Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Can Trump Save the Press?

Those of us who prefer to find a rational interpretation for even the most seemingly irrational actions are happy to read George Friedman’s analysis of the war between President Trump and the press.

According to Friedman, both sides in this war are serving their constituents. Trump is solidifying his base, most of whom despise the intellectual elites. And the press is garnering more and more subscribers, a vital necessity for a business that is barely viable. By his analysis Donald Trump, the Antichrist himself, is the Savior the press has been praying for.

For the record Friedman distinguishes the press from the media. While newspapers are barely profitable, television news—e.g. Fox News—is thriving.

In Friedman’s words:

 The president needs the press to attack him to maintain his political center. The press needs the president to attack it to convince its politically skewed readership that it is defending their interests. The president’s attacks solidify the press’ customer base. The founders’ vision of the tension between the privately owned press and the elected president has turned into a magnificently complex rage that actually serves the political and business interests of both.

The press wants to survive as a viable media source. Its increasingly opinionated readers are avid for any scraps of information that can make them feel that they are right and that they are winning the struggle they are waging against evil. Of course, if the press is increasingly driven by opinion, it cannot at the same time be driven by facts. It might select the facts that sustain the opinions its readers hold, but it cannot inform its readers at the same time.

Today the press has organized itself to fight against the evil of bigotry. American elites thought that the battle had been won with the Obama presidency. They are horrified to discover that it has not. On the other side, the American people, in large part, got tired of the culture wars and the social justice crusaders. It wanted the nation to get back to business. Not the majority of voters in the presidential election but the majority of voters in all other elections.

Friedman describes the press attitude:

Journalists are taking every opportunity to find ways to criticize Trump. The Washington Post recently reported that a passenger asked a Pakistani couple on a United Airlines flight if they had a bomb in their bag and continued to harass them. Normally, a man acting like a jackass on a United flight would not be news. The Washington Post made it news, with the obvious intent to demonstrate how the president’s positions had triggered such rage. The president views the press as his enemy. The press views itself as the unbiased defender of the republic.

The press sees itself as what Friedman calls a guardian class. In Plato’s Republic the guardians were the philosopher kings who knew what was best for the populace. The best and the brightest, the most serious intellectuals would run the republic for everyone’s benefit. Being in love with Ideas they had no self-interest to muck up their reasoning. Such is the mindset of the press—and also the bureaucracy and many members of the judiciary.

By Friedman’s analysis, they are more self-interested than they believe. Trump has thrown them a lifeline and they are hold on for dear life.

He explains:

Since this was a republic in which ordinary citizens were supposed to control the state, the role of the press was to be the guardian of the republic.

The real question is: who do the guardians answer to? What are the checks and balances that control them? Is it their supreme virtue? Or is it Jon Stewart telling them to go back to doing journalism?

In Friedman’s words:

The problem is the one posed by the Roman poet Juvenal: Who will guard the guardians?

And also:

The founders knew that government officials needed to be monitored by the press. They assumed that the press would be monitored by internal accountability. It has not always worked, particularly for what used to be called the prestige press. 

The prestige press includes the Washington Post and the New York Times. They have now discovered that attacking Trump is good business. Funnily enough, every time Trump denounces the Times as a failing enterprise the Times management comes out to explain that Trump has done wonders for its online subscription business:

The press does this because they see Trump as a threat to the republic and because it is good business. The readers, listeners and viewers of the prestige press tend to be a minority of the market. Many draw news from other sources seen by the prestige press as beneath them. The press must hold on to readership, because if that readership falls even moderately, news organizations’ ability to stay in business would be in doubt. The readership consists overwhelmingly of people who despise the president. Every time the president attacks the press, their readers become more loyal to these publications. When Trump attacks these publications by name, their readers, like Trump’s followers, enter that interesting place where rage at your enemy turns into pure pleasure.

Friedman believes that the press is happy to write negative articles because it sustains reader hatred of Trump. Still, one finds it difficult to believe that the Times and the Washington Post are fomenting hatred. Don’t they know that hatred does not limit itself to a single object?

In Friedman’s words:

… reporters are happy to write constant negative articles on Trump that dominate their publications. In doing this, they mobilize their own base, not so much to vote – they will vote against Trump anyway – but to remain faithful to a publication now focused on reinforcing readers’ hatred of Trump.

Friedman explains that this war also serves Trump’s interests:

When you look up articles about Trump in The New York Times and The Washington Post, they appear as an unending barrage of attacks, some reasonable and some preposterous. But they all serve Trump’s interests. The prestige press’ unmodulated hostility helps Trump make the claim that he is under attack by elites hostile to his supporters. It allows him to make the reasonable claim that the press wants to destroy his presidency. Having as your opponent an institution distrusted by the public is very good politics.

According to Friedman press hatred allows Trump to consolidate his political base:

Trump must hold on to his base at all costs if he hopes to govern. The strategy he used to win the presidency was built on the assertion that Trump was engaged in a struggle against those who are indifferent to his supporters’ needs. At the center of this group was the press. Demonizing the press was not difficult. The low regard in which the press is held is extraordinary. According to a Pew Research Center poll, only 18 percent of respondents said they trust news organizations “a lot.” According to a Gallup poll, 32 percent of the public find the press reliable. One number is catastrophic and the other is merely disastrous. The press admires itself far more than the public it serves does.

It is, Friedman concludes, not a time for nuance:

From a political and business point of view, this is not a time for nuance. Each side must demonize the other, and each side feels aggrieved at having been demonized. Trump must hold his support, and the press is working hard every day to make sure that this happens. The press must hold on to its readership, and Trump is doing his part to help make sure the press survives, and even flourishes. The humor of the situation is that both are trying to hold on to their base and keep it from evaporating. Each is doing that by demonizing the other.


