By Paul C | 31 January 2019
Trump is a master of propaganda, and in that respect he is the quintessential Republican — he truly is their leader because Republicans exist only by virtue of the force of their propaganda.
We keep reading that Trump is attacking the press but he really is defending himself from their attacks in two ways. First, he is projecting his greatest strength and greatest weakness onto them, his incessant lying, to inoculate himself from charge that he is lying. Second, he is putting them on the defensive by framing their legitimate charges against him as equivalent to partisan politics, politicizing the act of reporting of news.
The first aspect has worn a bit thin. There is now widespread agreement that Trump lies when he opens his mouth. But the second remains quite toxic and we need to do something about it.
This is doubly true because today’s press is made vulnerable to pressure due to their need to generate revenue, placing entertainment value above news content.
We just witnessed Howard Schultz, former head of Starbucks, ride an enthusiastic roller coaster of attention from the media. And we are freaking out because this is a replay of how they provided Trump nonstop coverage from the day he threw his hat in the ring.
Just as alarming, he is mouthing the same platitudes about “both sides are equally broken and only I can fix things.” Just like Trump he has no recognizable agenda beyond enriching himself. And just like with Trump, the press can’t get enough of him.
So there is this inherent weakness in the institution of the fourth estate, this need to entertain both sides, that Trump is shining a spotlight on when he charges them with partisanship. Just by making the attack they are immediately put on the defensive and react by looking for relief.
This is what Schultz and Trump offer, a story line that both sides are broken and only the entertainer in the “center” can fix things for them — not for society, but for the press. The fact that Trump and Schultz have no agenda but enriching themselves is not a flaw but a feature because it eliminates the element of risk for the press going forward. It is always easier to work with a corrupt tyrant than to be stuck between two warring camps and all the uncertainty that that entails.
On top of all of this, our knee jerk reaction to these attacks is to jump to the defense of the press, immediately inoculating the press from legitimate criticism from our side, thereby freeing them to react by shifting further to the right to embrace bothsiderism.
Of course the victim of this “fix” is the news itself, the Democratic Party, the American people and our democracy. So what is the solution to this perverse dynamic? Doing nothing is not the answer because we have just been through this and we know it doesn’t end well for us.
The answer is that we have to recognize the 800 pound gorilla in the room and begin a coordinated campaign at the highest levels of the Party to push back against faulty reasoning and faulty reporting in the press, as well as pushing back against blatant favoritism in how news time is being apportioned. We have to shame them into behaving and doing their job.
We have to acknowledge that the Republicans are constantly applying pressure on the media to place propaganda above the news, to politicize the news and to report from a mythical “center” where only entertainment value holds sway. And we have to push back, creating a new source of risk for the press — anger from the other side at their lack of objectivity.
We don’t hesitate to drop a billion dollars to elect our people, so why would we stand idly by as the press showers the likes of a Trump or a Schultz with billions of dollars in free advertising? That makes no sense at all. We need to up our game.
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