The Media vs. Trump
Michael Massing is right: It was wrong for The New York Times to allow gratuitous “opinionizing” in a June 23 news article saying President Trump “slinked away” from a clash with LeBron James “the way a bully does when faced with unexpected resistance” [“Journalism in the Age of Trump,” Aug. 13/20]. That should have been edited out. Bad Times. But beyond that, Massing’s criticisms of how the press and others are too gosh-darn hard on the president strike me as ridiculous.
The opinion pages of the Times and The Washington Post are dominated by anti-Trump voices, even among the conservatives? Oh, boo-hoo. The late-night comics all make fun of the guy, reinforcing his supporters’ belief that “the media are monolithically and hopelessly arrayed against him”? Say it ain’t so! Even when Trump does something good, like tamp down the inflamed tensions with North Korea he helped create, the media are still critical, pointing out that he used the dictatorship’s terminology in calling US military exercises a “provocation”? Won’t somebody please think of the children?
It is not the media’s job to praise the president—any president. And yes, it is fair to take note when Trump embraces the perspective of murderous tyrants. Trump is, objectively, a pathological liar, way-past-the-borderline sociopath, and terrible president. Reporting that makes this clear will withstand even the most rigorous fact-checking.
A president who dubs the press “the enemy of the people” and leads the harassment of reporters at his rallies does not deserve to be treated with kid gloves, or even with respect. US media outlets will not regain the trust of the American people—or deserve it—unless they are willing to stand up for themselves while shining an unrelenting bright light on the unmitigated disaster that is the Trump presidency. Massing is on a fool’s errand to insist that this singularly unbalanced president be treated with balance.
Managing Editor, The Progressive
Michael Massing opines that the “Trump effect” is pushing aside many other urgent stories and that the right-wing populist wave needs to be dissected, not merely decried. Good grief! I was born under FDR and have never seen anyone like the “divisive, xenophobic, mendacious, and volatile” Trump (to borrow Massing’s words) anywhere, let alone in the White House! The right has dreamt up “Trump Derangement Syndrome” to belittle people like me. Do I have to listen to a so-called liberal join in?
Also, those other urgent stories were being neglected before Trump took office, and they will be again once he is gone. Massing needs to face the fact that people are so horrified at what Trump is doing, at his stupidity and crudeness and cruelty, that they are ever-hungry for news of the latest Trump horror. That is journalism in the Age of Trump.
Michael Massing’s analysis could not be more important or timely. The micro-focus of anti-Trumpism not only prevents potentially conciliatory conversations with Trump supporters (some of whom voted for Obama); it also prevents us all—Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike—from fully engaging on the political economy itself and “the disruptive forces that helped propel Trump to victory.”
Trump is a problem, but he is only a symptom of the problem. The problem, as Massing points out, is the corporatocracy, the deeply intertwined system of big banks, corporations, and Wall Street financiers. This system includes the corporate media that, however critical at times, functions as a cheerleader for the status quo.
Covering these realities in all their wanton detail would open up huge areas of potential solidarity among groups who do not realize they share similar positions in this unfair system and so instead are deeply at loggerheads. My question is: Where would the financial support materialize for the kind of journalism that Massing calls for? How can we enable a journalism that fully uncovers the origins and workings of the economic and cultural forces that propelled Trump’s rise—a kind of journalism that, by bringing even a small majority together into a more basic solidarity, can prevent others like him from coming to power in the future?
Mary E. Hobgood
marina del rey, calif.
I guess it takes The Nation to have the courage to publish an article like “Journalism in the Age of Trump,” an article that smacks us liberals in the head with a much-needed wake-up call about the information we absorb daily. Massing lays out a reasonable argument about the press and the way it influences the various participants in today’s roiling political landscape. He also points out that the media’s obsessive focus on Trump leads, perhaps unintentionally, to many other important stories being ignored. Some of that information—for example, about the big banks and Wall Street—is probably much more important to our well-being than the current gossip about Trump and his gallery of incompetents. So bravo to The Nation for expressing truths about our current popular media.
Reading Massing’s article, which criticized the press for attacking the president too harshly, I was tempted to look up at the masthead, thinking I had downloaded National Review rather than The Nation.
Michael Massing Replies
I wish that Bill Lueders had responded to my piece without the mockery. His letter exudes the same type of condescension and sense of superiority among journalists that I lament in my article. Had he read the piece more carefully, he would have seen that I actually applaud the move away from the false balance that prevailed in the past. What I’m criticizing is the gratuitous bias and partisanship that, while pleasing to choir members like Lueders, erodes the press’s authority with everyone else.
Sandra Miley expresses a sentiment I frequently encounter in my work: Things were ever thus, so why fight them? This can only lead to a sense of resignation and stasis. For an example of how quickly things can change, look at the coverage of big tech: After years of celebrating companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon for their ingenuity and coolness, news organizations are now racing to expose their baneful effects. I’d like to see the same done with big finance.
I appreciate readers like Mary Hobgood and Gayl Woityra, who understand that journalists can report aggressively on the reckless bully in the White House while still adhering to basic professional standards. As to how to fund journalism that takes on the 1 percent, I don’t see any viable sources other than the 1-percenters themselves. There must be a few out there who are so disturbed by the gross inequities in our system that they’re willing to fund journalism that seeks to reform it.