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 What Liberal Media? author 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.”
According to Alterman, “Never have we faced [such] threats to the media’s role in protecting and defending our democracy…[Trump] and [the Republican] Congress…view the press as little more than a nuisance, fit only to be manipulated for propaganda purposes when that’s possible and demonized and degraded when not,” and a “radicalized” GOP, “encouraged by phony-baloney ‘both sides do it’ reporting…is committed to denying reality and treating with contempt any truthful journalism its leaders find unhelpful.” Meanwhile, Trump’s tweets are “a crack-like addiction for reporters, successfully diverting attention from reporting about [his] corruption, incompetence, ignorance, dishonesty, misogyny, prejudice, and authoritarian tendencies.”
Alterman doesn’t forget to single out TV, the medium that made Trump a superstar:
Over the last year, we have also seen what might be called the “Trumpification” of cable news. All three cable-news networks enjoyed massive increases in viewership—and profits—thanks to their eagerness to embrace the Trump phenomenon and, with it, his lies, threats, and megalomania. Fox News, as always, was the worst, gleefully joining Trump’s round-the-clock anti-journalist jihad…MSNBC continued to offer 15 hours of airtime every week to former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough and his sidekick, Mika Brzezinski, who act as unpaid advisers-cum-supplicants to Trump, both on and off the air…
Fasten your seat belts, people. It’s going to be a bumpy four years.