According to Leah Finnegan in her Thursday piece for The New Republic, when Steve Bannon cast the mainstream media as full-fledged opponents of the Trump White House, it wasn’t an accurate statement, but it may have been the next best thing: a self-fulfilling prophecy. “What if, rather than reflexively assuming its defensive posture of ‘objectivity,’ the press embraced this opportunity to go full-offense?” wondered Finnegan, who added, “In declaring the media the ‘opposition party,’ Bannon may have actually done it [sic] a great favor, tacitly casting it as a worthy adversary to Trump’s newfound power.”
Tom Johnson covers mostly websites (e.g., Salon, Talking Points Memo, Daily Kos) for NewsBusters. He blogged frequently for the site from 2005 until 2007 and has been a regular contributor since 2011. From 1989 until 2002, he was an entertainment analyst for the Media Research Center and its spinoff, the Parents Television Council. From July 2004 until June 2005, he monitored National Public Radio for the MRC. He is a graduate of the University of Arizona.
Esquire’s Charles Pierce is accusing President Trump of adding to something he vowed to subtract from. In a Thursday post, Pierce called the White House’s proposed federal budget a “vast, noxious swamp into which all those tributaries of modern conservative thought have emptied themselves. People die in there, swallowed up in deep sinkholes of empowered bigotry and class anger.”
In “Me and Bobby McGee,” Kris Kristofferson wrote that “freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.” On Wednesday, Brian Beutler suggested that “freedom” is just another word Republicans use to deprive Americans of health coverage. The GOP, contended Beutler, has “a weird way to define liberty” that involves 14 million people losing coverage “almost immediately.” He added, “Their conception of liberty and freedom [is] exceptionally callous.”
This past Tuesday, three prominent left-wing writers examined Paul Ryan’s health-care bill; what they see as the typical Republican attitude toward health insurance; and the modern GOP as a whole. Unsurprisingly, they found all three wanting. For example, Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall contended that on occasions like this that call for wonkery, Republicans are ill-equipped to deliver it, inasmuch as they’ve “spent years since 2008 (actually before but especially since 2008) stoking their base with increasingly fantastical and ridiculous claims.”
Separatist and secessionist talk has burgeoned in 21st-century America. The day after the 2004 presidential election, sulky liberals began circulating a map that represented pro-Kerry regions of the country as part of the “United States of Canada” and pro-Bush regions as “Jesusland.” Grouchy conservatives weren’t sure they belonged in a nation that elected and re-elected Barack Obama. Now comes left-leaning novelist and journalist Kevin Baker to argue, given Republican control of the White House and Congress, that “it’s time for blue states and cities to effectively abandon the American national enterprise, as it is currently constituted.”
In a Friday post on the website of The Washington Monthly, not of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Martin Longman discussed President Trump in strikingly medical terms. “The reason Trump has become so vulnerable so quickly is because he’s treating Washington like the pathogen when he’s the infectious agent,” declared Longman. “A better politician might be able to take over the host and turn to it his own purposes, but what Trump is experiencing instead is a massive and determined immune response.”
How is Donald Trump “not a normal Republican”? Let New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait count the ways. Trump is “crudely ethno-nationalist,” wrote Chait in a Tuesday post, and he’s “personally ignorant and undisciplined in a manner that sets him apart not only from traditional Republicans but most human adults.” That’s pretty much it for Trump’s deviations from orthodoxy, according to Chait, who thinks current White House economic and fiscal proposals are “perfectly orthodox” by party standards, notwithstanding blasts at them from GOP-aligned sources such as National Review.
Almost fifteen years ago, South Park paid tribute to a trailblazing animated TV series by calling an episode “The Simpsons Already Did It.” According to Columbia Journalism Review columnist Joel Simon, regardless of the current hubbub over President Trump’s media-bashing, several “Latin American populist” heads of state, including the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, already did it, or something a lot like it, long before Trump dubbed certain MSM outlets “the enemy of the people,” a description he reaffirmed Friday morning in his speech at CPAC.
CPAC, currently going on just outside the Beltway in National Harbor, Maryland, has changed along with the conservative movement, believes Matthew Yglesias. Old-school CPAC, Yglesias contended in a Wednesday piece, was philosophically driven, populated by the sort of activists who “helped [Ronald] Reagan mount a primary challenge to incumbent President Gerald Ford.” In the past fifteen-plus years, however, it has become “to a substantial extent a live version of the conservative entertainment experience that one could also get on cable or on the radio.” In other words, it's now Donald Trump's CPAC, which “reflect[s] the reality” that conservatives are “older, whiter, and less educated than the population at large and [are] filled with a keen sense of nostalgia for the good old days.”
Lateral movement in one direction or the other routinely comes into play in sports. That’s not the case in sports media, which almost always go to the left. “Today, sportswriting is basically a liberal profession,” declared Bryan Curtis in a Thursday piece for The Ringer. Curtis noted that “Donald Trump’s election was merely an accelerant for a change that was already sweeping across sportswriting” and added, “Forget the viability of being a Trump-friendly sportswriter today. Could someone even be a Paul Ryan–friendly sportswriter…? ”
John McCain’s 2008 campaign slogan, “Country First,” does not describe the worldview of Republicans, suggested Pierce on Monday. For them, the Esquire blogger implied, it’s more like “GOP über alles.” The peg for the post was chit-chat in the political and media worlds about whether President Trump is of sound mind, or, as Pierce put it, about “the possibility that the presidential trolley has left whatever tracks it had in the first place.”
