Well worth thinking about: Matt Taibbi has apparently lowered the boom on the mainstream press.
We base this statement on Ann Marie Lipinski's review of Taibbi's new book, Hate Inc.: Why Today's Media Makes Us Despise One Another. Her review appeared in the Outlook section of yesterday's Washington Post.
We haven't read Taibbi's book. For that reason, we can't vouch for the quality of its analysis.
That said, we think its themes, as described by Lipinski, are well worth thinking about. After some preliminaries, she starts her description like this:
LIPINKSI (10/20/19): [Taibbi] blast[s] an American media industry he accuses of taking sides and manipulating the audience for profit...Is MSNBC really providing that kind of "consumer product?" Is it providing "a political safe space for viewers in ironclad alignment with a political party?”
“The subject here is the phasing out of independent journalism, replacing it with deeply politicized programming on both ‘sides,’ ” he writes. “Which ‘side’ is better is immaterial: neither approach is journalism. Fox may have more noxious politics, but MSNBC has become the same kind of consumer product, a political safe space for viewers in ironclad alignment with a political party.”
In many ways, yes, it plainly is. And as Lipinski's overview continues, Taibbi even names Rachel Maddow:
LIPINSKI: Taibbi’s equal-opportunity enmity is announced by his book cover, a red-and-blue diptych featuring photographs of cable gladiators Sean Hannity of Fox News and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. Maddow suffers an especially rough critique for her persistent focus on the Russian collusion story, an approach Taibbi believes was excessive, built not on fact but on innuendo fashioned for liberal viewers, and worthy of Hannity-level shaming. “The two characters do exactly the same work,” he writes. “They make their money using exactly the same commercial formula. And though they emphasize different political ideas, the effect they have on audiences is much the same.”We pause here for a scripted complaint concerning "moral equivalence." That said, has Maddow's "persistent focus on the Russian collusion story" actually been excessive? Has it really been built on innuendo more than on fact?
In our view, there's no simple answer to those questions, but the single-mindedness of her focus has been undeniable.
For ourselves, we would stress the many topics which get completely ignored as Maddow talks about Russia and (Almost) Nothing Else. We say almost nothing else because Maddow lards her discussions of Russia with consumer product about the past evil deeds of Republican figures associated with Presidents Nixon and Reagan.
Monologues about Ed Meese and Spiro T. Agnew do seem designed to provide the type of "political safe space" in which viewers get to hear endless accounts of all the bad things The Others have done.
Serious topics are dumped, disappeared, in favor of these pleasing morality tales. This strikes us as very bad conduct.
According to Lipinski, Taibbi makes a further accusation. It explains the name of his book:
LIPINSKI: Hate, the author argues, has been promoted by news outlets that cater to “distinct audiences of party zealots” fed a diet of information intended to demonize political opponents—and increase viewership. It’s a model with benign consequences when applied to coverage of rival sports teams, but otherwise corrosive. “In 2016 especially, news reporters began to consciously divide and radicalize audiences,” he writes. “. . . As Trump rode to the White House, we rode to massive profits. The only losers were the American people, who were now more steeped in hate than ever.”Are news orgs really "promoting hate" when they pander to their specialized audiences? We'd have to see Taibbi's evidence and examples before we ascribed to that view, although there's certainly plenty of tribal loathing and disrespect being pimped all around.
As she continues, Lipinski finds fault with some of Taibbi's assertions:
"Taibbi is right to sound the alarm about the temptations that have tarnished news reports since Donald Trump’s election, resulting in more programming that appears designed to ratify an audience’s political beliefs," she writes. "But he overreaches when he claims that 'the bulk of reporters today are soldiers for one or the other group of long-entrenched political interests in Washington.' "
Actually, we're not entirely sure that Lipinski is describing an "overreach" there. With respect to both Clintons and Candidate Gore, and now with respect to Donald J. Trump, it's certainly true that many reporters have been in thrall to certain political storylines—storylines they pursue with maniacal zeal.
As always, the strength of Taibbi's accusation in this area rests upon the nature of the examples given, assuming Taibbi bothers with examples at all.
Uh-oh! By the end of her review, Lipinski is saying that Taibbi overreaches badly in certain respects. At one point, she even says that Taibbi "admits to a reporting career catering to liberal readers and the 'self-loathing that came with knowing I’d tossed so much red meat to political audiences.' "
We've sometimes had that very reaction to Taibbi's work in the past. We've also sometimes thought that he was given to the type of "entertainmentism" which we find objectionable in Maddow's relentless mugging and clowning and selling-of-self.
Will "the new journalism" ever get old? We've sometimes found ourselves asking that question as we've read Taibbi's past work.
Still and all, it's rare to see a major journalist complaining about the hyperpartisan behavior of the modern guild. And it isn't all happening Over There, though it is all producing big profits.
Is that why cable behaves as it does? No wider discussion will follow from this, but we're glad to see somebody ask.