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
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.”
Esquire’s Pierce readily concedes that Ben Carson (“an elite neurosurgeon”) and Mike Pompeo (“graduated at the top of his class at West Point”) are smart guys. In a way, though, they’re also tragic figures, he suggests, since they’ve “had to tailor their politics and their public personae to cater to the anti-rational, theocratic, anti-intellectual Id of modern conservatism…This means that both Carson and Pompeo have long histories of saying and writing things that sound like transmissions coming through their molars from Planet X.”
President Obama’s farewell address wasn’t ominous enough, believes The Nation’s Walsh. “It didn’t quite rise to the present danger,” wrote Walsh late Tuesday night, not long after Obama left the stage in Chicago. “Generally, he directed his mild criticism at all of us, not at the white backlash that elected [Donald] Trump.” In fact, the speech “could have been delivered even if Hillary Clinton was the president-elect.” According to Walsh, as much as Obama “tried to change” America, it remains “inadequately changed,” which may explain why Hillary lost.
Logic and proportion may be non-factors in media coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency, fears Lloyd Grove. In a Wednesday column, Grove opined that journalism “is in danger of passing through the looking glass, only to land in a menacing, topsy-turvy world, namely the White House Press Room…It’s likely to be [a] place where language will occasionally signify its opposite, and government spokespeople will declare, as Humpty Dumpty famously scolded Alice, ‘When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.’” The key to this process, indicated Grove, is the use of the term “fake news” as the “Trump administration’s rightwing-populist bludgeon to delegitimize the purveyors of real news.” Among Grove's expert witnesses: Dan Rather.
Next Tuesday, three days before the current POTUS becomes an ex-POTUS, Jonathan Chait’s Audacity: How Barack Obama Defied His Critics and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail will be published. On Tuesday, New York magazine, where Chait is the chief political pundit, ran an excerpt from the book in which he claimed, “The truth is that Obama enacted careful, deep, and mostly popular solutions to a broad array of problems to which his opponents have no workable response.”
As much as Republicans dislike Hillary Clinton, often intensely, few if any of them believe she’s Satan. Yes, Donald Trump described Bernie Sanders’s endorsement of Clinton as “a deal with the devil,” but presumably it was just a figure of speech. That said, some on the left are darkly suspicious about how low conservatives go in their opinions of HRC. In a Tuesday Daily Kos post, cartoonist and blogger Jen Sorensen wrote, “As my husband says, this was not so much an election as an exorcism, the culmination of a decades-long smear campaign by the right.”
Bill Clinton was, in the words of one of his competitors for the 1992 Democratic nomination, “an unusually good liar,” but for Eric Alterman, a critical mass of mendacity in presidential politics didn’t develop until 2016. Alterman thinks it explains the mainstream media’s response to POTUS-elect Donald Trump. “Mainstream journalists are used to collaborating with politicians to tell the truth a little bit at a time,” wrote Alterman in a column for the January 30 issue of The Nation. “Lies are accepted when they fit the master narrative, but they need to hover within an acceptable range of plausibility. At the very least, they require the pretense of evidence, however specious it might be…American journalists simply don’t know how to report on a president who is also a compulsive liar.”
The image of America as “a shining city on a hill” (or a similar phrase) has been a staple of conservative political rhetoric for several decades. In a Tuesday piece for The New Republic, Matthew Pratt Guterl, a professor at Brown University, adapted the metaphor for leftist domestic use: “The nation as a whole seems no longer interested in celebrating any vision of equity, justice, and mutual respect. We need new symbols desperately. Blue states—especially those with democratic supermajorities and friendly neighbors, like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, California and Oregon—can be those symbols. And they can turn that symbolism into meaningful practice and policy.”