Straw men v. Counselor Bruni: As we mentioned last week, no code of silence matches the one maintained by the mainstream press corps.
You do not criticize the press! Today, Frank Bruni casts himself in the role of defender of our most glorious guild.
Once again, class traitor Nicholas Kristof seems to be the secret target of Bruni's irate defense. As quite a few other defenders have done, Counselor Bruni starts his spiel by setting up a straw man:
BRUNI (4/6/16): The only way to discourage [the endless braying by Trump] is to ignore it: We can stop feeding the habit. By “we” I mean the American people, not just journalists, because journalists didn’t determine, in a vacuum, that Trump was the star of the show, though that’s a popular complaint, narrative and apologia of late.In fact, no one has said that "journalists determined, in a vacuum, that Trump was the star of the show." That's just the latest straw man from the guild. It's set up to be knocked down.
Journalists determined, in a vacuum, that Trump was the star of the show? Is that "complaint, narrative and apologia actually "popular of late," as Bruni says?
Actually no! In fact, that complaint doesn't even exist. It's just a straw man, not unlike the silly straw man a certain major cable star knocked down a few weeks ago.
People have made other complaints, complaints which are perfectly accurate:
People have complained that CNN and MSNBC turned their minutes and hours over to meaningless Trump events, covering such events wall to wall for no journalistic reason. People have also complained about the way major TV hosts have deferred to ridiculous statements by Trump as part of their interview sessions.
Rather than address these real complaints, guild defenders like Bruni and Maddow have set up straw men, then knocked them down. As Bruni proceeds, he adopts the greatest approach of all—he blames the whole thing on The Voters:
BRUNI (continuing directly): Journalists gave news consumers precisely what they demonstrated that they wanted. This is too often omitted from critiques of Trump’s media dominance, which comes at a time when news organizations can more quickly monitor precisely which stories and interviews are being watched and read. Watchers and readers disproportionately favored Trump, so they got more of him. Had they cast their gazes in another direction, news organizations would have followed suit."Journalists gave news consumers precisely what they demonstrated that they wanted?"
And news organizations didn’t set Trump up to soar in the polls and win primaries. From my seat, most of the Trump coverage was negative: the Mexican “rapists,” the Muslim ban, the blood coming out of Megyn Kelly’s “wherever,” the mocking of John McCain’s imprisonment in Vietnam, the boasts about his penis, the shrugging about the Ku Klux Klan. These tempests could—and should—have done as much to quash Trump as to elevate him, unless coverage itself equals votes, in which case there’s more cause for more teeth-gnashing about American democracy than about CNN programming.
To some extent, that's true, of course. But that's precisely the problem here. That's the widespread complaint!
Earth to Bruni: By traditional norms, journalists aren't supposed to plan news coverage that way. But as he continues, Bruni fudges this obvious point, obscuring this real complaint.
It's all the fault of The Voters, he says. The Voters made them do it:
BRUNI (continuing directly): Should producers and editors have ignored metrics in favor of their own judgment and sense of mission? They routinely do this—otherwise, there’d be wall-to-wall pet stories—but to play down Trump specifically once he’d emerged as the front-runner would have been elitist and paternalistic: exactly those qualities that the news media has been derided for.Should journalists have "played down Trump once he’d emerged as the front-runner?"
It’s because journalists remained Trump-rapt and Trump-inquisitive that he said what he did about abortion and so many voters heard it in full. Same goes for Trump’s troubling takes on violence at his rallies, nuclear weapons in Asia, the future of NATO and so much more.
People, there he goes again! No serious person has made that suggestion. It's just another straw man for this guild defender to slay.
From there, Bruni pretends that Trump's array of crazy statements only emerged because of the press corps' rapt, inquisitive conduct. In fairness, Trump's recent breakdown about abortion did begin with strong questioning by MSNBC's Chris Matthews.
That said, Matthews' aggressive approach to Trump reversed the deferential treatment he'd long been afforded. Cooper and Todd had deferred to Trump again and again, for months. The endless fawning of Mika and Joe had been just this side of the "cable news" looney bin.
Like so many guild defenders, Bruni can't seem to bring himself to address the real complaints. As he closes, he makes one small tiny minor concession, then proceeds to blame the whole thing on The Voters again:
BRUNI (continuing directly): There are legitimate questions of proportion in regard to Trump coverage, and perhaps he has been accorded additional acres of news media real estate because he’s so easy to talk and write about, a policy-free zone of quickly digested, succinctly rendered struts and slurs.There are legitimate questions of proportion in regard to Trump coverage! Yes, he actually said it! But as soon as he does, Bruni ends by blaming the voters again, referring to them as "us."
But Americans took up residence on that terrain, and frolicked there, and if we want the end of Trump, we have to set up camp elsewhere. He’ll resist it. He’s addicted to us. Soon enough, we’ll have to confront and deal with our addiction to him.
Like Bruni, we think the millions of voters who support Trump are making a bad judgment. Of course, those voters think the same thing about us. Come November, we'll be voting for Clinton or Sanders.
People get to cast their votes in the way they see fit. That said, under current arrangements, support for Trump means two things:
It means you'll be called a bigot racist xenophobe nativist by us the self-impressed liberals. After that, the Brunis will arrive on the scene.
Defiantly, they'll use Trump voters to hide their own colleagues' sins.