In the following article, from the American magazine The Atlantic, veteran journalist James Fallow tries to address the journalistic work in the media of Democrats and addresses the many defects that played a role in the rise of President Donald Trump.
Specifically, the writer deals with the heresy of journalistic neutrality in times of polarization as a negative situation that contradicts his role as an authority that monitors and holds accountable in the name of the people. The bias of the journalist is necessary and decisive when the authority is abused by lies, deception and falsification of the truth.
We see a fatal flaw, and a possible tragedy now unfolding.
This sentence may apply to countless aspects in economic, medical, governmental and environmental life today, but what is on my mind is what is almost a mythical failure in the press's response to the facts of the Trump era.
Many of our most influential editors and reporters behave as if the rules that reigned under former American presidents still apply.
But this president is different, the rules are different, and unless it adapts quickly, the press will witness another institution that failed in a moment of suffocating pressure.
In a number of significant ways, media outlets are replicating the mistake made by former special counsel Robert Mueller.
In his book on the Mueller Inquiry, Real Crimes and Misdemeanors (and in an article in The New Yorker), Geoffrey Tobin argues that Mueller's fatal mistake was a kind of idealism in place of another time, and carried the consequences of naivety.
Mueller was aware of the ethical standards he would like to maintain for himself and insisted that his team abide by them, but he did not understand that the people he dealt with believed that those standards were fools. Mueller did not envision that a prosecutor in office could intentionally misrepresent the content of his report, which of course is. Done by Bill Barr.
Mueller wanted to avoid an inappropriate confrontation, or to show his investigation as a "information trolling", which might lead to the pursuit of summoning a high-class jury to testify to Trump, so he did not speak to Trump under oath, or at all.
Trump, Barr and their team saw this fit as a sign of weakness that could be exploited.
Geoffrey Tobin's book Real Crimes and Misdemeanors
Something similar is happening now with many of the workers in the press.
They behave like Muller, wanting to make sure that they are following characteristics that would have made sense when dealing with other characters in other eras, but now they are dealing with Donald Trump, and he sees their behavior as a weakness that he can relentlessly exploit.
As much as Mueller did not understand these facts at the time, so did our print, audiovisual media four years ago.
Networks raced to broadcast his rallying speeches endlessly from mid-2015 onwards, giving him an estimated $ 2 billion worth of free airtime.
Why is his speeches, not Hillary Clinton's speeches or Bernie Sanders' speeches?
Because it was considered a great TV broadcast, and because the ratings began to rise during the broadcast of those speeches.
As the race progressed, cable channels demonstrated their supposed balance by monitoring political discussion sessions, not with those who represent conservative opinion points, but with members of the political tribe and zealots to death, people who will defend Trump, whatever he does or says.
(One of these is today the White House press secretary, and her press summaries are no different from her earlier shocking statements on cable channels).
Also, the selection of panelists did not reflect a range of policy perspectives;
It was a broadcast of the comedy of everyday life, with people playing their clear, predictable roles.
In their pursuit of the rite of balance, the networks began to balance their coverage of Trump's moral adversaries and his personal flaws, which would have demonstrated the incompetence of any other candidate for any other job, with an intense investigation of what they insisted were serious problems with Hillary Clinton's emails.
Six weeks before the results were announced, Gallup published a predictive analysis that reveals the most what Americans have heard about each of the candidates.
Regarding Trump, the words that people have heard most from all of his media coverage are: "Discourse / immigration / Mexico."
As for Clinton, one word covered her others: "emails."
The next two on the list are less discriminatory, and they are "a lie and an institution."
(The Clinton Foundation, founded by Bill Clinton, was the subject of constant scrutiny of what was said to be suspicious dealings, and this scrutiny was matched by a new disclosure every two weeks about Trump's empire.)
A week before the results were announced, The New York Times devoted the entire top half of its front page to articles about FBI Director James Comey reopening the investigation of emails. The headline of the article on the newspaper's front page was: "New Email Messages Destroying the Campaign Clinton is in the final days of the race. ”Another headline on the front page says:“ With 11 days left, Trump says revealing the messages changes everything. ”
- Jon Talton (@jontalton) May 24, 2020
Just last week there came a new wave of that coverage, which is usually complimented with "But her emails!"
