I hope what remains of journalism programs will issue autopsies on the skills they’ve taught their graduates. “Objectivity,” confused with fairness, still shines like the North Star. Fairness requires a reporter covering a city hall scandal, for example, to interview the state attorney’s office, whoever represents the department in question, and the accused, among others; fairness does not require the reporter to devolve into a typist, printing these remarks without context or correction.
Yet the Beltway press corps up until and late into the Trump presidency persists in ceding column inches and air time to charlatans, mountebanks, grifters, and white supremacists. Accused for years of liberalism, CNN has finally shed its timorous reputation. Not enough for me to watch it for more than minutes at a time — I forget it exists — but when friends link to Jake Tapper or whoever the indignance of their tone impresses me.
But an exception still has his own show, and Chuck Todd will happily accommodate Ron Johnson for the sake of the bipartisan comity he was born to late to renounce. A doyen of media studies whose arguments are prosecutorial briefs, Jay Rosen offers Todd no mercy after my Kendall boy admitted to his gullibility. Rosen:
It’s not naive. It’s a lack of imagination, a failure of insight. The practices common to political journalism have premises to them. When the premises shatter, the practices make less sense. This has been the central problem of covering the Trump movement since 2015. (I wrote about it here.) A simple example is fact-checking. One of its premises is that candidates and office-holders can be shamed into staying roughly within factual bounds. A president who has no sense of shame “breaks” the practice by busting the premise. Doesn’t mean you stop fact-checking. But you do have to alter your expectations, and start thinking about alternatives.
In the same answer where he acknowledges he believed the likes of Sean Spicer, Todd also says, “Donald Trump’s entire life has been spent using misinformation.” Consider the weasel word. “False information that is spread, regardless of intent to mislead,” according to my dictionary. Not the same as a lie or, Todd wanted the highfalutin polysyllabic word, disinformation.
Back to Rosen:
A key premise for Meet the Press is symmetry between the two major political parties. The whole show is built on that. But in the information sphere — the subject of Chuck Todd’s confessions — asymmetry has taken command. The right wing ecosystem for news does not operate like the rest of the country’s news system. And increasingly conservative politics is getting sucked into conservative media. It makes more sense to see Fox News and the Trump White House as two parts of the same organism. As these trends grind on they put stress on Meet the Press practices. But it takes imagination to see how the show might be affected— or changed. In place of that we have Chuck Todd pleading naiveté.
Chilled by the probability that the Beltway press will revert to reflecting the GOP’s meretricious fetish for austerity whenever a Democrat sits in the Oval Office, I have, I must admit, seen evidence that they’re on to the GOP’s game. But once a bothsider, always a bothsider. If you think the last five years were long, dear readers, hang on.