When faced with Trump’s extremism, the media falter: Macdonald

Good commentary by Neil Macdonald:

It’s warming and bias-confirming to browse quotes about the importance of journalism to democracy. Thomas Jefferson said he’d vastly prefer newspapers without government to government without newspapers.

Napoleon said four newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.

But others saw into the reality most journalists know well, and live daily.

George Orwell noted that “anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness.” Noam Chomsky characterized the media as the guard dog of the establishment, rather than the watchdog.

And Norman J. Ornstein said just the other day that the mainstream press, “behaving like a battered spouse,” is knuckling under to the new president-elect, normalizing extremism, rationalizing boorish thuggery, “thinking ‘Maybe it’s us…we should be nicer to him.'”

Ornstein, a left-leaning resident scholar at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, has been on a Twitter tear since Nov. 8, adding his scorn of the media to that of Donald Trump’s legions.

Righties have long despised what they call the “lamestream media,” preferring, somewhat like the hard left, to swim exclusively in their own pool, eagerly consuming the demagoguery of websites like Breitbart, arguably the choice of “white nationalists” once led by Steve Bannon, Trump’s new chief policy adviser.

There, they are reassured that Hillary Clinton is a criminal, that blacks are responsible for the treatment of blacks, that leftists are conspiringagainst Christmas, and so forth.

It’s a cartoonish view, one cheered on by Trump himself, who liked to goad crowds at his rallies against the reporters following him, complaining media outlets were deliberately ignoring his popularity, even as they did just the opposite.

Fear of audience

Ornstein, though, is relentlessly grinding his fist into a vulnerability that mainstream reporters know actually exists, but which they seldom acknowledge. My craft is often corporatist, hopelessly bourgeois, genuflects to power and, ultimately, fears its audience.

Anyone who requires proof of that need only review the unhinged media madness after 9/11; suddenly, anyone who opposed invading Iraq was pro-terrorist. Entire cities in Iraq were populated by terrorists. Patriotic correctness eclipsed the political correctness, and George W. Bush quickly brought most of the national press corps, whimpering, to heel.

Now that Trump has been validated by a minority of American voters (Clinton won the popular vote by at least two million votes, roughly the population of America’s largest city), the collective critical faculties of the media are faltering again.

Ornstein is right; extremism is being either ignored or glossed over. When a group of “alt-right” white supremacists held a celebratory party in a Washington restaurant to celebrate Trump’s victory, ending the night with Sieg Heil salutes, it was treated as a bad-apple one-off, even though Trump never proactively disavows his support from the extreme right.

“It is SO politically correct,” Ornstein tweeted sarcastically after that episode, “to frown on Nazi salute, overt antisemitism, and rank racism.”

Source: When faced with Trump’s extremism, the media falter – CBC News | Opinion

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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