On Wednesday, September 9th, a recording by Bob Woodward of Trump saying that regarding the Coronavirus, he "constantly wanted to reduce its importance," came out to the media, in addition to his explicit claims that the Department of Homeland Security was falsifying intelligence information to reduce the risk of Russian interference in elections and violence of white supremacist groups.
Objectively speaking, none of these stories was more significant than Comey's short investigation into a scandal that has always grown too large.
But this election season, each one of them has the headline of a timid newspaper column on the front page of The Times.
The Washington Post, on the contrary, gave Woodward's discoveries a tape throughout its front page.
Who knows what end was awaiting the election race in 2016, and whether a man like Trump would have finished in the position he did, if any one of a hundred other workers took a different path.
But the most important factor was the press’s reluctance to acknowledge what it was really dealing with: someone who used racial hatred as an explicit tool. His lies and corruption went beyond all that the Clintons had together, and what most of the previous presidents had, and his knowledge of the vast institution that he is about to take over is less than that of Any other employee on Capitol Hill and even most of the immigrants who managed to pass the (highly demanding) citizenship exam.
Four years have passed, and as we wake up to "Groundhog Day" (a movie in which the hero's days are repeated without much change) we are far from the inevitable, hard-won understanding of Bill Murray that he can learn new skills over time.
For Murray, it was learning to play the piano and speak in French.
As for the press, in the next 49 days, these may relate (among other things) to three of the most destructive habits when dealing with Trump.
In short, it is embracing the wrong equivalent, or equality between the two parties, the mentality of the campaign manager, the mentality of horse racing, then the love of watching, or the pursuit of ratings of views and clicks.
Are these common problems?
Yes of course!
As familiar as "I Got You Babe" was as it ran every morning on the alarm clock in "Groundhog Day."
And over the past few years, it has been the subject of careful analysis, going on by the likes of Margaret Sullivan, a Washington Post editor and the last truly influential general editor of the New York Times (before the newspaper mistakenly removed that position), and Dan Fromken, who previously worked for Washington. Post, now at Press Watch, Jay Rosen, who previously worked at New York University and now works at Press Think, Eric Bullert, who works for Press Run Media, and Greg Sargent, writer for The Blam Line, Washington newspaper. Post, and Brian Butler, editor at Crooked Media, and Eric Alterman of Brooklyn College at the City University of New York, author of the new book, "Lie in the State," and linguist George Lakoff, who introduced the concept of confronting lies with what he called "the sandwich of truth," among others.
On my own behalf, I wrote a book called “Breaking the News” about 25 years ago, and from it I extracted a cover article for Atlantic, about trends such as those that were noticeable at the time and then spread over the years.
It is precisely because these trends are familiar that they are important.
As Ed Young demonstrated in his last article about the pandemic in the Atlantic, as Adam Serwer, and Conclusion X, argued.
Kennedy, et al. On racial justice struggles, it is rare that new problems stand in the way, but rather old problems, failures, ambiguities, and the same biases, over and over again.
How is it possible that we see these patterns anew, and how do we react to them?
“Parity” This is the term that summarizes most journalists ’fear of what appears to be“ party bias ”in political disputes, and the distortions resulting from them.
Certainly, bias is essential behavior in journalism.
Everything we write or broadcast is something we say deserves more attention than things that we don't discuss.
First page template, on paper or online, the air time we give to TV or radio reports, the tone of the headlines and the angle of focus in them, and everything on the Communication Tools menu is a reflection of options.
When we investigate and present scandalous stories, we are biased in favor of the importance of those topics, and the validity of our narrative.
The editor of a nineteenth-century newspaper called "The Manchester Guardian" at the time argued that the newspaper's function was "to see life as a continuous stream and to see life as a whole" in a variation on the verse of the English poet Matthew Arnold.
Every choice centered on continuity and totality represents a bias for one side over the other.
