Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times thinks he has found the solution to the pandemic of ‘fake news,’ which he and others in the Old Media are convinced cost Hillary Clinton the election. Of course, this ‘fake news’ is most accurately described as ‘news and/or opinions which do not line up with the views espoused by those on the left.’
In his article, he points to the latest outrage sparked by yet another Donald Trump tweet, in which he took umbrage to a Vanity Fair review of his own Trump Grill.
Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 15, 2016
(Tweet: “Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of
@VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!”)
Rutenberg, as with most old media journalists, treat these mini blasts from Trump as though they had been chiseled onto Moses’ stone tablets, such is the importance they give to 140-character, largely throwaway streams of consciousness.
In fairness, they can be quite entertaining, and given that Trump is going to be the next president of the United States, and an avid Twitter user, I can understand the fixation on them. In this particular tweet, Rutenberg sees the seeds of a victory for the old media he represents against Trump, who has been at odds with them since he embarked on his campaign for the presidency.
As Mr. Trump tries to burn the media village down, he may just be saving it.
His running campaign of Twitter attacks, declarations of failure and vows to punish the traditional news media is threatening to do what so many years of cost-cutting and re-envisioning could not do as easily: put the industry on more solid economic footing, where customers who realize its value are willing to pay for it more regularly.
It’s early. And, in traditional media, hope is the province of masochists.
But in the weeks since the election, magazines like The New Yorker, The Atlantic and Vanity Fair; newspapers including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post; and nonprofits like NPR and ProPublica have been reporting big boosts in subscription rates or donations.
It’s as if Mr. Trump’s media attacks have combined with the heightened attention on the perils of fake news to create one big fat advertisement for the value of basic journalism.
“The fake news business is going to be great for journalism in the long run,” Mr. Carter told me Friday, referring to Mr. Trump as “the Fake Newser in Chief.” “Proper news organizations should thrive under this.”
The irony if this is that Rutenberg’s conclusion describes the exact dynamic which existed between his Old Media and Trump throughout the campaign. That is, the constant attacks by the old media against Trump probably did more than anything to galvanize his supporters and turn those who originally opposed him. Take this quote from Slate Star Codex, who noted that he was an anti-Trump supporter, but understood the fact that the media, by ‘crying wolf’ enabled what should have been a joke candidate (in his eyes) to ascend to victory:
Stop fearmongering. Somewhere in America, there are still like three or four people who believe the media, and those people are cowering in their houses waiting for the death squads.
Stop crying wolf. God forbid, one day we might have somebody who doesn’t give speeches about how diversity makes this country great and how he wants to fight for minorities, who doesn’t pose holding a rainbow flag and state that he proudly supports transgender people, who doesn’t outperform his party among minority voters, who wasn’t the leader of the Salute to Israel Parade, and who doesn’t offer minorities major cabinet positions. And we won’t be able to call that guy an “openly white supremacist Nazi homophobe”, because we already wasted all those terms this year.
Stop talking about dog whistles. The kabbalistic similarities between “dog-whistling” and “wolf-crying” are too obvious to ignore.
Stop writing articles breathlessly following everything the KKK says. Stop writing several times more articles about the KKK than there are actual Klansmen. Remember that thing where Trump started out as a random joke, and then the media covered him way more than any other candidate because he was so outrageous, and gave him what was essentially free advertising, and then he became President-elect of the United States? Is the lesson you learned from this experience that you need 24-7 coverage of the Ku Klux Klan?
In that now-viral post, SSC points out the fact that the KKK has a memebership of about 5,000, which is about 0.02% of the population and orders of magnitude fewer numbers than groups like the Nation of Islam, Church of Satan and Harare Karishnas. Yet none of these groups are taken seriously at all, let alone feared by the media to have had the ear of a presidential candidate such that we should all cluth our children closer at night.
SSC notes Trump has explicitly ignored and denounced David Duke, the media’s KKK go-to figure of note, on a consistent basis since the year 2000. Yet this didn’t stop the media from beating on and on about Trump and his white nationalist base.
