Inside the media bubble
The first six months of the Trump presidency has seen a portion of the country lose its collective mind, with the press playing the role of lead nutter, and chief enabler. How to explain this? It goes beyond a mere liberal bias, says Thomas Frank (himself a man of the left). At bottom, the press has become an insular, incurious, and insulting, and it shows no sign of changing its behavior:
How can our opinion-leaders believe something so unanimously, so emphatically, and yet have so little success persuading their erstwhile opinion-followers to get in line?
One part of the explanation is the structural situation of the news media. As newspapers die off, their place in the American consciousness is taken by social networks of both the formal and informal variety. Thanks to Facebook and Twitter, these days we read only that which confirms our biases. Once upon a time, perhaps, the Washington Post could single-handedly bring down a president, but those days have passed.
But there’s also a second reason, one that is even more fundamental. The truth is that the unanimous anti-Trumpness of the respectable press is just one facet of a larger homogeneity. As it happens, the surviving press in this country is unanimous about all sorts of things.
There are their views on trade. Or their views on what they call “populism”. Or their views on what they call “bipartisanship”. Or their views on just about anything having to do with the decline of manufacturing (sad but inevitable) and the rise of the “creative” white-collar professions (the smart ones, so meritorious).
This is one of the factors that explains the many monstrous journalism failures of the last few decades: the dot-com bubble, which was actively cheered on by the business press; the Iraq war, which was abetted by journalism’s greatest sages; the almost complete failure to notice the epidemic of professional misconduct that made possible the 2008 financial crisis and the rise of Donald Trump, which (despite the media’s morbid fascination with the man) caught nearly everyone flatfooted.
Everything they do, they do as a herd – even when it’s running headlong over a cliff.
Frank goes on to say that the press puts greater stock in credentials (from the right institutions and schools) and associations (with the right people and organizations) than it does in getting the truth. The result is a press corps Frank says is "utterly oblivious to how they appear to the rest of America."
Each new day brings a fresh example of this. It is corrosive, not just to the press as an institution, but to the Republic. The aim of a free press is to hold those in power accountable for their words and deeds, without fear or favor. Broadly speaking, they have abandoned this equation in pursuit of what Frank says is a "crusade" to re-establish "legitimacy":
It completely defines their war on Trump, for example. They know what a politician is supposed to look like and act like and sound like; they know that Trump does not conform to those rules; and they react to him as a kind of foreign object jammed rudely into their creamy world, a Rodney Dangerfield defiling the fancy country club.
We appreciate the "Caddyshack" reference. But we also appreciate the larger point: so long as the press maintains a war against Trump, his policies, and, by extension, the voters who put him in the White House, they will fail. And that failure will lead to their demise.