You can consider these observations on this article by Rosie Gray and McKay Coppins a companion piece to yesterday’s on Andrew Sullivan and Roy Moore.
Regular readers might guess that I agree in part with the article’s thesis that the conservative critique of the establishment media fueled distrust of the latter. Moreover, regular readers know that I’ve written about two types of media criticism — the academic and the purely political — and the authors here can credibly argue that too much of the conservative critique was and is in the latter category.
That said, spending only two grafs quoting Newt Gingrich and Ari Fleischer on the idea that the conservative distrust of the establishment media might be at least partially deserved based on the lived experience of generations of conservatives is weak (particularly the week after some liberal pundits decided Bill Clinton may have deserved impeachment, 19 years too late). And the implication by omission that conservatives are uniquely trapped in a media bubble is… unfortunate to say the least.
To note this isn’t whataboutism. I’m not defining deviancy down. To the contrary, I’m merely asking everyone to apply the article’s implied standard of not living in a bubble. I am addressing the article’s unstated premise that the distrust of the media was somehow irrational and unearned.
After the 2016 election there was a brief spasm in the establishment media, a recognition that they too might be in a bubble. And so now they occasionally send out a reporter to flyover country to check in on the most stereotypical of Trump voters to further a certain narrative about middle America.
But if they followed the example of fmr NPR CEO Ken Stern and spent quality and quantity time outside their coastal enclaves, they might recognize the magnitude of their failures. As Stern recently wrote of the distrust of media:
“Some of this loss of reputation stems from effective demagoguery from the right and the left, as well as from our demagogue-in-chief, but the attacks wouldn’t be so successful if our media institutions hadn’t failed us as well.
None of this justifies the attacks from President Trump, which are terribly inappropriate coming from the head of government. At the same time, the media should acknowledge its own failings in reflecting only their part of America. You can’t cover America from the Acela corridor, and the media need to get out and be part of the conversations that take place in churches and community centers and town halls.”
The establishment media complains (or smirks) when half the country does not listen to them, but the media has spent decades not listening to half the country. The seismic shock of 2016 has resulted in the most minimal of corrective responses by the establishment media, efforts vastly outweighed by the general attitude of doubling down on hostility and snark.
The establishment media’s marginalization of mainstream conservatism contributes to conservatives’ (and conservative media’s) dysfunctions. Establishment media aren’t primarily or ultimately responsible for those dysfunctions; as a conservative I believe in personal responsibility in the first instance. Conservatives — especially social conservatives — only harm the cause long-term by backing Roy Moore. But the establishment media were and are a contributing factor, as they would recognize in any other situation where a privileged in-group marginalizes a cultural out-group. Downplaying this only helps perpetuate the vicious cycle of anger and mistrust.
The failure to acknowledge this dynamic causes the authors to miss the weaknesses in their thesis and a political reality that’s worse than the one they depict.
On the issue of Moore’s candidacy and ongoing scandal, the media-as-villain is a sideshow. There are plenty of awful so-called conservatives taking the position that they don’t care whether the allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore are true. That’s the tell here, repugnant as it may be.
The dismissal of the well-reported Washington Post story (and ensuing stories by other outlets) is simply a more palatable rationalization for some than arguing the misconduct can be condoned. If the media were not being attacked by this segment of Republicans, it would be the accusers themselves and the Democrats assuming the role of the big baddies.
Also, anyone who knows anything about Roy Moore’s political career knows he was never going to withdraw from this race, regardless of whether most people believed the media reports of his sexual misconduct. But the establishment media’s own track record makes his offered rationalization of media-as-villain that much easier (albeit still off-base).
The real whirlwind is tribal partisanship raised to the level of identity politics. The wind has been sown by identity politics and self-pitying media on both sides of the partisan divide.
[Note: Like many of you I have holiday plans, so we’ll resume here next week.]
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