

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    • King Beauregard

       /  March 22, 2016

      A couple sites I like:

      http://www.vox.com/
      http://immasmartypants.blogspot.com/
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/

      None of them would tout themselves as “conservative”, but they tend to be fact-based, which is territory that modern conservatism has little interest in. I figure a person should start with the facts and then draw conclusions, rather than start with an ideology and then work towards facts.

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    • Michael,

      Sorry this response is so long, but you brought up important issues about how we consume our news these days. I’m afraid that too many people choose to get their news only from friendly sources, which, as you know, tends to confirm biases in many cases, not necessarily inform. But that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t read writers, or seek out sites and publications and broadcasts, that have a biased point of view. Nothing at all wrong with that. I do it all the time. I just make sure I know the bias involved—on both the left and the right.

      In the case of this blog, you can see right on the header where I am coming from. People shouldn’t be surprised by what they get, although these days I spend most of my comment-response time debating liberals and progressives who, to my mind, have an unrealistic view of what is possible to achieve in this political climate. In most cases, those of us on the left agree about what needs to be done domestically (national security is another matter), but we have strong disagreements about how hard the task is. One can face those disagreements or one can choose to go somewhere else where there will be no push back. It’s all up to the reader, but, as for myself, I like to debate not run—unless it degenerates into mere name-calling. Then I won’t waste my time.

      In any case, as far as following conservative sources, I do it all the time. I believe I have to for at least three reasons. One, I write a lot about what they are saying, so I have to know what they are saying. Two, I used to be a conservative and I understand quite a bit of the history of conservatism and much of what animates the conservative movement. Thus, I think I can offer a fairly unique perspective on what conservatives are saying and doing, since I was once as passionate and committed to the ideology as they are now.

      Perhaps the most important reason I visit conservative sources is because of the possibility that my position on a given issue might not always be the right one. My position might be corrected by exposure to the opposition, or I might find that my position is right, but it has certain vulnerabilities that need correction. I have sometimes found holes in my arguments by reading challenges to them, sometimes finding that the holes were so big I had to abandon the arguments altogether or at least suspend judgment until I got more information. There has been more than a few times when I have began a blog post with a certain view, then changed after I started to research the topic. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned.

      Finally, I don’t read much of what conservatives post on Facebook. It usually ranges from trivialities to trash and I just don’t have the time. If I want to go into the conservative sewer, which I do from time to time, I go to Twitter. Plenty of sewage on there in the right-wing echo chamber. I watch a lot of Fox “News” and still listen to a lot of right-wing talk radio because those two resources drive a lot of what Republican politicians do, and respond to. For more thoughtful stuff, I usually first go to National Review Online, if I want the “establishment” conservative take on something. Most of the writers there are very good writers, and some are very good thinkers. Of course, they have their share of assholes, but we have them on our side, too.

      By the way, thanks for the kind words. I appreciate it and your contributions.

      Duane

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  3. Ben Field

     /  March 22, 2016

    Duane,

    You have complained of the media asking Hillary questions not asked of other candidates, such as why she is considered untrustworthy, why doesn’t she smile, why is she so shrill…etc…And what credibility does CBS claim after Dan Rather’s career ending fiasco? Is it greater than Fox?
    The media doesn’t ask pertinent questions, I.e. the former Secretary of Labor contradiction of Hillary’s claims. The media seems to most be focused on sensationalism and selling stories more than anything resembling journalism. One has to read multiple sources to even assume the information is accurate. You know this, as I think you know Robert Reich is not paranoid. As to referring to GOP tactics, I was seeing Reich referred to as a paranoid Bernie supporter, and recent columns you posted wanting Bernie to drop out for the good of the party, sounds exactly like the current GOP circus. To my understanding Hillary has accumulated around 8.6 million votes and Bernie around 6.1 million. Not too bad for an unknown. With all the negative rhetoric surrounding Sanders’ candidacy, how can you support him if Hillary is indicted? If that occurs, she is toast.

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    • Ben,

      You asked, “With all the negative rhetoric surrounding Sanders’ candidacy, how can you support him if Hillary is indicted?” First of all, if you have evidence of a possible indictment, I’d like to see it. Until then, that suggestion sounds like a real “GOP tactic.”

      But I want to address your question. I have said, repeatedly, that I would support Sanders. I have also said time and again that I agree with most of Sanders’ goals for the country domestically. I have also said that if he really wants to do the most to advance his goals, he should use his resources to increase our chances of winning back Congress, especially the Senate. We just evaluate his chances of winning the nomination differently. I don’t mind all that much if he stays in until the bitter end. That’s up to him. But what I do mind is if he continues attacking Hillary’s integrity, as I have pointed out frequently. That bothers me, but it doesn’t bother me enough to elect a Republican out of spite. On the other hand, there is evidence that a significant number of Bernie voters say they will not vote for her. That’s something that should bother both of us.

      I hope that clears it up. Peace, my friend.

      Duane

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