A response to a TruthDig opinion piece entitled “The Media Did Not Create the Trump Phenomenon”



I am going to take this one point at a time.

>WASHINGTON—One of the more absurd things being said about the Donald Trump phenomenon is that the media created it. For the record, we didn’t.”<

This is the thesis. Fair enough. Now let’s ask “why?”, remembering that the burden of proof is on “us”, i.e. those who say the mainstream media created Trump. For the record, I think, and I may be wrong, that few of “us” believe the mainstream media is the only thing that created the Trump phenomenon (#Trumphonemon), but that it was definitely one in a series of necessary causes.

>First of all, there is no “we.” The news media operate in what should be every conservative ideologue’s dream environment: an unfettered free market. Outlets compete every day—actually, in the Internet age, every hour—to provide consumers with information they need and want. Every editor and news director strives to beat the competition, and the fact is that audiences have decided they need and want to know about Trump.<

There might be no “we” that encompasses the media as a whole, but let’s remember we’re talking about the mainstream media, which narrows down the group rather significantly, but not its pervasiveness. Today there are just six major media corporations that control 90% of our media, down from 50 in 1983. I refer to (@TheMoralEconomy’s) podcast on #propaganda (http://wp.me/p5QuNi-g3), and for quick reference here is a Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_cross-ownership_in_the_United_States. As far as I can tell TruthDig is not owned by any major media outlets, and in my personal opinion is not part of the mainstream media, being a more or less successful online outlet with good reporting and opinion pieces. But that’s somewhat besides the point. The idea that we have “an unfettered free market” for news media is nonsense. Outlets may indeed compete, but there are few of them, and they most certainly do not give us what we want AND need. Do we click nonetheless? Yes, what else do we have?

>No one understands this better than Trump himself. To understate by miles, he knows how to draw attention to himself—the late-night Twitter rants, the fire-breathing rallies, the gold-plated jet, the ridiculous hair. After decades in the public eye, he had more than 90 percent name recognition when he began his campaign. So it was no surprise that hordes of media flocked to Trump Tower last June 16 and watched him descend the shiny escalator for his kickoff announcement. Who doesn’t love a good sideshow?<

Yes, Trump, as a billionaire corporate player of the #GameOfBillionaires, knows how to draw attention to himself. After decades in the public eye (why would he be in the public eye if there hadn’t been decades of mainstream media coverage of him? — I digress) he know what to do in order to attract mainstream media coverage. No, it’s no surprise, but whether it’s surprising to people or not does not actually lend support to the argument either way. What is important is that it could have been predicted (Trump probably predicted it), due to the mainstream media’s propensity to publish sensational stories over actual news (here we might get into a definitional problem, but again I digress). Due to the predictability it should not have come as a surprise — and TruthDig’s argument supports this — but, hey, we’re not all always paying attention.

>But any carnival barker can draw a crowd. Trump would have been sent home to his Fifth Avenue penthouse long ago if a substantial part of the Republican Party base didn’t agree with what he is saying. If there is any sort of collective media failure, it’s not in paying too much attention to Trump but too little to his message.<

Yes, this is a valid point, and the “we” claiming that the mainstream media is (in part) responsible for the Trumphomenon points out that the mainstream media is also (in part) responsible for creating this portion of the Republican Party that is Trump’s base. I would again refer to our podcast on propaganda, but the short of it is that an increasingly concentrated, conservative mainstream media has been polarising the country for decades, pretending to be “fair and balanced” while really giving a platform for loud conservatives and centrists and shutting out most of the left. It does this in order to protect its interests, which are very easy to see: An informed public would put a halt to media consolidation. A side-effect is the rise of proto-Trumpists, as well as the delightfully (i.e. frightening) phenomenon of almost all mainstream media outlets calling all other media that darned “liberal media”.

>Were the morning news shows wrong to let Trump call in so often? Before you say of course it was, think of the implications. Do those programs have an obligation to treat every candidate the same? If so, contenders such as Martin O’Malley and Jim Gilmore should have gotten as much coverage and airtime as, say, Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz.

Were the cable networks wrong to carry live coverage of so many Trump rallies? Recall that the events themselves were newsworthy because of the extraordinary size of the crowds. I could buy the argument that the other candidate who drew unusually big crowds, Bernie Sanders, perhaps should have gotten more coverage, but not that Trump should have gotten less.<

Okay, I treat those as one paragraph. Let’s apply some simple logic here. If the mainstream media were to cover more of O’Malley, Gilmore and Sanders, then they would have had to cover other people or other stories less. Where could they possible spare some coverage? (Rhetorical question). Look, Trump IS newsworthy, no doubt about it, because he is a sexist, racist, violent, lying pig, and it is important to let people know this. But there ARE other important messages that the mainstream media ignores, such as those that Sanders champions, and if the mainstream media were to actually stick to reporting newsworthy things that people have time and again shown they want to hear, then Sanders should by now have at least as much coverage as Clinton and Trump. Let’s not pretend that treating every candidate fairly is amounts to treating every candidate exactly the same, or that we have ever called for blanket, equal coverage of every yahoo to run for office. That’s, in fact, exactly what we are not saying when we say we want less coverage of Trump.

