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“How The Media Promote Conflict”: Because That’s What Sells

Have you ever had the experiencing of reading an explosive headline only to click on the story and find that the actual context doesn’t back it up? I sure have. Let me give you an example.

Perhaps you’ve heard that, at a news conference, Bernie Sanders said that Democrats would have a “contested convention.” Jonathan Easley and Amie Parnes have a story at The Hill with this headline: Clinton allies fume over Sanders’s vow to fight on. That headline repeats the first paragraph of the story.

Hillary Clinton’s allies are fuming over Bernie Sanders’s vow to take the presidential nominating contest to a floor fight at the Democratic convention this summer.

After that, you get some background on the state of the race. When it comes to what “Clinton allies” actually said, here is the report:

“Hillary leads in pledged and unpledged delegates, and there is little opportunity for that dynamic to change over the next few weeks,” said former Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Holly Shulman. “Nothing about these numbers says we’re headed to a contested convention.”

And none of the more than half-dozen Clinton supporters The Hill interviewed believe Sanders would risk casting the Democratic convention into the kind of chaos that Republicans are bracing for in Cleveland.

If he tries, they say, he’ll fail…

Rather, Democrats view Sanders’s rhetoric as a last-ditch effort to stay relevant in a race that has gotten away from him.

That’s fine with most Clinton supporters, at least for now.

Many Democrats are at peace with Sanders staying in the race through the end of the primaries and using his leverage to push for a more progressive Democratic platform at the convention.

There is little pressure on Sanders to drop out, even though he trails.

Who’s fuming? I guess a headline suggesting that Clinton allies are fine with the fact that Sanders is launching a last-ditch effort to stay relevant, are at peace with him staying in the race, and are not exerting pressure on him to drop out just wouldn’t sell.

But I can imagine that there will be people who only read the headline and run with the story about how the Clinton campaign is angry and lashing out at Sanders for vowing to fight on. If so, it is a total media fabrication designed to promote conflict – because that is what sells. Politicians and their allies acting like grown-ups apparently doesn’t.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 3, 2016

May 7, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Media | , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Thing That Launched Trump’s Campaign”: Birtherism; Trump’s Original Sin And The Media’s Latest One

Next time you watch the news, do me a favor. Take a look at the reporters’ arms. Do they seem tired to you? Overworked? They have to be a little sore at least. Such is the vigor with which the media have been patting themselves on the back lately.

After a full year of the Trump steamroller — in which a honey-baked ham with authoritarian inclinations has managed to blow past any serious questioning of his policies or candidacy — the media apparently feel that they’re now doing their jobs.

You could see it a few weeks back in the breathless praise for MSNBC’s Chris Matthews when he interrogated Trump on abortion; or in the hype around the New York Times interview that nailed down Trump’s Strangelovian approach to nuclear weapons; or even in Trump’s recent pivot toward a more “presidential” tone. Among reporters and critics that I know, there’s a growing sentiment that Trump is changing his ways because they, the press, are taking him seriously now. They’re handling Trump not based on the job he has (obnoxious reality star) but on the job he wants (president or, perhaps, generalissimo).

Call me crazy, but I’m not totally buying this notion. I think it’s a crock. The media haven’t “done their job” with regard to Trump, and the reason why is very simple: The press have largely ignored the issue that made him a political phenomenon in the first place.

The media have overlooked Trump’s birtherism.

I’m a Catholic. I’ve seen enough baptismal water spilled to fill William Taft’s bathtub ten times over. But it doesn’t take a Catholic like me to understand the original sin of the Trump candidacy. His first act on the political stage was to declare himself the head of the birther movement. For Trump, the year 2011 began with the BIG NEWS that he had rejected Lindsay Lohan for Celebrity Apprentice, but by April, his one-man show to paint Barack Obama as a secret Kenyan had become the talk of the country. Five years later, Trump is nearing the Republican nomination for president.

In many ways, birtherism is the thing that launched Trump’s campaign. But as he nears the big prize in Cleveland, Trump has refused to disavow his conspiracy theory. In July, when Anderson Cooper pressed Trump on whether President Obama was, in fact, born in the United States, Trump’s response was, “I really don’t know.”

I’m taxing my mind to find a historical comparison here, to put this in context. I suppose Trump’s birtherism is the intellectual equivalent of the flat-earth theory; both are fully contradicted by the evidence. But then again, there is a difference between the two, and the difference is this: If a presidential candidate insisted that the USS Theodore Roosevelt would fall off the edge of the map after sailing past Catalina, Wolf Blitzer would probably ask him about it.

