Friday’s Washington Post showed up on our doorstep (well, technically, by the garage door) with this front-page headline:
No one asked me, but even while dealing with a lack of energy because of a recent bout with Covid, I could quickly come up with more compelling reasons that GOP hopes were stymied.* Such as:
- The Republicans stripped more than 50 percent of Americans of their hard-earned rights, promised to do more if elected, and Americans believed them.
- The Republicans promised to deprive LGBTQ and racial minorities of their hard-earned rights, and Americans believed them.
- The Republicans supported a coup on January 6th in an attempt to overthrow a free-and-fair election, promised more-of-the-same if elected, and Americans believed them.
- The Republicans — in a return to their 1930 roots as “the party to starve grandma” — promised to drastically cut or even eliminate Social Security and Medicare, two popular programs that we’ve supported with our own funds for years, and Americans believed them.
- The Republicans worked overtime to game the election system through gerrymandering and voter suppression in states where they held the levers of power, they promised to do it again if elected, and Americans believed them.
Americans aren’t buying what Republicans are selling.
- The Republicans campaigned on the evils of inflation even though they had no plan to deal with it other than lowering taxes on the rich (which would cause inflation to increase). Many of the candidates and party leaders said their real platform was to simply hold onto power.
- The Republicans ran a fear campaign around crime when major crime is down overall and it is highest in states run by Republicans. Many saw through the charade that the party’s messaging on crime is a proxy for “black.”
- The Republicans have turned their party over to a lifelong grifter and con man who kills everything he touches and tried to convince us he was “The Chosen One” of God. Americans are tired of having the former president constantly in their thoughts 24/7.
Even without the assistance of the political press, Americans rejected extremism.
The Post story is an example of how Americans are not getting the facts that help set the context for, and the consequences of, their political decisions. Instead, they get reports on tactics and horserace updates. Commentator Robert Hubbell urged his readers not to “fall into the media trap of reducing our most sacred political tradition into a ‘horse race’ where the only question is, ‘Who is the frontrunner?’ The real question is, ‘Who is most qualified to lead our nation?’”
Grandmother Brown used to say, “Don’t believe what you hear and only half of what you read.” Were she alive today with the internet, Grandmother might have to adjust the ratio of how much to trust what you read. Another favorite saying of hers, “Consider the source,” went hand-in-glove with the first.
Considering the source, I can confidently predict that the political press will fail us again today, and tomorrow, and so forth through 2024.
The political press failed the country miserably in reporting on the midterms. Donald Trump is likely to announce today that he’s running again for president, setting up a nomination battle with Florida governor Ron DeSantis. The political press will be all over it like white on rice.
What they won’t be covering is what matters.
- When polled independently, Americans overwhelmingly approve of the agenda that President Joe Biden and the Democrats are pursuing, from sensible gun laws to support for climate change legislation, to expanded rights for women and minorities, to the overall economic plans of the Democrats (supported by two-thirds of Americans). As I wrote yesterday, when given a chance to vote on these and other issues, Americans support the agenda put forward by Democrats.
- The Republican economic model is broken and doesn’t work for the American people. Regardless of the economic measure used — economic growth, employment, job creation, income and productivity — the U.S. economy performs better under Democratic presidents than under Republican administrations. This has been true since the Great Depression. This is true even though many Democratic administrations come into office having to clean up Republican messes, as was the case with Joe Biden.
- The outcome of the election had huge implications for foreign policy. As yesterday’s column by conservative columnist Max Boot of the Washington Post notes, “Republicans lost the election — and so did [Russian president Vladimir] Putin, MBS [Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman], and [former/incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.” Autocrats liked Trump. Biden advances a foreign policy based on democratic values. As Heather Cox Richardson noted yesterday, that foreign policy is having major and positive implications around the world.
These are three of many important facts that help set the context on the ground for voters.