>The “media created Trump” storyline ignores the fact that the “mainstream” media are about as popular among the Republican base as the Zika virus. And the one exception, Fox News, has been tougher on Trump than other outlets, not more accommodating. Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox News Sunday,” has long refused to let Trump call in. And anchor Megyn Kelly, with her sharp questioning and commentary, seems to have driven the blowhard billionaire up the wall.

See my previous remark on the “liberal media”. Remember, there being a mainstream media as I have sort of defined it above (i.e. in part belonging to one of the six large media outlets that are pervasive and report more-or-less similar things) does not mean that everyone only ever listens to it. On the other hand, there being a number of other, smaller media outlets to listen to does not mean that the mainstream media does not nonetheless exert a huge influence — and without people even knowing it. If so-called independent (and I contest that they actually are) conservative outlets consider the mainstream media “liberal” (i.e. left), then they are not actually speaking out against mainstream media, but conforming to it. Add to this that most of these outlets make commentary, not news, and therefore get their own news in part by making things up and in part by watching, reading, listening to the mainstream media (I doubt very much, in any case, that they are watching www.democracynow.org).

>It is true that Trump delivers huge television ratings and lots of website clicks. But that’s irrelevant. News organizations have to cover the leading candidates, even if they’re dull as dishwater.<

No they don’t otherwise Sanders would have more coverage.

>The news media, it seems to me, are guilty only of reporting the news—which is that a candidate who has never held elective office, and who displays neither the base of knowledge nor the temperament necessary to serve as president, is leading all comers for the Republican nomination. Commentators should spend less time flattering themselves that the news media have the power to make such a thing happen—and more time trying to understand why Trump is succeeding.<

But why is he leading? Let’s ignore for a moment my previous point about the media creating Trump’s base as well, and just assume there has somehow always been a group of people who were receptive to a candidate like Trump well before Trump decided to run for office. This group of people, when they hear the media criticise Trump for his racism, sexism and all around pigism, responds positively to this criticism. For them it isn’t really criticism, but exactly the reasons they support Trump. In other words, by focusing so much on Trump, the mainstream media spreads Trump’s message and broadens his support (a fact that this article seems to agree with). Conversely, if we accept that there is a large group of people (some would say the majority of Usonians) who respond positively to Sanders’s message, then the lack of mainstream media coverage of Sanders, and the over-reporting of Trump, serves to dampen support for Sanders.

>Early in his campaign, Trump staked out extreme positions on illegal immigration: Deport the 11 million undocumented migrants already in the country, and build a “big, beautiful wall” along the Mexico border. Ridiculous, yes, but he got people’s attention.

He followed up, after the San Bernardino terror attack, with a call to ban all foreign Muslims from entering the country. It is another crazy idea—impossible to implement, and counterproductive if attempted—but it resonated with millions of Americans who unfortunately view Islam with fear and loathing.

Trump rails against free trade agreements whose effect, in his view, has been to eliminate millions of manufacturing jobs. He pledges to reduce the cost and scope of U.S. involvement overseas. He denounces other politicians as lackeys who dance to the tune of rich and powerful campaign donors. And he plays on the anxieties and prejudices of white voters unnerved by demographic change in a nation that will soon have no racial majority.

With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, in this case the media are merely the messenger, not the message. Blaming ourselves for Trump’s rise is just another way to ignore the voters who have made him the favorite for the GOP nomination.<

This is all just repeating more or less the same as above, so I am going repeat myself by including a Facebook post I wrote about an NYTimes piece (http://nyti.ms/1pony2y):

>I find it rich that the NYTimes — which, after ignoring him almost entirely, has made a painstaking effort in the last months to misrepresent, smear, and otherwise discredit Bernie Sanders — publishes an op-ed piece like this. Sanders is not even that far left, not by European standards and certainly not by any objective standards, yet the constant bombardment against him by the NYTimes and the mainstream media shows exactly how far right many in the US have swung in the last years. Isn’t that a bit ironic? Or do they simply not understand their culpability for the rise of fascism in the US? (Rhetorical questions). Culpable not just because they happily report and retweet every morsel of crap to come out of Trump’s mouth, but — and this is not an endorsement of Sanders — because when there’s a candidate who is really only asking for what the rest of the industrialised world already takes for granted, only asking for what poll after poll shows is already popular among Usionians, and only asking for what all real economic and political indicators say is needed as a bare minimum for a state not to fly completely off the rails, that candidate is labelled a crazy, out-of-touch, angry left-wing extremist. The mainstream media squashing debate on the rather modest proposals by Sanders is the reason fascism is alive and well in the US today, and not people like Trump, who would never get this far if real debate were allowed. New rule: If you think Sanders is far left, then you’re not allowed to shit yourself about Trump, or even talk about him.<

Would that it were so simple that the mainstream media is merely the messenger. But we don’t have to use Sanders’s example to make this argument. Let’s not forget that while Trump is winning, he’s not exactly popular among Republicans. He just has a very loud and loyal base that squeals in delight every time he does something disgusting. It may well be that, due to this base, he would nonetheless be winning if coverage of him were less, since other Republicans are clearly turned off by the other candidates. But by providing only a his and a few other messages, and excluding many, many others, the media has indeed become the message itself. It’s a two-parter: “Pay attention to loud, obnoxious people with lots of money” and “We know what people actually want to here, despite what they say”.

Mainstream Idea