Last week saw the latest round in the war between President-elect Donald Trump and the News Media, with the Jim Acosta exchange in particular drawing plenty of attention. In case you live in a cave somewhere and missed it, here it is:
That moment, brandishing a respected news organization such as CNN to be ‘fake news,’ was perhaps a seminal moment. It was the culmination of a brutal back and forth which has lasted the better part of two years. While both sides relish this fight, the media as a class have, at times tried to act as though they have been innocent victims of a brutish Trump.
They accuse Trump of threatening the freedom of the press, a concept uniquely American and central to our way of life. Referring to the press conference, Esquire writer Charles Pierce called Trump’s performance that of ‘an aspiring American dictator.’
All of this, because Donald Trump is the first politician on the right in decades who can attack and defend himself just as effectively as his ideological opponents in the press do, and then some. Some in the media are finally starting to take note of this, and are scrambling to make sense of it. For the last 18 months and more, the media has persisted with its tired tactic of screaming ‘RACIST! SEXIST! HOMOPHOBE!’ at those expressing any opinion to the right of Mao, only to find that Trump was impervious to this tactic when it was tried on him.
Having lost that battle on November 8, the press lurched to the next strategy – delegitimize Trump’s victory. This came about via the promotion of Jill Stein’s recount effort (which ended up in Trump gaining votes), the justification of violent anti-Trump rioting across the country, the justification for the Electoral College to ‘vote it’s conscience,’ the popular vote, and more emphatically, the idea that Trump is some sort of Manchurian Candidate, personally installed by Vladamir Putin.
It is this Russian meme specifically which led to the Acosta moment last Wednesday, as the night before Buzzfeed published an unsubstantiated ‘dossier’ comprised of material collected by Donald Trump’s political enemies, which was implied to have been real intelligence, and put forth as evidence that the Russians had a trove of blackmail material against Trump. (more here)
It was a document which had been floating around political and news media circles for months, and because of the fact that virtually none of it could be verified, it was never reported on, until Buzzfeed decided to introduce it to the world. This set off a firestorm, which culminated in an angry Trump lashing out at the media, and the intelligence community.
The Acosta moment has seemingly woken up the media properly to the idea of Trump as a real force to be reckoned with. The analysis so far has been summed up as ‘Trump is trying to destroy the media by divide and conquer. We must band together and fight him.’
Slate writer Will Oremus goes through this argument in detail. After describing the way Trump singled out CNN and Buzzfeed for scorn over their reporting on the ‘dossier,’ while praising other news organizations (specifically the New York Times) for not running it, he surmises that it is tactical. He writes:
Trump’s words were tactical, not literal. And his purpose became clear during the Q-and-A: to isolate and punish the two specific news organizations whose coverage he found objectionable.
It worked. BuzzFeed was so anathematized that by presser’s end, fellow journalists were picking up their lunch trays and moving to the other side of the cafeteria. “I can understand why President-elect Trump would be upset” with BuzzFeed, said CNN’s Jake Tapper, a co-author of the very story that had just been impugned in the press conference. “I would be upset about it, too.”
Trump had exploited weaknesses—not just the tendency of the press to eat itself, but also its own status anxieties. In particular, he exploited traditional media outlets’ intense desire to be perceived as sober and objective, and thus to be respected by conservatives and liberals alike—a business imperative that has been transmuted into an ethical injunction.
This last point is particularly interesting. The genesis of the battle between Trump and the press is the ideological differences between the two, as I mentioned above. In a very broad sense, Trump is a traditionalist and a nationalist. The vast majority of the press are left leaning, and thus embrace a cultural Marxist, globalist world view.
There is nothing wrong with each side harboring those views; however the press, by virtue of its purported role as a distillery for the truth, has much less room to imbue ideology and engage in opinion. That’s why Editorial Pages were invented, but it seems as though that the entirety of the mainstream media has become an Editorial page.
The reason the media desires to be thought of as completely rational and objective is that because if it is not, it becomes merely just another source of opinion in an ocean of opinions. Preserving the view that the media deals in cold, hard analysis of the truth allows it to float angelically above the rest of us.
The reality is that the media is as biased and as opinionated as the rest of us. Of the publications that most people immediately think of when one thinks of ‘respected news organizations’ (New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, LA Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News), only Fox News and the WSJ do not lean demonstrably to the left.
Indeed, many would scoff at the fact that I even included Fox News in a list of ‘respected’ news publications given it its place in American society as the butt of jokes about objectivity. That the most right-leaning publication on this list also is subject to the most scorn is exactly the sort of isolation and punishment that Oremus accuses Trump of doing to Buzzfeed and CNN.