Yet how often do you hear of these facts in political journalism? The disinformation that dominates much of the rightwing media and political talking points often overwhelms the truth. Disinformation is designed to obstruct and restrict constructive conversations between citizens with different points of view, conversations which should be the basis for democracy. The challenge in sorting through all we hear in our dangerously divided times to winnow out the bad and misleading information is more difficult — and more important — than ever.
As Robert Hubbell notes,
The story is not that the GOP has two “frontrunners” for the 2024 nomination. The real story is that the leading GOP contenders include a twice-impeached, coup-plotting ex-president who stole defense secrets and a governor whose reckless policies during the pandemic killed tens of thousands of Floridians. Neither man is fit to hold any public office, much less the presidency.
In this atmosphere, the job of winnowing out the bad and misleading information is a primary job for our national political press. Yet as the Revolving Door Project noted, many of them fell into the traps of
(P)resumed savviness, too much faith in conventional wisdom — desperation, as John Maynard Keynes would tell us, for some certainty in a terrifyingly uncertain world. Let it be a welcome lesson to us about the dangers of being too certain about prognostications.”
More and more commentators are calling out the failure of the political journalists to move beyond horserace reporting into more substantive discussions of the policies that affect people’s lives. Veteran journalist James Fallows called for a time-out for the political press, writing in his Breaking the News newsletter:
There is so much to explore, learn about, and share in our world. Speculating about what’s going to happen in the next election is about the least useful insight to add.
I thought of this when I saw the first stories about “why Biden faces trouble in the midterms” stories 18 months ago. I will think about it tomorrow when I read the next “How this shapes the 2024 field” speculation-fest.
No one knows what is going to happen. Least of all — it seems — the political “experts.” So let’s waste less time pretending to know, and invest more in looking into, sharing, and learning from what is actually going on.
Former Washington Post media critic Margaret Sullivan has just written a new memoir which looks at how the press should be covering openly anti-democratic politicians. Hint: it isn’t the way they are doing it now.
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post wrote a scathing column last week about how the media was the biggest loser in Tuesday’s election. He points to column-after-column trumpeting a big GOP win. And then he notes that after the election, some columnists might deign to write a modest mini-correction to their wildly off-track predictions.
As you might expect, Dan Froomkin at Press Watch: An intervention for political journalism is relentless in his criticism of the coverage and the overall direction of today’s corporate media.
By treating a major Republican victory in 2022 as a foregone conclusion, the media didn’t just get it wrong, it created a permission structure allowing normal people to seriously consider voting for an extremist, nativist, anti-governance party. It’s kind of a miracle we survived.…
…this was not some sort of fluke. This was not just a function of the political media’s predilection to predict results rather than write about voters and policy.
This laid bare the rot of the current political-media industry.
History tells us what happens when a free press turns a blind eye to the people it is supposed to serve, focusing instead on corporate or political masters. In his book On Tyranny, historian of the Holocaust Timothy Snyder writes about the need to “believe in truth” which is the responsibility of journalists in a free society. He adds the chilling reminder that “post-truth is pre-fascism.”
Historian Heather Cox Richardson has written about the four-decade effort to undermine democracy in America, often with either an unengaged, or worse, a complicit press. Free market capitalism became conflated with democracy, and the press bought into that corporate Republican framing. This has stacked our political system in favor of Republicans so that the vast majority of Americans cannot get the actions from their government they so desperately want.
If today’s journalists do not state the obvious truth about the Republican Party as it has devolved under Trump — and tell readers and viewers that the problem won’t be resolved when Trump finally exists the stage — then they have moved into post-truth territory.
We should keep pushing for our press to step back from choosing the winner in the horse race, look at the impact of the policies of those running, and say the obvious.
More to come…
*Yes, Covid finally caught up with me. I’ve said that I survived the wet market in Phnom Penh only to catch the virus in a crab shack in Annapolis! Thankfully, I’ve had both vaccines and all three boosters, so my symptoms — while uncomfortable — are tolerable. I’m on the mend.
Image of newspaper and computer by usa from Pixabay.