I think I’ve spotted the problem


Why does the American media suck? Here’s a hint in an article that is discussing how the press should respond to the farce that the White House press briefings have become. The author is against a walkout or boycott or whatever the media is calling the imaginary response that won’t happen anyway.

The White House is a lousy source of information about itself, but it is also the best available source.

Wait, what? It’s probably the worst available source — the White House is not going to ‘fess up to any perfidy. They’re going to tell you a bunch of lies and cover up any problems. Unless your story is “Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied again today”, the real story, the facts of what is going on, are buried underneath whatever message they’re peddling in the briefings. In stuff like this:

The real story of Trumpism is probably found not in the White House or even in Washington but in Ohio, in Texas, along the Mexican border, in refugee camps the world over, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, and in the Palestinian territories.

Yes. And also in Washington, in the actions the principal actors there take. Not in what they say they’re doing, but what they’re actually doing. The press briefings have become tools of disinformation, where they say what’s happening, and can trust the lackeys of the media to happily echo their story, because digging into the actual facts of what they’re doing is hard work.

But the story of how the Administration functions must still be observed up close. Walking away would give this White House exactly what it wants: less contact with the media, less visibility, ever less transparency and accountability. Walking away would feel good, but it would ultimately be a loss. Would the loss in information be greater than the gain in solidarity? That’s a hard question, but my guess is that the answer is yes.

This is nuts. What Trump wants is more attention. But he also wants to control what the media says about him, and that is what these official White House press briefings are for.

And what information would we lose? “Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied again today” is basically only one bit of information.

The Trump Administration has the media in a vise. On the one hand, most of what comes out of White House mouths is poison to the public conversation: because it’s a lie, or an expression of hate, or both. Simply reporting Trump’s lies and incendiary comments, however critically, serves to entrench his world view as a part of our shared reality. At the same time, he is the President. His Twitter pronouncements find a sympathetic audience among tens of millions of Americans. Refusing to engage with his words would mean refusing to engage with Trump voters and with the Trump Administration itself. It would mean walking away from politics altogether, which, for journalists, would be an abdication of responsibility.

The responsibility is to do more than just report what Donald Trump says — which is pretty much what the media has been doing for the last several years. It’s to analyze and investigate and report critically. What I’ve seen from the press is mostly a refusal to engage with those words already. Maybe if they broke away from their reliance on being spoon-fed talking points and had to actually find out what’s happening, they’d remember their obligations again.

Earlier in the article, the author references an intermediate strategy.

The media scholar Jay Rosen has long argued for downgrading the prestige of the White House assignment proportionately to the quality of information that emerges from the Administration. “Put your most junior people in the White House briefing room,” he has written. “Recognize that the real story is elsewhere, and most likely hidden.”

Exactly. Jim Acosta gets all the attention lately as a martyr, but contrary to usual praise, I have to say I’m not at all impressed. His questions aren’t particularly interesting, and they certainly don’t drill down to the real problems of this administration. He’s paid and rewarded with prestige for asking a crook questions that we all know he won’t answer honestly. He’s part of a hostile claque, nothing more or less.

Comments

  1. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Some media moron: “At the same time, he is the President. ”

    NO. HE. IS. FUCKING. NOT. Not legitimately. He lost the popular vote by over 3 million votes. And he only won the electoral college vote by collaborating with a hostile power.

  2. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Hey, good idea!
    Fill the WH briefing room with a bunch of 20-somethings, that will be obsessing over whatever is on their smartphones, and ignoring the dotard at that podium, and his lying lackeys.

    Trump blathers something stupid, and the reaction would be “yeah, yeah, whatev”

    Drive him nuts, it would.

  3. Akira MacKenzie says

    The responsibility is to do more than just report what Donald Trump says — which is pretty much what the media has been doing for the last several years. It’s to analyze and investigate and report critically. What I’ve seen from the press is mostly a refusal to engage with those words already.

    And they don’t because that’s a quicker way of losing your press credentials than trying to hold onto a microphone. It’s all about “access,” If they start throwing hardball questions, push the wrong buttons, and lose said access, political reporters might as well clean out their desks before they attend any press conference.

  4. Snidely W says

    [Thieir] questions aren’t particularly interesting, and they certainly don’t drill down to the real problems of this administration.

    THAT’S the problem with press conferences these days. They ask stupid questions. Questions where you already know what answer is going to come back in response. That, and there is no follow up when they duck the occasional good question. They are allowed to spew any useless answer they want and no one calls them on it. Like ever.

  5. zetopan says

    “And he only won the electoral college vote by collaborating with a hostile power.”
    Along with very large amounts of gerrymandering and voter suppression. It is important to recognize that the republicans are at least neck deep in intellectually dishonest tactics to take control of the US.

  6. Kevin Karplus says

    “Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied again today” is not a full bit of information. The number of bits of information in a message is -log_2(probability of message). There would only be a full bit of information if the probability of her lying was one half or less.

  7. chrislawson says

    Kevin Karplus–

    SHS may not be giving us a lot of bits of information, but she’s certainly doing her best for entropy.

  8. DanDare says

    This was a core thesis in “Manufacturing Consent” by Noam Chomsky. Make life easy for the press by spoon feeding them and punishing those that won’t cooperate. Most of their effort is then focussed on your message and less on what is “out there”.

  9. Scott Simmons says

    “There would only be a full bit of information if the probability of her lying was one half or less.”
    Yeah, that’s definitely rending toward zero bits. “And in other news, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead.”

  10. Curt Sampson says

    And they don’t [engage and report critically] because that’s a quicker way of losing your press credentials than trying to hold onto a microphone. It’s all about “access,” If they start throwing hardball questions, push the wrong buttons, and lose said access, political reporters might as well clean out their desks before they attend any press conference.

    I don’t particularly see the point of the “access” if you’re not asking useful and probing questions. You might as well not be there, in which case the loss of that access is no big deal.

    If the political reporter works in an environment where, should she lose “access” due to her hardball questions, there’s nothing else for her to do, then: a) she’s not really working as a reporter, and b) her news organization isn’t doing their job of actually finding and reporting on news.

  11. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    “And he only won the electoral college vote by collaborating with a hostile power.”
    Along with very large amounts of gerrymandering and voter suppression.

    What does gerrymandering have to do with the Electoral College? It mostly affects the House (and state legislative races), and as we learned last week, it’s not always effective.

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