It’s been nine months since Cooper pressed Trump on the issue of whether he thinks the president is an American — almost enough time, as Trump might put it, to carry a baby to term in Kenya and secretly transport him to Hawaii — and still, no one has gotten an answer. In fact, most have stopped asking. It’s now known among reporters that Obama’s birthplace is a strictly verboten topic for Trump. If you bring up the subject, as Chris Matthews did in December, Trump looks at you with a glare I assume he otherwise reserves for undocumented immigrants and say, “I don’t talk about that anymore.”

Since July, there have been 12 debates, six televised forums, and enough cable interviews to combust a DVR, but the only “birther” issue extensively covered in the press has involved whether Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary Flames territory. Most reporters don’t seem to want to piss off the The Donald and risk losing their access.

Look, I understand that there’s plenty of craziness to investigate in our politics. Cruz believes that global warming is a hoax. Ben Carson claimed that the Biblical Joseph built the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Heck, once upon a time, George W. Bush famously thought the jury was out on evolution.

But Trump’s birtherism is far, far more important — for two reasons:

First, in my experience, when a politician says he doesn’t talk about an issue, that’s precisely the issue you should ask him about.

Second, there’s another difference between being birther and flat-earther. It’s possible to believe the Earth is flat and not be a bigot, but it’s impossible to be a birther and not be one.

It’s no surprise Trump’s campaign has been a parade of racism after his foray into birtherism — a border wall, a ban on Muslim immigration, and the failure to denounce the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike Bush’s creationism and Carson’s historical idiocy, Trump’s birtherism can’t be written off as a minor policy quirk. It’s less of a bug than a feature. Trump, by his own admission, sees the controversy over Obama’s birthplace as foundational to his brand and instructive to how he approaches politics. When ABC asked him about his aggressive birtherism in 2013, he said, “I don’t think I went overboard. Actually, I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.”

I think it made me very popular… I do think I know what I’m doing.

With birtherism, Trump discovered a sad truth about modern American media: Bigotry gets you attention. And long as you bring viewers, readers, and clicks, the fourth estate will let you get away with that bigotry.

Long before Donald Trump, there was another demagogue, Huey Long, who made a run for the White House. Long was fictionalized and immortalized as the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s novel, All The King’s Men, in which Warren wrote, “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.”

So, too, was Trump’s political career.

The press should get their hands off their backs and ask him about it.

 

By: James Carville, Media Matters For America, April 26, 2016

April 28, 2016 Posted by | Bigotry, Birtherism, Donald Trump, Media | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Media Is Ready To Grant Trump A Mulligan”: As Though We Hadn’t Just Witnessed His Reality Show Of The Last Six Months

If The Apprentice was basically a boardroom version of Survivor, then it shouldn’t surprise people that Donald Trump sees the Republican nominating contest as a game, and that he approaches the game the way a smart contestant approaches an elimination reality game show.

I’m no expert on this kind of strategy, but some things seem universal and obvious, like going after your strongest competitor first, and making a lot of temporary alliances. In retrospect, it’s easy to see why Trump spent all his early energy on the well-funded Jeb, why Cruz chose to be nice to Trump, and why Trump initially returned the favor.

Winning the general election is a completely different kind of game, though, so naturally Trump needs a completely different strategy. And, yes, that means that he has to play a different role. He has to actually be someone else.

And that’s precisely what he’s now promising the Republican bigwigs that he will do. I think Steve M. does a fine job of explaining this, so I’ll refer you to him rather than duplicating his efforts.

The key is that the Associated Press obtained a secret recording of a meeting that took place yesterday between Paul Manafort and top players at the Republican National Committee.

Trump’s chief strategist Paul Manafort told members of the Republican National Committee in a closed-door briefing here Thursday afternoon that his candidate has been playing a “part” on the campaign trail, but is starting to pivot toward presenting a more businesslike and presidential “persona.”

“He gets it,” Manafort told RNC members.

And this introduces a question about our modern environment. Now that every single thing you do and say seems to be captured digitally, it’s harder than ever to get away with flip-flopping, or saying one thing to one audience and something completely different to another one. Something you said on the Senate floor a quarter century ago can be brought up and plastered all over social media to make you look like a hypocrite.

Yet, the diffusion of the way people get their news, and the way that digitization kills people’s attention span (listen to a whole album lately?), makes it easier than ever to spin the news or change the subject and move on from controversy.

These two factors will be in tension as Trump tries to remake himself in front of our eyes, as though we hadn’t just witnessed the reality show of the last six months.

The media’s readiness to give him credit for this is not a good sign.

Let’s try not to forget how this campaign began. It began with widespread boycotts of Trump and Trump’s businesses because his campaign announcement had been so racist against Mexicans.

We’ve gone from that to the media applauding him for “presenting a more businesslike and presidential “persona.””

That’s amnesia, right there, and widespread media-assisted amnesia is Trump’s best hope for November.

 

By: Martin Longman, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 22, 2016

April 25, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Media, Republican National Committee | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“An Outdated Myth — An Illusion”: How The Media Created, And Then Killed, Political Momentum

Feel The Bern! Trump Train! Cruz-mentum!