Pundits often analogize Donald Trump to figures such as Richard Nixon and Silvio Berlusconi. Less commonly put forward are parallels between Trump, onetime owner of a pro football team, and O.J. Simpson, Hall of Fame running back and unconvicted murderer. Rolling Stone’s Taibbi drew the comparison in a Wednesday piece: “Apart from the monumental scale of the error -- we put O.J. in the White House this time, instead of just letting him loose on golf courses for a few more years -- [the election] was exactly the same story of myopic intellectuals clinging to facts and rules, while scoundrels steamrolled their way to victory riding narrative and celebrity.”
Chuck Schumer is the leader of Senate Democrats and, arguably, the current face of his party. For a narrower role -- congressional Dems’ chief Trump-mocker -- Graham Vyse nominates another senator, Al Franken. Vyse remarked in a Thursday piece that Franken “has largely shunned the spotlight” on Capitol Hill, but now he needs to “harness his talent as a public entertainer and take on Trump as only he could: with devastating wit.”
Even though Donald Trump won the presidential election, thereby causing “pessimism about the liberal project,” Barack Obama is winning the post-election, and Obama’s “vision of the country…will ultimately win out,” asserted New York’s Jonathan Chait last Sunday. According to Chait, the Women’s March the day after Trump’s inauguration and last weekend’s protests over his executive order on immigration “have drawn on powerful American ideals: inclusion, social mobility, and optimism. Obamaism may have lost control of the levers of government, but it has never lost the country.”
Should the mainstream media lead, to borrow a term from religion, a great awakening? Yes, in a sense, suggested longtime journalist Steven Waldman in a Thursday Washington Monthly piece. “Donald Trump and his campaign have pushed the idea that each of us has our own truth, or ‘alternative facts,’” wrote Waldman. “Suddenly I feel like journalists are the most religious people in America. I don’t mean that journalists are suddenly enamored with the supernatural, but rather that we’ve re-embraced the idea that there’s a thing called ‘truth’ -- an absolute value that lives above and apart from the world of framing and spin.”
Daily Kos founder and publisher Markos Moulitsas is pleased that “several media operations have decided to join reality [by] calling the Trump regime’s lies what they are -- lies.” Still stuck in unreality, according to Kos, is NPR, which, he alleged on Wednesday, “remains steadfastly committed to enabling the ruling regime’s propaganda efforts.” Kos fumed that “conservatives rally around conservative media, unified in message and purpose, while liberals consider themselves all superior because they listen to the soothing blather of NPR…Never forget --supposedly ‘liberal’ news outlets like CNN, the New York Times, and NPR were some of the biggest purveyors of bullshit stories on Clinton’s emails.”
NYU journalism prof Jay Rosen thinks that for the time being, mainstream media outlets should give inexperienced reporters -- interns -- what’s typically considered among the juiciest of plum assignments: White House correspondent. That, he argued in a Sunday piece on his site PressThink, would be a far more effective way of covering the current administration than we have now. Rosen wrote that veteran political reporters should be “where the action begins on the rim, in the agencies, around the committees, with the people who are supposed to obey Trump but have doubts.”
“The most important development of the last half-century in American politics,” believes New York magazine’s Chait, is “the Republican Party’s embrace of movement conservative ideology.” In a Thursday post, Chait cited six books, none of which was written by a conservative, that “help elucidate” this phenomenon. Among Chait’s choices: E.J. Dionne’s Why the Right Went Wrong; Richard Hofstadter’s Social Darwinism in American Thought (“scathingly dispatches a powerful right-wing idea that was destined to endure: the notion that the free market is a perfectly just mechanism for rewarding value and punishing failure”); and Paul Krugman’s Peddling Prosperity (“a powerful critique of supply-side economics…which Krugman aptly dispatches as simply crankery lacking any grounding in serious economic theory”).
The mainstream media should practice a little benign neglect in their coverage of the Trump administration, suggested Kerry Eleveld in a Tuesday post. Eleveld called President Trump “a totally repugnant human being” but conceded that he’s “a master manipulator” for whom pressers are “sheer sport…By continuing to engage in them, reporters are simply setting themselves up as targets on his terrain.”
Some liberals were disappointed by the result of the presidential election. Others were devastated. Former Fox News Watch panelist Gabler is in the latter group. “The anguish of Nov. 8 has not subsided,” wrote Gabler in a piece that appeared last Thursday on Salon and originally ran at BillMoyers.com. “We think of the election almost as a kind of death -- the death of the America we thought we knew or the death of a democracy we thought impervious -- and ever since, we have been cycling through Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’[s] stages of grief…Many of us cannot rouse ourselves to rail at the system or the voters or God. It’s as if anger is an insufficient response.”