Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters
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.
Latest from Tom Johnson
According to author, critic, and former Fox News Watch panelist Neal Gabler, there’s not much of a mystery about who killed “the idea of media objectivity.” The perp, Gabler alleges, was the late Roger Ailes. “Before Fox News, most people actually trusted the media,” wrote Gabler in a screed that ran Friday on Salon and was originally published at BillMoyers.com.
If Dwight Eisenhower were alive, he might warn the Republican Party about the dangers of its conspiracy-industrial complex, suggested Jeet Heer on Tuesday. As for Democrats, Heer acknowledged that while some of them buy into conspiracy theories, especially juicy ones about President Trump and Russia, they, unlike Republicans, generally deal “responsibly” with “politically convenient, but obviously fantastic, stories.”
The Nation’s Eric Alterman doesn’t mind that a few weeks ago, The New York Times added another conservative op-ed columnist. He just wishes it hadn’t been the “awful” Bret Stephens, who used to write for “the rubes who believe what they read in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal” but now is tasked with impressing the “smarter and more sophisticated” readership of the Times.
A 77-year-old man died the other day, and, according to The Nation’s Walsh, it should have been a major learning moment for the Republican Party. In a Thursday piece about the career and legacy of former Fox News Channel boss Roger Ailes, Walsh mused that the passing of the GOP’s “intellectual patron” might “serve as a warning to the party” that “anger, arrogance and seething resentment of a rapidly changing country can be fatal.”
For a real-life example of how to succeed in business without really trying, check out the “Lean Forward” channel, suggests The Week’s Ryan Cooper. Cooper asserts that MSNBC is “attempting to ditch its entire brand as a liberal network just as it is starting to pay off handsomely,” and indicated that the driving force behind the ditchery is Andrew Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC.
At one time officially, and since then unofficially, the “S” in “ESPN” stood for “sports,” and, according to Mother Jones blogger Kevin Drum, that’s entirely fitting. As for the frequent complaint from conservatives about the channel’s liberal bias, Drum says, “I don't really get it...I'm not a heavy ESPN viewer, but I watch enough to have some sense of its political leanings. And I haven't really discerned much. Mostly they seem to call games and then argue about whether Tom Brady can play football into his fifties. You know, sports stuff.”
Just as it’s exceedingly tricky to know the dancer from the dance, it’s awfully hard to separate Fox News Channel’s program content from its hypermacho, litigation-generating workplace. That was the word from Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall in a Friday post. In Marshall’s words, FNC on the air and FNC in the office are “almost umbilically tied…If you’ve watched Fox for years and you found that it wasn’t a hotbed of sexual harassment, pervasive racist attitudes and a generalized sixty-something faux-bro ‘alpha’ culture, you’d have to think you had been scammed, that the big screen talent were somehow hypocrites and frauds. It would be like finding out that Chris Hayes was a major libertarian who funded the Cato Institute and Club for Growth or that Joy Reid had secretly been advising Donald Trump throughout the 2016 election cycle.”
This week’s avalanche of layoffs at ESPN has been a story in search of an explanation. Some say that a major reason for the network’s financial woes over the past few years has been, as Clay Travis noted, its “absurd decision to turn into MSESPN, a left wing sports network.” The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis, who endorses the recent leftward drift of sports media, thinks that whether or not ESPN is “a liberal network” is “a legitimate and interesting question that deserves examination,” but finds what he calls the “libtard ESPN got what it deserved!” argument shallow, even knee-jerkish.
To Esquire’s Pierce, the Clintons’ image as scandal-plagued is in large part attributable to the Times, which since the early ’90s has reported extensively on stories that “were, by and large, complete bullshit, inflated by Republicans and a willing and timid elite political press into a Questions Remain culture of faux-scandal that persisted through the entirety of the 2016 campaign. And it began long before the Times ran seven stories about [James] Comey's release of his 11th hour letter to Congress on its front page.”
Whatever was the matter with Kansas when Thomas Frank wrote his book is now less daunting for the left, believes New York magazine’s Eric Levitz, who contended in a Wednesday piece that the closeness of this week’s House special election in the Wichita-centric 4th District appears to spell trouble for conservatives.
Fusion’s Alex Pareene seems to think that America’s biggest problem isn’t any of the usual suspects (e.g., deindustrialization, terrorism, health-care costs) but rather the popularity of conservative media among conservative politicians. For a long time, contended Pareene in a Wednesday piece, “the conservative movement peddled one set of talking points to the rabble, while its elites consumed a more grounded and reality-based media.” Then, however, “Congressional Republicans went from people who were able to turn their bullshit-hose on their constituents, in order to rile them up, to people who pointed it directly at themselves, mouths open.”
The term “dumb down” and its variants apparently didn’t exist until the late 1920s or early 1930s. Rolling Stone’s Taibbi suggested in the cover story of the magazine’s April 6 issue that the dumbing-down of America may be complete before the expression is a century old, and that President Trump deserves a huge share of the blame. Taibbi declared that Trump is “transforming not our laws but our consciousness, one shriveling brain cell at a time…A president like Trump can have an impact even if he never manages to get a single law passed, simply by unleashing stupidity as a revolutionary force.”
Throughout the presidential campaign, especially during primary-and-caucus season, many on the right called Donald Trump a squish, even a liberal. They should be much happier now, contends Jeet Heer, in part because Trump’s position on health care indicates that he’s “succumbing to the central policy of conservative Republicans: cruelty to the needy...To simply wait for the ACA to ‘explode’ would be to knowingly doom countless Americans to uncertainty about one of the most fundamental matters in life: their health.”
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.”
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.