During last night’s Presidential Debate, the third and, blessedly, final entrée in the great pile of torture porn that is Election 2016, there was one moment that caused just pure rage to erupt out of me. I’m also guessing it’s not the one you’re thinking, though it was part of the evening’s most infamous moment. From the transcript, the part that enraged me in bold:
“What I've seen -- what I've seen is so bad. First of all, the media is so dishonest and so corrupt, and the pile-on is so amazing. The New York Times actually wrote an article about it, but they don't even care. It's so dishonest. And they've poisoned the mind of the voters.”
I just yelled. Think it came out as, “Fucking COCK!”
As the demonstrably most dishonest major-party candidate of the modern era, Trump accusing other people of “poisoning minds” is a great fuck-you to the American public. Then again, his approach defines the modern GOP. Look, fact-check the fact-checkers, note media bias or favoritism or what have you; note that, when journalists do contribute to political campaigns, they tend to give to Democrats (and, with due respect to the interviewee in that segment, I’d argue that it’s better that a journalist’s political leanings become public, because it gives readers context. To a point…continuing): all that’s fair game, but I see the Right’s war on the sources of information as the founding sin in that party’s march to nihilism. It is the well-spring that nourishes all the GOPs other sins. Trump is the purified embodiment of that cynical dipshitery.
Trumpism, as a movement, constitutes the fulfillment of a project that started with conservative talk radio, and continued through Fox News, and now Breitbart and, when you’re up to your neck in shit, Infowars. Even if the actual goal was creating eager, motivated partisan voters, the inevitable side result is a large portion of the public that is both unaware of and disconnected from observed reality. I’ve listened to scores of minutes’ worth of interviews on NPR, their Divided States series in particular, in which Trump supporters talk about being terrified of cities (because they’ll get shot), or Muslims being behind all mass shootings (they’re not), or the existence of wide-spread voter fraud (grrr…). And that's the point: those perceptions cause people to vote and respond to societal factors that are distorted and, in the worst cases, outright false. The long disinformation campaign is the oxygen for movement conservatives and, again, it enables all the other chicanery that a political party with unpopular ideas deploys in order to stay in power. From the GOP’s standpoint, though, freaked out voters keep the GOP in office, and so they roll on.
Is the media against Trump? Hell, yes! But what choice has he given them? What choice has Fox given them, besides terms of capitulation? The media wouldn’t be calling him an odious troll and a lying sack of shit if he wasn’t both.
I’ll close by confessing that I’ve been in the tank for “Big Media” since high school. Even as I believe that objectivity is a myth, the related concepts of balance and intellectual honesty are worthy goals; among reporters, both should serve as sort of “North Stars” in their work.
One last thought: people get funny about the quality of content, and this is very much a bipartisan mindset. Anyone making the claim that a person or an outlet is “poisoning” the public conversation starts from an implicit concern that “rubes” – and, here, it’s always the dumbasses on other side – will get suckered and vote dumb. I recognize that I’m doing this here, if to some extent. The test for this comes with listening to what people say when they share their beliefs. It’s not opinions that you disagree with that you watch for, not least because that’s how this whole damned “biased media” idiocy got started. It’s ignorance of the facts that you’re after. It’s here where Trump and…let’s go with far too many of his supporters stand out. Trump has claimed not to have said or done something (literally) innumerable times in the course of his campaign; he’ll deny things and stick to the bullshit even when audio, video, and transcript evidence proves him wrong.
When his supporters believe him and not the video/audio/transcript: that’s when you know they’re drunk on KooAid. It’s when you start counting up these drunkards that you get worried.