There’s so much talk in the 2016 presidential race about momentum — the “Big Mo,” as it’s been dubbed for a quarter century. But here’s the truth: The power of momentum in politics today is an outdated myth — an illusion.

Ted Cruz supposedly had all the momentum after his Iowa victory. Then he got creamed in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Cruz had the Big Mo again after he pulled off a strong win against Donald Trump in Wisconsin. No dice. Now that Trump has won big in New York, has he ridden a tidal wave of momentum to achieve a significant bounce in, say, Pennsylvania or California? Nope. A similar effect is playing out in the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. He won more than a half dozen contests in a row. Then Clinton crushed him in the Empire State. Momentum, shmomentum.

John Kasich’s entire candidacy was premised on the idea that strong showings in New Hampshire and Ohio would give him the momentum to outperform in, well, the other 48 states, where he had no infrastructure or reason to win. That hasn’t panned out.

Of Marco Rubio, the less said the better. He kept hoping that each primary would deliver that vaunted “momentum” that would push him to the next primary. Instead, like Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff, he kept running until he realized there was nothing under his feet, and crashed back to earth.

Why do political campaigns continue to put such faith in momentum despite the prevailing evidence that it simply doesn’t exist?

To answer that question, it’s instructive to wind back the clock to the greatest “momentum” story in recent American politics: Bill Clinton’s come-from-behind second-place finish in New Hampshire, which ended up propelling him to the Democratic nomination in 1992, and thence to history. People mocked Rubio for giving speeches after second-place finishes where he sounded like he’d won the nomination, but, hey, it worked for Clinton, didn’t it?

Well, why did it work? Because the idea of momentum works in tandem with a narrative. Bill Clinton branded himself “the comeback kid.” The media bought it. His unexpectedly strong showing prompted voters to give him a second look. Success breeds success. People want to support a guy who’s winning.

There used to be a lot of truth to this idea. But no more.

What changed? The media.

After Clinton won New Hampshire in 1992, every channel’s evening news and every non-right-leaning newspaper (meaning almost every newspaper) promoted the narrative that Clinton’s second-place finish was a big deal. The media telling voters that the candidate has done something unexpected that will give him momentum gets the voters to give the candidate a second look, to view him more favorably (he’s winning!), which drives up polls, which gives you another cycle of momentum, and so on.

The media-driven narrative of momentum used to be able to create actual momentum. But that only works when you have a unified media narrative to get the snowball effect started. And a unified media narrative is precisely what America no longer has.

Rubio did nothing to warrant winning a “comeback kid” designation in 2016. But imagine if he had, and then had been christened “the comeback kid” by CNN, and even maybe by Fox News. He still wouldn’t be called that by Rush Limbaugh, and certainly not by Breitbart (in the tank for Trump), or The Blaze (in the tank for Cruz), or MSNBC (in the tank against whichever Republican looks most electable).

The media today is fractured, fragmented. A consistent and coherent media narrative is very difficult to form around a candidate. And when it does happen, it’s in a way that is much harder to translate into momentum.

Political momentum in 2016 is a myth. And it’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

 

By: Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, The Week, April 22, 2016

April 23, 2016 Posted by | General Election 2016, Media, Momentum | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“The Media’s Collusion With Politicians?”: Should A Member Of The Press “Clear The Air” With A Politician?

One of the arguments that is often used to point out unfairness is to suggest what things would look like if roles were reversed. For example, pointing out that a remark was sexist by asking what it would look like if the same thing were said to a man.

That kind of argument is so often abused that I tend to avoid it. Nevertheless, it was the first thing that came to mind when I heard that Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly had a private meeting with Donald Trump and reported that they had a chance to “clear the air.”

Let’s remember what happened here. In a Republican presidential debate Kelly asked Trump some tough questions. He didn’t like them and went on for days and weeks to say horribly sexist things about her. The feud disturbed the relationship Fox News had with the presidential contender and became the focus of a lot of press reports.

Here is where I want to employ the role change argument. What would we be saying about a media reporter who asked a Democratic candidate tough questions that eventually led to a private meeting to clear the air? I submit that holy hell would break out about the media’s collusion with politicians and failure to play their role as watch dogs.

In no way do I mean to imply any sympathy for Megyn Kelly. She is part of a media institution that, while pretending to be “fair and balanced,” is nothing more than a mouthpiece for conservatives. I’d propose that is why so few people find this whole episode to be unremarkable…it’s what we expect from Fox News.

I’ll not be breaking any new ground when I point out that this is actually a perfect example of how that network is not a news organization, but a PR arm of the Republican Party. But in this case, I think it still needs to be said out loud.

 

By: Nancy Letourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 14, 2016

April 15, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Media, Megyn Kelly | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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