On the ‘status anxiety’ of the media in general, he writes:
There are status anxieties and resentments within the media just as surely as there are in the electorate, and on Wednesday, Trump deftly seized on them. Americans’ trust in media is at a low point, thanks in part to a highly effective conservative campaign to discredit mainstream outlets as biased. Fake news, a phrase coined to describe fabricated stories devised by hoaxsters, has become the default conservative epithet for historically respected institutions such as CNN and the Times. For journalists at those sorts of outlets, who worked for decades to reach the summit of their profession, nothing could be more deflating. It gives them a pressing incentive to distinguish and distance themselves from less-esteemed outlets, including upstarts such as BuzzFeed, whose “irresponsible journalism,” as CNN’s Tapper put it, “hurts us all.”
Oremus puts the blame for the increased perception of the media as biased on an effective conservative campaign. The reality is different. As mentioned before, the contrast between the cultural Marxist globalism of the left, and the traditionalist Nationalism of the Trump Right underpins the current ideological battle for hearts and minds.
To that end, it is the former viewpoint which has the most currency in modern culture. Concepts such as equality, diversity, and tolerance, as defined by leftists, are the highest ideals sought. This cultural Marixist, globalist view has risen to the level of being the objectively rational way to view the world. The media, in all of its forms, has aided this ascent what is really mere opinion to the level of perceived inviolable laws of humanity over the last three or four decades and more. Trump, who is considered to be in constant opposition to the achievement of these leftist-defined values, has thus become an enemy.
The result has been a sort of Clown World in which expressing a view which does not comport with leftist orthodoxy is a marker for insanity. In that world, the media, by virtue of being leftists, are afforded the position of veneration it seeks, as arbiters of Truth.
This is why the ‘campaign to discredit mainstream outlets’ necessarily has to come from conservatives. That conservatives and mainstream outlets are opposition says a lot – the latter can hardly paint themselves as truly objective if they wholly reject any conservative view to the point it is considered insanity to hold such views.
The ‘fake news’ saga Oremus refers to is indicative of this point. Oremus laments the fact that the term has been transformed from referencing made-up news stories by hoaxers to being used to criticizing anything conservatives don’t like. That would be a fair gripe, until one notices that it was the mainstream media who first used the ‘fake news’ terminology as one of the many excuses as to why Hillary Clinton lost the election.
Actual fake news, as in Macedonian pranksters writing stories about the Pope endorsing Trump and spreading it on Facebook, were hardly consequential in terms of shifting the electorate into voting for Trump. For a start, the actual fake news mostly resided in the realm of social media, the domain of the young, who are both smaller in number and turn out to vote at lower rates than their elders. Furthermore, these older generationsstill get most of their news from ‘traditional’ formats, such as television, radio and newspapers.
The mainstream outlets cleverly paired the ‘epidemic’ of fake news on social media with the rise of the ‘alt-right,’ inserting the likes of Breitbart, Infowars and others into the fray when the discussion of ‘legitimate news’ was being had. Consider this article from The Guardian, which leads with the following subheading:
The ‘alt-right’ (aka the far right) ensnared the electorate using false stories on social media.
In the aftermath of the election, lists like this one from a liberal professor were widely disseminated, but lumped opinion sites which leaned Right in with the fake news. This New York Times article in part disparaged Mark Dice, a YouTuber who regularly roasts progressives, in an article tiled ‘As Fake News Spreads Lies, More Readers Shrug at the Truth.’
In short, it was many left leaning, mainstream media voices that started using the term ‘fake news’ to reference any ‘hyper-partisan’ view from the right. The goal of that effort was to reestablish the Clown World Order I described earlier – Leftist views are objective reality, anything else, insanity. Such a drive was necessary thanks to the victory of Trump, a data point which called that Order into question in the most grand way possible.
To the extent there was a ‘conservative campaign’ to co-opt the ‘fake news’ terminology, it was merely a counterattack to this attempt to delegitimize non-left opinions. It succeeded because it had the truth on its side, in that leftists and rightist opinion is just that, opinion, and the mere fact that the former is in vogue does not render the latter to be illegitimate. Thus, the death of the term ‘fake news’ as a weapon.
Dossier-gate showcased a different sort of media warfare. CNN in particular went to great pains to justify its reporting, on the basis that it merely reported on the existence of said dossier, rather than the sordid details within.
However, by doing so, it made the existence of the document news, in a way in which hadn’t been done before. It was the equivalent of someone coming up to you and saying ‘hey, I know something that could totally change your life forever, but I can’t really tell you what it is.’ You’ve done that person no favors at all; in fact you’ve harmed that person by introducing something that will play on his or her mind until that secret information is revealed to them.
CNN may have not published the specific details, and even went to considerable lengths to repeat how unsubstantiated and unverified they were, but they did make it known exactly where such details could be found, nudge nudge, wink wink.
