Us and Them and Decline Porn

In “Decline Porn,” Commentary’s Noah C. Rothman argues that “[i]n the nation’s elite political media, an initially well-meaning effort to understand the voters who handed the president the keys to the White House has morphed into something closely resembling exploitation.”

I hadn’t planned on writing about this, as I tend to think there is a large measure of truth in it.  But I found myself asking why I agreed with it.

At the outset, I probably agreed because I had written previously about why such coverage was likely doomed to fail.  The New York Times already had tried what Jonah Goldberg called “gorillas in the mist” coverage of conservatives in 2003-04, only to find themselves blindsided by 2016 (though stereotypical Trump voters are less conservative than many Republicans).  Iowahawk’s hilarious “Heart of Redness” skewers similar coverage from the Washington Post after Pres. Bush’s re-election.

Ironically, it’s the WaPo’s Alexandra Petri who provides the comedic version of Rothman’s argument in 2017, jabbing both the journalists sojourning into the Trumpian hinterlands and the people interviewed by them (whether she meant to jab her colleagues is debatable, but the effect is the same).

It’s not entirely fair, however, to portray the media as having become fascinated with the decline of rural American towns only after the election.  There were similar anthropological pieces before the election, because the media knew the path to any Trump victory would run through the Rust Belt.  This was discussed frequently.

Moreover, related stories, like the opioid epidemic that seems concentrated in Trump-friendly regions, received extensive coverage during the 2016 cycle.  This coverage was mostly sparked by Gov. Chris Christie’s moving speech on the issue — one that inspired candidates as far apart as Sen. Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton to weigh in.

That the media did not start this coverage recently, however, does not mean that it is not on some level exploitative.  Rothman posits that such coverage isn’t particularly useful absent statistical or empirical context, absent debate over how to fix the problems of such people.  Again, my impulse is to largely agree.

OTOH, when I read coverage of the problems of Chicago’s West and South sides so lavishly produced by elite outlets like the New York Times, I find I could offer a similar critique.  The media’s coverage of police shootings tends to be similarly lacking in context or solutions.  The media’s reliance on this arguably exploitative genre is more equal opportunity than it might seem at first blush.

The reason people — and conservatives in particular — may not immediately pick up on this may be that we subconsciously expect the left-leaning establishment media to be more exploitative of the problems of the non-white underclass, given their usual orientation toward Democrat-centric identity politics.

Conversely, there would be a tendency to reflexively impute suspect motives when left-leaning outlets turn to address the problems of the white underclass, particularly given how late they have been to this party (and often hostile to authors like Charles Murray who were earlier to the party).

So while I tend to agree with Rothman, I find myself doing so from the perspective that perhaps he’s drawing back the curtain a bit on some larger issues.

The unstated premise of this mode of coverage (regardless of sympathetic or exploitative intent) is that the mission of the so-called elite media inherently focuses on “national” political coverage.

An essentially progressive media will tend to assume that it has the expertise and skill necessary to provide the breadth of coverage necessary for a nation as vast as the United States.  Yet for all of the progressive fetishization of diversity, so-called elite journalists have a distinct knowledge problem here.  They generally aren’t well-equipped to understand Englewood or Fishtown.

As a result, these scribes generally can do little beyond bear witness, however imperfectly.  This is endemic to most journalism, tbqh.  We just notice it more when the subjects are sensitive and controversial.  And we tend to notice it through whatever personal and political lenses we bring to the viewing.

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Are You Not Entertained?

There is a line of ridicule that Ace of Spades has been pursuing for years on Twitter.  Harsh, but not entirely unfair:

The media does love their shows.  Progressives love their shows.

But they’re not the only ones.  At least, I’m guessing that the audience for Tucker Carlson figuratively defenestrating low-level lefty competition isn’t wildly progressive.

I also don’t think many progressives voted for the former host of The Apprentice to be President of the United States.

And it wasn’t progressives who cheered Pres. Trump’s most recent press conference, or his campaign-style rally in Florida.  Someone else was cheering.  He really gave it to the media didn’t he?  And the media played their role as foil, just as though it was one of those WWE shows at which Trump was such an excellent performer.

Of course, the media had it coming, didn’t they?  They enabled an anti-democratic revolt by the Deep State that at least contributed to the firing of Trump’s national security adviser.  That’s an entirely legit complaint, even if we may not know whether it might be an exceptional case, even if righties didn’t say much about FBI leaking political intrigues surrounding the investigations of Hillary Clinton, and even if Trump has himself expressed contempt for political norms and the law on occasion.

But what about Trump’s presser on Sept. 16, 2016?  That was the event where Trump finally admitted Pres. Obama was born in the United States.  As you may recall, part of Trump’s entrée to Republican politics was an appeal to Birtherism — and it was the first time of several he would accuse his political foes of literally not being American.

But that was okay, wasn’t it?  Democrats had called Republicans un-American before.  Of course, Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio aren’t Democrats, but it was okay to suggest they aren’t citizens because…why was that again?  Does it matter?  No one took that literally or seriously, amiright?   It was just Trump being outrageous.  It was very entertaining.

Anyway, after he won the nomination, the Trump campaign decided he needed to ditch the Birtherism.  Trump never likes to retreat from a position, so this was kind of a big deal.

What did Trump do?  He started the event, held at his DC hotel, with a parade of war veterans declaring they were not the “deplorables” Hillary Clinton had recently attacked.  Trump then appeared onstage to blame Clinton for starting Birtherism (which isn’t really true, though Mark Penn proposed a similar tactic in 2008) and very briefly declare Obama was born in the U.S.  Then, instead of taking questions, he tried to take the press pool on a promotional tour of his hotel.

Some might have called that breathtakingly cynical, even for Trump.

Many on the right, however, called it awesome.  They ate it up.  Wow, did you see how he trolled the media?  Granted, he did it to distract from his attempt to clean up his grubby political roots…but he trolled the media!

Of course, the media had it coming, didn’t they?  The MSM is biased.  They’re the opposition.  Trump has all the right enemies.  And gets away with being outrageous.  So entertaining.

By the way, did you hear that Milo Yiannopoulos is a featured speaker at CPAC this year?  Sure, he makes anti-Semitic remarks and is a fellow traveler of the alt-right.  And sure, his remarks about relationships between adults and young boys at a bare minimum should make your skin crawl.

But you know, Milo’s just being a provocateur, saying outrageous things to promote himself.  He has all the right enemies, doesn’t he?

Plus, CPAC isn’t representative of the right as a whole; it’s just someplace Donald Trump donated a ton of money before he got invited onto their stage.  Trump is going to be there again this year, as is Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon, who was the last guy to offer Milo a platform. (I recommended Bannon go to CPAC, but since he’s double-billed with WH Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, it’s virtually certain he’s not taking my advice.)

I’m guessing Trump, Bannon, and Milo will get a lot of media coverage at CPAC, because it’s bound to be a show.  The media does love their shows.  Progressives love their shows.

On this point, Ace can be pretty harsh. But not entirely unfair.

Update: CPAC disinvites Milo…

…because of the man-boy love comments.  Apparently, the anti-Semitic/alt-right sewage is still kosher with the so-called American Conservative Union.

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