But on the narrow, specific issue of democratic republican disputes, newspaper and broadcast correspondents are deeply troubled by the appearance of bias.
This issue has been discussed very well over the years, for example in a letter entitled "The View from Nowhere," written by Jay Rosen in 2010, and in an article by Dan Fromkin a few weeks ago.
The simplest version of this opinion is that reporters are satisfied with quoting first from one side and then the other, in what appears to be neutral between the two parties when presenting an accusation from the accusations, and then forming a response.
It is the role played by John Roberts, during the hearings of his appointment to the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, that his role was only to "count balls and punches" [I], or as the funny phrase of Fox News says, "We are moving, you decide" (what is on The Messenger but the communication).
Everyone in the press has had countless debates about the limits of objectivity, but the power of self-motivation still emerges today, in 2020, in a number of different ways.
Some coverage is a regular offer, and I respond even to statements that the reporter knows with certainty that they are not indicative of truthfulness, as if they are truthful.
(Hence, a "false equivalent").
The most recent staggering example was a story by The Associated Press on September 4, titled "Competing Versions of Truth Define First Week of Fall's Campaign," which began:
New York (Associated Press) - On board the election campaign locomotive with President Donald Trump, the pandemic is largely over, the economy is recovering, and mob killers infiltrate the American suburbs.
With Democrat Joe Biden, the pandemic is spreading, the economy is not helping the working class, and organized racism threatens the lives of blacks across America.
The first week's race to the election presented confusingly different versions of the truth as the Republican president and his Democratic rival travel from Washington and Delaware to Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, each of the two men on an emergency mission to sell a specific message to the anxious voter.
All these conflicting messages carry at least a small trail of truth, some of which are much truer than others ...
The phrase "some are more truthful than others" is a way of indicating what a journalist knows for sure: Biden's claims fall within a normal political orbit and focus, and Trump's claims are devoid of the truth.
The United States is not on the verge of the end of the pandemic nightmare in any way, and the economy has barely regained half of the jobs since February, the most difficult periods are still looming on the horizon, and crime rates in urban areas are still near their lowest rates in recent decades, and crime is not seeping into the suburbs.
But the story presents them as pure "vastly divergent" perspectives with an underlined wink and nod that not all of these claims are equally true: "some are a lot truer than others."
What could a reporter write instead?
Something like: "Trump is campaigning based on a misleading view of the United States, and he's hoping he can get enough people to believe it in order to win."
In another era, the "objectivity" pundits in news agencies would have considered a statement of this kind to be more "intrusive", but it was much truer in relation to the facts of this moment, and it would have looked better from the perspective of history.
As Daniel Dell has proven time and time again, Trump lies in his public statements dozens of times a day.
So do his representatives: Last Wednesday, Kylie Mechanic, the White House press secretary, comfortably claimed in the White House pressroom that Trump had "never underestimated" the threat of the virus, minutes later on CNN correspondent Bob Woodward broadcast a tape of the president saying He "has always wanted to downplay the importance of the virus."
Press secretaries and former presidents would lie when the truth was inappropriate or embarrassing.
Trump is just lying.
As quoted by Dan Coates, the former Director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration, Bob Woodward says: "To him, a lie is not a lie. It is just what he believes, he does not know the difference between a lie and the truth."
People outside the journalistic field may not realize how important it is, culturally and professionally, for reporters and editors to act on the effects of this reality, that is, knowing that what a president or his senior representatives say carries zero real value.
If you are trying to notify the public, it is best not to convey what this president says, opposes, or does, unless there are external indications of the correctness of his words.
There is certainly no need to present Trump's claims on an equal footing with other information.
Once again, that's because the record says that if Trump or his representatives said an order, they were most likely bare the truth.
But nature prevails over normalization, and the incentive to add the phrase “some critics say ...” remains very strong.
Take another example that should have been learned: In March of last year, William Barr published a largely misleading summary of the Mueller report, claiming he had filed an acquittal to Trump.
