A world of gossip and narrative: For ourselves, we finally saw it happen yesterday afternoon, around 4:15 PM Eastern.
We saw it happen on Deadline White House, the popular show where the doyenne of Iraq and the torture regime now chuckles and laughs and entertains herself, and our grateful liberal world, on a daily basis.
She wanted to know who had put out the claim about Michael Cohen—and Matt Miller finally did it! Finally, we saw someone note the fact that it doesn't exactly make obvious sense to speculate that Trump folk were the source for Thursday night's BREAKING NEWS:
MILLER (7/27/18): We don't know who this came from. We don't know if it came from Michael Cohen, where you would presume it came, or whether somehow Donald Trump's team put it out there. There was some allegation last night from Lanny Davis that it was the Trump people that were behind this, that they [the Cohen team] hadn't put it out. They then seemed to back off from that allegation.Finally, someone noted the fact that "narrative" of the previous evening didn't exactly make sense. If anything, though, he undersold the point.
I'm actually kind of suspicious how the Trump-how the Trump team would know that Michael Cohen was ready to testify to this, unless Michael Cohen's attorneys had gone to Trump, or Cohen himself had gone to Trump, and threatened that testimony in exchnage for something, you would presume a pardon, so that would raise even more questions?
You'd presume that the report about Cohen's thinking came from Cohen, Miller said. That said, he then imagined a way in which the Trump team might have known what Cohen was thinking and planning to do.
Everything is always possible! That said, this wasn't simply a question of what someone in the Trump camp might imaginably know about Cohen's thinking.
This was a question about journalism. The question goes like this:
Would CNN's Sciutto and Bernstein really let people in the Trump orbit serve as the source for a report about what Cohen was thinking, and for what Cohen knew? Would they really report what Cohen was thinking based on what Trumpsters had said?
Everything is possible! That said, Miller was the first person we saw who noted the basic problem with the previous night's instant "narrative," which had thrilled and perplexed the children for hours.
(A further point: NBC confirmed the CNN report within about fifteen minutes. Could they have confirmed the report that quickly unless it came from Cohen himself, or from Cohen's people? Would they really have credited a report from the Trump camp that fast?)
Everything is possible! That said, let's talk about a new paradigm. If we adopt this new paradigm, we'll provisionally see cable news, and upper-end news coverage generally, as a form of gossip rather than as a form of journalism. Much like Harari says!
How does the world start to look if we adopt that heuristic? We'll plan to discuss that question next week. That said, what happened Thursday is easy to see as a form of gossip:
An unsourced bit of BREAKING NEWS appeared at 9 PM Eastern. In truth, it wasn't exactly "news." Instead, it was an unsourced report about a claim which a rather unreliable person was now said to be making—a claim that person couldn't corroborate.
An unsourced report about a claim by an unreliable person who couldn't corroborate his claim! As "news," that's a slender reed. But sure enough! The children spent the rest of the evening gossiping about it.
More specifically, they gossiped about the source of the report, creating a "narrative" which didn't exactly seem to make sense. That said, no one called attention to the problem with their instant narrative. Instead, as they engaged in their instant chatter, they did what they love most:
They wiped all other actual news topics off the face of the Earth. In particular, the Trump administration's astonishing conduct at the border went almost wholly undiscussed, despite the fact that there was actual information to report.
This is what the children like; the children like to gossip. When they do, they'll typically gossip about their latest Official Approved Standard Group Story—about their latest "narrative," as Brian Williams put it. And yes—these "narratives" strongly resemble Harari's description of widely-adopted group "fictions."
In the "narrative" they adopted on Thursday night, they quickly agreed to imagine that Trump people had been the source of the report about what Cohen was thinking and saying. This let them shade the Trump people in an unattractive way. This is something they want to do as Cohen, a former official bete noire, starts to join their team.
Trump's behavior at the border has been little short of astounding. Rather plainly, the children don't want to discuss it.
Instead, they want to pursue The Chase against Trump in its simplest form. They very much want to talk about who has had sex with whom in the past. They want to speculate about two rival camps jousting for position.
Rather plainly, the children who got stolen away from their parents don't interest this gang. Neither did the children of Flint, who Rachel scared half to death through her long chase after Rick Snyder.
Thursday night was gossip all the way down. Might this be a revealing paradigm through which to approach the work of these deeply primitive people?
Over here in our liberal tents, do we care about those kids at the border? Did we care about the children of Flint?
Did we care about the dead of Iraq? We played a very good game at the time. Today, we let ourselves be entertained by the laughing, happy-hour "cable news" host who helped take them down.
Was Thursday night gossip or journalism? We'll let you decide!