Matt Taibbi on media stupidity

The utter failure of mainstream media in the US provides a source of never-ending articles as new debacles quickly follow the old. Matt Taibbi analyzes the role that the media played in aiding Donald Trump’s rise and that they are doing the same thing now to Bernie Sanders.

When prominent media voices compare the Trump and Sanders movements, it’s always the same insult: Trump sucks and is evil/wrong, and Sanders is like Trump. The establishment fantasy is that both are illegitimate opportunists.

The diagnosis of Trump is that he rode to power appealing to a collection of humanity’s darkest impulses, in particular racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Few other explanations, importantly even negative ones (like that Trump took cynical advantage of both racism and legitimate economic grievances), are accepted.

The explanation for Sanders is naiveté. Neither the politician nor his followers understand how the world works. They want expensive things for free and blame billionaires when their actual gripe is with reality. Oh, and theirs is also a movement for sexists and anti-Semites and people who refuse to accept the unique role of racism in America.

Taibbi argues that because the media is so distrusted, their frequent over-the-top criticisms of Trump in 2016 actually boosted his candidacy.

The transparent full-of-shitness of the corporate press reaction to Trump was probably the leading argument for his credibility. Trump wrongly pushed voters to blame minorities and foreigners, and when he did identify correct targets for public opprobrium, like Goldman Sachs, it wasn’t believable that he would oppose them in office. But media figures gave his “drain the swamp” message a huge boost by scoffing at it with their inimical obnoxiousness.

People in the media business underestimate, by a lot, the damage the last three years have done to their ability to reach not just Trump fans but non-Trump Republicans, independents, libertarians, Greens, and other groups. The latest fiascoes with Sanders double as confirmation for these people of their worst conclusions about media, and an additional insult that such goofball messaging is only now attracting the notice of some on the “other side. “

Sanders now looks poised to receive the same kind of bump Trump got in 2016 from media stupidity. As was the case this past summer when the Bezos-owned Washington Post went so far as to put the term “corporate media” in quotation marks while denouncing Bernie’s “bogus media beef,” the institutional dismissal has been so over-the-top that it’s likely to earn him sympathy even with disinterested parties. Is there a word for propaganda in reverse?

There is evidence from other sources that the CNN’s heavy promotion of the Sanders-Warren controversy and the disparagement of the Sanders candidacy by the media has actually made his supporters even more loyal.

In the future, one can expect a lot of analyses in the US over what the hell went wrong that we ended up in this terrible state where we have a deranged president who managed to cow his party into submission and breed incredible levels of loyalty in segments of the larger public.

Taibbi is looking at the role that the media played in Trump’s rise but there is a lot of blame to go round. It would be a mistake to view this a freak aberration. The groundwork for this has been laid over a long time, in the degeneration of the mainstream media and the dismantling of the democratic institutions that can serve as checks on a wildly irrational president.


  1. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    It certainly has to me. I like Warren, even still, and I never want to minimize sexism. But their fight is so specious (even if Sanders said such a thing, something totally out of character for someone decades deep in feminist alliances, he has clarified his position, so now we are being asked to put alleged past private scuttlebutt over current statements), and even AlterNet uncritically relayed Clinton still issuing attacks of sexism, that it’s a turnoff. The corporate media circling around Warren makes me wonder if they know something I don’t. And it makes Warren seem even more like an opportunist who can resort to dirty tricks, not a good look after her poor messaging on native issues (something I readily forgave).

  2. says

    It makes me think of a similar pattern. Socialism and fascism have long been portrayed as the left and right versions of each other (or communism and fascism), largely by limiting the field of analysis to the most notorious examples of each. If you account for the whole global history of both, the differences become clear, but most of the focus is on the USSR and the Nazis. Hyper-focus on certain aspects of an artificially small sample, and hey presto, they’re the same!

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