It was believed by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and the New York Times titled "Mueller concludes that there is no Russian conspiracy against the United States," while the Washington Post declared, "Mueller says there is no plot."
A few weeks later, after Mueller complained (courteously) against Barr's behavior and the full report was released, newspapers and media outlets spread news about Barr's intended misrepresentations.
For the Washington Post, the Bar incident was an anomaly in publishing a story that ostensibly endorsed Trump's claims.
For the New York Times, it was unfortunate that it was more representative of his views.
Last week, after Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in the Atlantic about Trump calling Army veterans "fools" and "a failure," the Washington Post published an article about the allegations under the headline, "Trump Says War-wounded and Dead in the US Army are Failed. Reports."
While the Times presented the story as if the news is about Trump's objections:
Trump strongly denies his saying that he called dead soldiers "failures" and "idiots."
The subtitle was also striking:
"The report, in the Atlantic, could be problematic for the president because he relies on considerable support from the military for his reelection papers."
This means that the news was related to what Trump's objections might mean politically.
The anecdote was presented as a way of avoiding the appearance of bias, even though it is biased in practice.
Here is what appeared to me when I went back to the news to confirm it:
Trump faces popular discontent after what are said to be sarcastic remarks from dead soldiers. A report in the Atlantic said that the president called soldiers killed in battle fools and losers. He firmly denied the allegations, but some close to him said his comments were consistent with other secret comments he made disdainful Soldiers. "
Decades ago in Fragment the News, I wrote about the almost irresistible tendency to transform the essence of anything into the way it would, from a political point of view, seem influential.
Just as a sports commentator is able to maintain his neutrality between teams, while expressing unequivocal opinions about how to defend or whether a blitzkrieg tactic is effective, political writers can avoid bias by expressing their judgments with tactical commentary.
The book "Breaking the News"
This raises another anecdote about people who are struggling with an urgent desire to equalize both parties, such as the stylistic phrase "may raise questions." Let's take a story published last week in the New York Times about Douglas Imoff, Kamala Harris' husband, and here is the main headline and subtitle in the story:
Is Doug Imhoff's career an obstacle to the Biden / Harris Pact?
Imhoff, Senator Kamala Harris' husband, has a long case-triggering record for two of the country's largest corporations, posing potential conflicts that might warrant scrutiny.
Note the touches in the presentation that appear to be not biased towards one party over another, but are actually biased:
The question posed in the title itself determines that the potential issue is worth noting.
It "imposes potential conflicts", again not taking sides with one party, in conjunction with the announcement of something wrong.
May require scrutiny.
This was also the introduction by almost all reports regarding Hillary Clinton's mail.
In truth, it might even exist, but I have not found articles presented in the form of explorations of whether the Ivanka Trump trademark obtained approval in China or Jared Kushner's relatives promoting their businesses in China could pose "potential conflicts."
And from the same story, in the part related to Imhoff's association with a legal company, DLA Piper, which also has an arm of lobbyists:
It remains unclear whether Mr. Imhoff will continue to practice law in any capacity, but maintaining a connection with a company that has thriving lobbying and lobbying practices in Washington and offices in places like Moscow and Riyadh could be problematic.
Critics are currently looking at his agent's listings at DLA and a former company, which included actors viewed with suspicion by progressive voters whom Democrats rely on to help oust President Trump.
"Remains ambiguous / may be problematic / critics are currently working on polishing / viewed with skepticism, progressive voting";
Thus a person takes sides and expresses his own judgments while appearing as someone who does not.
And there are other sentences that have the same effect: "From the interviews, an image is formed that";
When you see that sentence or something similar, you realize that you come across someone who should have written the following: “I started to think” or “From the news that I received”, but he works within restrictions that make a sentence such as “an image is formed that” appears to be an “objective” sentence or "From what I said" sounds like judgment, just as it is a way to make you appear as if you will not show mercy to either party.
Here's a recent illustration of just how strong the trend has become for the ever-increasing horse race: Last Sunday, September 12, the New York Times ran a poll showing Biden's lead by nine points in Minnesota, and the headline on her article about the state was: “Minnesota: Some He sees a margin for Trump. "
Or, as yesterday, as Matt Weisser of the Washington Post noted in a tweet, when Joe Biden gave his speech on climate change, he then received three questions from the press: What will his speech be in Florida the next day?