The goal was just to get the information out there in the public domain, because once there it could be used to stir up chaos. Remember, that this dossier was released after a lengthy campaign by the media and the intelligence community to paint Trump out as some sort of Russian state actor personally installed by Putin, a campaign which has been blared with unbearable loudness over the last few weeks in particular.
The Russians having compromising video of Trump cavorting with Russian prostitutes in The Ritz Carlton Moscow is fiction, but it is fiction that comports with the general post-election narrative of Trump-as-Manchurian Candidate, if you hold a predilection for that erroneous view. It allows the media to discredit Trump on the grounds that he was not legitimately elected, and in the future it allows the media to question any and every action of his it dislikes on the grounds that the action in question might be Trump just doing the bidding of the Russians.
Putin’s response to the dossier was classic, not because of him making light of the idea of Trump needing to indulge in prostitutes after having access to supermodels all his life, but for denouncing those who push the dossier as the worst sort of individuals:
Prostitution is an ugly social phenomenon… But those people who organize such frauds, which have been circulated and promoted against the elected president of the United States, those who fabricate information and use it in the political struggle, they are worse than prostitutes, they have no moral limits.
Putin is absolutely right. In citing the fabrication of information to use in a political fight, he describes the way the mainstream media generally does business with respect to those it opposes. More importantly, however, it draws the mainstream media into the realm of the same ‘fake news’ domain it sought to relegate others to. This is what worries the media the most, hence the seminal nature of the Acosta spat.
I’m not saying that the media prints outright lies, although it has happened before. What the media does do more frequently, however, is to deal in willful misinterpretation, editorializing, and intellectual dishonesty. This is the only way you get narratives such as ‘Russia hacked the election,’ or ‘Trump committed treason by imploring the Russians to breach US national security by attacking Hillary Clinton,’ or the intentional mention of ’17 US intelligence agencies’ in nearly every report about the Russian hacking saga, solely done to give undue weight to what would follow, which was a statement of unverified opinion about who hacked what. It has been repeatedly stated that not one vote was tallied incorrectly, and Trump’s ‘call’ for Russian hacking was a tongue in cheek mocking of the media, when viewed in context.
Another blatant example of this was shown in the CBS reporting of the kidnap and torture of a disabled white teenager by four of his black peers in Chicago a couple weeks ago. The following report was given on a CBS radio station:
The viral video of a beating and knife attack in Chicago suggests the assault had racial overtones. CBS’s Dean Reynolds tells us the victim is described as a mentally-challenged teenager.
In the video he is choked and repeatedly called the n-word. His clothes are slashed and he is terrorized with a knife. His alleged captors repeatedly reference Donald Trump. Police are holding four people in connection with the attack.
That account is factually true, but it is constructed to convey something completely different to what took place. It starts by saying that the attack had a racial component before describing how the victim was called the n-word, with several references made to Donald Trump. Given that description, combined the narrative advanced by those on the left that Trump is a racist who wants to return black people to slavery, any listener would conclude that the victim was black and that the assailants were white, when in fact it was the other way around.
Even more spectacular is that this video, as the report notes, went viral. It was a widely discussed topic for several days so what exactly was this report trying to do by being do deceptive? In this light it reads as a petulant attempt to lash out at the destruction of a popular narrative.
This sort of brazenness is what colors the likes of Jake Tapper’s thinking, when he denounced Buzzfeed’s irresponsibility as ‘hurting us all.’ It completely exposes the game for the public to see, and makes it that much harder for the media to claim the solemn objectivity it craves. When the true, leftist views of many in the media are made so naked, more and more of the public recognize that most of these reporters are in the business of disseminating opinion disguised as news, and they’ll act accordingly, as shown already in diminished views of the media, as Oremus notes.
This phenomenon of the media exposing themselves as uniformly opinionated vis a vis Trump isn’t new – it has been a feature of his campaign. What is new are the heights to which Trump took the manner of his riposte this week – elevated by his stature as the elected President – when he referred to CNN as ‘fake news.’
This, in conjunction with Putin’s smackdown yesterday means that Putin and Trump, having access to the loudest megaphones on earth, are prepared to turn the ‘fake news’ moniker around on the mainstream media itself. Trump has already done this several times in his Tweets in addition to the Acosta moment. Even before that moment, some in the media saw the writing on the wall and were begging for the term to be gracefully put down. Too late. That’s an own goal the media will have to live with.
The reality for those in the media is that the two most powerful men in the world have positioned themselves as a traditionalist, nationalist tag-team who won’t fold under their pressure. And they control the bulk of the world’s nukes.
It’s little wonder why those cultural Marxist globalists in the media are squirming.