Sam L. said...

I think not. This is Social Justice Warrior/Bully virtue signalling and "I am MORE victimized than YOU are" comes into play. Back 20-30 years ago, Garrison Keillor used to talk about the church he grew up in in Lake Wobegon, the Sanctified Brethren...which kept getting smaller as theological disputes caused schisms, and people left or were pushed out.

trigger warning said...

Succinctly, no.

n.n said...

This isn't a class war. The Press is on trial for their effort to normalize anti-native prejudice, [class] diversity (e.g. institutional racism), waging social justice (e.g. trail of tears from Libya to Syria to Ukraine), catastrophic anthropogenic immigration reform (e.g. refugee crises, illegal immigration), scientific mysticism (e.g. catastrophic anthropogenic global warming), abortion rites and clinical cannibalism, selective exclusion ("="), extrasensory perception of dead Soviets, etc.

Sam L. said...

The Press and the Media have been ignoring or trashing those who do not agree with them
Republicans, conservatives, residents of Flyoverlandia for quite a while, now, and we have begun calling them on it. That Press, Trump cannot and will not save. Were they honest and even-handed, they'd have a chance; but as Prof. Reynolds says, they're just Dem operatives/minions with by-lines.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

All that I ask is that the press do their job. Be cynical. Turn over curious rocks. Question authority. Question everything. Treat these political lord-morons and noble-bureaucratic shills as the frauds they are. They are men, not worthy of a bow or courtsey. They're our fellow citizens!

For God's sake, what kind of person goes into politics???

Stop them! ALL of them! Forget about the Demonlicans and Republicrats! They are all deserving of suspicion. They are jealous of our liberties.

Yet this is not what today's press does. They smoke cigars on chaise lounges with umbrella drinks while Democrats are in power, and become unglued rabid dogs when Republicans are in power.

What is interesting about today's monomedia is not what they cover... it's what they CHOOSE not to cover. THAT is what is instructive.

It does not matter why anymore. The evidence is so overwhelming that this question becomes automatically deserving and required of a sentient person (i.e., not a Leftist professor/analyst/reporter/expert/activist).

For God's sake, talk to some CITZENS!!!!

Today's journalists are enablers of one single political narrative. It's not an independent band of intrepid, historic crusaders looking for facts, or to assemble facts. It's a rabble of loathsome ideological activists, bound by rage. They are the mob with advanced degrees.

Or we could just choose to say we're living through a period of great consequence, like the early 1800s. And we could say the polar journalism reflects the cultural divide, and live with that reality. A polar media, duking it out with fists flying.

This is not what we have. We have the Capital and the Districts, straight out of "The Hunger Games," and ain't no one coverin' them Districts. And the band played "Ragtime."

My objection is to this notion of today's reporter as the vaunted vanguard of democracy... these journalist warriors armed with Mont Blanc fountain pens and iStuff, ready for battle. The storyteller warrior, the oracle of language.

What a joke.

And their claim to be this august, learned, deserving body is what is truly hilarious. They are a monolithic rabble of parrots, deserving of the cage Trump might put them in.

The cage should be available for viewing. Au naturale.

Ares Olympus said...

I keep wondering how modern technology keeps moving us further away from "The press" and when the cost of sharing information goes to zero, no one pays for anything, and everyone can select sources that say what they want to hear, and "news" is now reduced to opinions supported by narratives and selective facts that support the desired conclusion of the writer.

OTOH, perhaps recognize of "fake news", by this I mean real fake news, sources not even created to support the writer biases, but sources that exist to make things up to gain online advertizing click payments, anyway, at least falling out "fake news" of that sort shows why individuals should invest in traditional newspaper and television news sources that have the resources to at least get the facts straight.

I don't know about Russian influences, but I do believe "Fake news" during the election did help shift the election towards Donald Trump's election. And Trump calling mainstream media as "fake news" certainly has helped clarify the lines. He is basically telling people they can't trust any voice but his own, and if he lies, whether lies through wishful thinking, or ego aggrandizement, or just simple ignorance and a lack of curiosity of what's true, he would prefer none of those to be considered by loyal followers.

Perhaps we've just been slowing moving away from a "guardian class" who can be trusted for their general good will and desire to keep everything running, towards a "celebrity class" which doesn't want to do any of the actual work of governing, except things that increase their personal brand?

I do keep wondering what will cause the downfall of president Trump, and perhaps it will be a funny looking downfall. That is, whatever crises that happen in response to his mismanagement, or unavoidable crises that he has no responsibility for but, also not the competence to handle well become apparent, but in the world of celebrity, Trump can always blame others for his leadership failures and missteps, and his follower will believe him, and so when he leaves office in disgrace, maybe it won't be like Nixon, "I am not a crook", but not unlike any Democrat who escapes being governor of Illinois while failing prison time, he'll have a story of victory in his mind, and his brand may yet pass through untouched, or even increased? Perhaps he'll leave office a true billionaire, rather than just a paper one?

And perhaps that's the best you can hopeful. Holding a grudge against Trump's bullying ways doesn't really matter, as long as he no longer hold political power to crush his enemies. Or maybe that's the real question - if Trump abuses power directly, perhaps that'll take him down, if we still have an media capable to the job.

The hardest lesson of politics seems to be that competent leadership can't solve all problems, and sometimes incompetent leadership is what it takes to force people to step up in whatever little roles they have to play.

And perhaps a more honest press will arise from the rubble of their own demise as they help take Trump down. Would that be a "save"?