Why are his numbers so low among Hispanic voters?
Will you fight more ferociously?
As I have argued in many places in Fragmenting the News, questions of this nature abound in the midst of political reporters' obsession with offhand questions.
I propose the following: follow the advice contained in an article by Dan Fromkin, or another written by Jay Rosen, on how to abandon the equivalence argument and direct the analytical capabilities that tend toward tactical commentary with the aim of clearly saying that one person is lying and another person does not, and disclosing what is on The stake.
Rosen also argues that the media are called upon to form a "threat simulation team" with the aim of predicting efforts to undermine the upcoming elections, so what is more at stake than just another race.
Watching entertainment will always attract a larger audience than the news audience.
During 2015 and 2016, TV hosts proved unable to resist the audiences that Trump's performances bring.
Now, the novelty element has disappeared from those shows, and their audience is restricted to the sincere ones.
But you can still see the temptation to cover everything he does, directly, and most importantly, amuse him with his last joke or outburst of anger.
Trump's greatest strategic advantage is disinformation: forcing or seducing the collective mind to forget what happened yesterday as new fireworks are launched today.
Meanwhile, the tragedy of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, when Hillary Clinton was serving as Secretary of State appeared in the news for years, and she underwent at least ten congressional hearings.
Less than three months have passed since the last time the Russian bribery appeared on the killers of American soldiers in Afghanistan, along with the scarcity of media coverage of the news.
Donald Trump is weak at drawing knowledge from books, but very adept at managing attention.
The challenge facing reporters and editors is to keep attention focused on "yesterday's news" articles that will be important tomorrow, regarding the state of the economy, America's place in the world, and the structures of democratic governance.
It is about seeing things as a continuous stream and seeing them as a whole, that is, being more like Matthew Arnold, less like a cat chasing a point of laser light. "
When a presidential advisor convicted of multiple misdemeanors is called out and then escaped impunity thanks to direct Trump intervention to apply "martial law" in the event that the election results are against Trump, it shouldn't be just one-day news.
Roger Stone, who made that appeal last week, is known for his emotional skits.
But if we have learned something about Trump and his colleagues, it is to question their truths while fully believing in their intentions.
Likewise, with Trump's efforts to de-legitimize any vote that does not favor him.
His endless playing to the tune of "The system is worn out, comrades, the system is worn out" amounts to destructiveness that it has only one precedent in all of modern American history.
This point was the insistence of the US President four years ago, until the electoral college tilted in his favor.
We cannot be sure of what is currently more destructive: a president urging a wide spectrum of the public openly to question the electoral process, or that that president himself welcomes foreign interference in that process.
Both are steps toward authoritarianism and danger, and awareness of them can shape the daily reporting process.
On the lack of media coverage Margaret Sullivan recently wrote: "History will not be kind to us."
But there is still time to adjust.
Every American institution is undergoing testing right now, from the police to the mail services, from the judiciary to the voting systems, from public health to education, from city councils to the US Senate, they're all under pressure that we didn't expect, they take the blows from everywhere at once. .
The country's future may depend on how we respond to these pressures.
The institution of which I am a part, the media, is now being tested.
Journalism is not the only part of the institutional crisis in America, but it is an important part of the dilemma we are in and the hope for a way out.
Since the birth of the press, it has been slow, turbulent and improvisational.
We are at our best. We capture things as they are, at a normal pace, and incrementally, but we capture many things unlike what they are.
Most of us in this profession spend our most modest abilities, but any hope of doing something better depends on the ability to learn.
Soon it will be 6 am, then the alarm clock will start singing “I Got You Babe” again, but today we can do better.
[I] “Counting balls and strokes” is a term from American baseball, whereby the referee is satisfied with counting the balls and strikes recorded according to his observations.
This article is translated from The Atlantic and does not necessarily represent the Meydan website.