SSC tears apart many other similar old media talking points which were used to batter Trump with on a regular basis during the campaign. The problem for the old media was that their propaganda drives took place in the age of the internet, and more importantly in the age of social media. The existence of ALL of the source material and primary sources meant that the false narratives the old media could be deconstructed in real time, and spread to the public as a whole.
And in the face of this, the old media kept crying wolf, to the point where Rutenberg’s own employer had to print a mea culpa of sorts, in which it stated it would ‘rededicate’ itself ‘to the fundamental mission of Times journalism.’
Indeed, those last two words, Times journalism printed in that manner are quite curious. One would think that good, or even great journalism would be more appropriate an aim. By referring to their own special brand of journalism, one that had been categorically shoddy (recall, Rutenberg himself argued that it was right for journalists to treat Trump with open hostility earlier this summer), the piece from the Editorial Board reads less mea culpa and more ‘we’re doubling down.’
One of the NYT’s more famous columnists, Paul Krugman is in the midst of such a doubling down, a multi-day effort of Wrong spanned out across multiple outlets. To be sure, Krugman is an opinion writer, but in the context of this discussion, we live in a current journalistic climate in which doing ‘real’ journalism is to give the opinions of a leftist. To take an opposing view isn’t just disagreement, but heresy, worthy of censure. In that climate you can’t just have a difference of opinion, you are considered to be evil if you disagree.
Krugman’s meltdown began with this tweet last weekend in which he stated that Trump would be politically incentivized by a 9/11 style terror attack:
Thought: There was (rightly) a cloud of illegitimacy over Bush, dispelled (wrongly) by 9/11. Creates some interesting incentives for Trump
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) December 16, 2016
(Tweet: “Thought: There was (rightly) a cloud of illegitimacy over Bush, dispelled (wrongly) by 9/11. Creates some interesting incentives for Trump”)
He then frothed at the mouth after the Electoral College confirmed Trump’s Nov. 8 election victory:
So it's official, and it's vile: the loser of the popular vote installed by Russian intervention, a rogue FBI, and epic media malfunction.
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) December 20, 2016
(Tweet: “So it’s official, and it’s vile: the loser of the popular vote installed by Russian intervention, a rogue FBI, and epic media malfunction.”)
Then kept fighting the good ‘Trump is White Nationalist’ fight:
To join Trump admin, you have to be white nationalist conspiracy theorist, but must also be always wrong re your supposed area of expertise https://t.co/9Bxtoo1BnG
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) December 20, 2016
(Tweet: “To join Trump admin, you have to be white nationalist conspiracy theorist, but must also be always wrong re your supposed area of expertise)
His last three columns he wrote (here, here, here) were all to do with the fact that the election was stolen by the Russians and the FBI, and that our corrupt institutions let us down. On that final score he is partially right – our corrupt institutions have let us down – and it was because of that the electorate was galvanized by Trump and his call to ‘drain the swamp’ to take action against them.
The institutions didn’t want Trump. The problem was that in Clinton stood a candidate so corrupt herself that the institutions couldn’t deflect Trump’s charges. Clinton would have skated by a Jeb or Rubio, neither of whom were willing to ‘go there,’ and thus the public wouldn’t have cared about the alleged misdeeds of Clinton. If no politician was willing to stand up, the people would have trudged to the polls to elect Clinton, despite the stench of corruption.
Trump was different, Trump stood up to Clinton and the media who backed her. That’s why he won. And in the wake of it all, that same media has rushed to decry the constant discussion of that Clinton Stench during the campaign as ‘fake news.’
It’s been said repeatedly, but the post-election stance has shown that the old media has learned nothing. As they continue to define the fake news/proper news spectrum as pro-Trump/anti-Trump opinion respectively, they continue to dig themselves into a deeper hole.
Rutenberg is absolutely right in saying that proper news organizations will benefit wildly from the coming journalistic landscape, which in many ways is already here. However, given the waning trust in old media outlets like his, followed by his own shop posting middling profits, as well as an office space downsize in the offing, it is clear he has the specific organizations on each side of the real/fake news divide backwards.