Sunday, January 6, 2019
Resistance Is Not Rectification: Kavanaugh Confirmation Coverage Echoes ‘Epic Fail’ of 2016
The U.S. presidential election of 2016 was widely acknowledged as an “epic fail” for the American media, an almost willful refusal to recognize Trump’s popular appeal and to understand the power of the populist issues he bannered.
In the weeks that followed the upset victory, there was a broad consensus that the press was deeply out of touch with important slices of the American electorate, especially white working-class men and, ironically, educated white women who had actually broken against Hillary Clinton.
There were promises of institutional rectification, including in-depth post-mortems that would examine the newsroom assignment policies and the editorial decision-making that had contributed to this massive choke.
Editors at elite news organizations were quoted as saying that the election result had highlighted a problematic cultural, social, and political insularity in the newsroom. To correct that, they would be looking to hire reporters, opinion journalists, and broadcast pundits who could identify with, or give voice to, those who had been ignored or dismissed as “deplorable” for embracing Trump’s “America First” agenda, especially its economic nationalism and opposition to illegal immigration.
But this institutional rectification never happened. By Inauguration Day in mid-January, the U.S. media had become a dedicated member of the anti-Trump “Resistance,” refusing to “normalize” the new president.
“Stay angry,” longtime liberal pundit Leon Wieseltier advised, while New Yorker editor David Remnick, who has become de facto dean of the Resistance’s journalistic wing, wrote that Trump’s election was “an American tragedy.”
Fascism isn’t our future, Remnick contended. “It cannot be; we cannot allow it to be so—but this is surely the way fascism can begin. … To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.”
In fact, some of the most prestigious news organizations dedicated themselves to the Resistance as an editorial branding strategy, to boost ratings or Facebook “likes,” which had become an important part of their digital survival strategies.
Rather than recruit journalists who could help them connect with pro-Trump voters, media organizations already obsessed with improving newsroom “diversity” redoubled efforts to hire minorities and millennials. In the process, they practically made an opposition to Trump, or posturing to that effect, an ideological work rule.
Journalists who had challenged the anti-Trump media tide were ignored, as if they were on some blacklist. And, as Trump has repeatedly pointed out, no news executives, editors, or elite columnists connected with the Epic Fail of 2016 lost their jobs. In fact, some found themselves in even more prestigious positions.
Never-Trumper Bret Stephens was wrong about almost everything related to Trump during the campaign and could not have been more disdainful or feckless toward the Trump voter in general. Yet he was able to leave The Wall Street Journal editorial page in order to join the Opinion section of The New York Times, which still has not hired a single writer who might be said to represent the kind of thinking that the place so painfully lacked before the 2016 election.
If anything, the parameters of acceptable debate within the media narrowed after the election. “Overton windows” that had widened during the campaign, and briefly after Trump’s actual election victory, were in many cases slammed shut.
The journalism of the Resistance will go down as one of the most profound breaks with objectivity and professional detachment in the history of the media, if not the very end of them.
Resistance journalism stands as a monument to media group-think, a lack of journalistic humility and rank partisanship raised to an exponential level. At its center is an intensification of anti-Trump tropes and jaundiced, ideologically deranged narratives that gave rise to the Epic Fail to begin with: Trump as a creature of the white electorate’s racism, sexism, nativism, homophobia, and Islamophobia; blood and soil-style “Hate” as the new core of American politics; white supremacy in mortal struggle against the values of the civil rights movement and transnational multicultural progressivism; diversity as a solution for the dilemma of widening social and income inequality instead of a distraction from it, if not an accelerant.
In the Resistance narrative, Trump is Authoritarianism Incarnate, Hitler in the offing, if not Hitler himself as many of our most important, if ethnocentric, pundits actually had the chutzpah to charge during the campaign. Enforcement of immigration laws is totalitarianism; ICE is the New Gestapo. There’s no difference between legal and illegal immigration. He’d never have gotten in if not for Russia’s anti-democratic collusion, and once Congress reveals the extent of the collusion, he’s to be impeached, his election effectively and righteously nullified.
The recent Kavanaugh hearings represent one of the more egregious examples of the media’s repetition compulsion, or what might be called 2016 Redux. The coverage shared the same blind spots of 2016 and echoed the same kind of bias that fed the original Epic Fail. It was a microcosm of history repeating itself—media history, at any rate. Déjà vu all over again...