Thursday, November 17, 2016

Don't Blame 'Fake News' for Trump

Aren't you eagerly awaiting the day when all of this focus on Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and this recent presidential election dissipates? 

When the more ordinary stories about, say, Melania Trump's wardrobe budget and travel expenses dominate the headlines?  When we're buzzing about the career choices Malia and Sasha Obama are making for themselves?  When we're arguing over whether words like "impactful" really are grammatically-correct words?

Yeah, me too.  But until then, most of us can't stop thinking about our recent presidential election.  And with good reason:  Whether you like the person who won or not, America's presidents generally become the most visible - if not the most important - singular individual on the planet.

Did that just send a new shudder down your spine, America?

Folks who've already crunched the numbers say that Trump is actually not especially popular with many Americans, even though he won the election.  Most folks who voted for him appear to have voted more for the Republican party platform, or against Hillary, or against the Democratic party platform, or against politics as usual.

And despite whatever it is you think about Trump, we can all agree that he will not bring more "politics as usual" to Washington.

So for those of us who have not liked the way Washington has been performing lately, let's hold onto that thought, shall we?  Things will be different.  Maybe not all in good ways.  Maybe in lots more bad ways than we can think of right now.  But if nothing else, Trump will either prove that Washington cannot be changed, or that we need to be extra-judicious as voters in picking the next person who thinks they can change it, or that Trump's campaign was all one big smokescreen - a parody of the most egregious examples of political hubris as the world's most-watched publicity stunt.

I still give Trump four months in office until he turns to Mike Pence, says "I'm firing myself," and jets back to Manhattan.  Personally, I don't think Trump is built to be a president, because the Oval Office isn't a corporate suite.  I could be wrong - after all, I've been wrong before - but I suspect this has mostly been one big ego trip for him; perhaps a follow-through on a dare somebody gave him poolside at Mar-a-Lago.  I doubt he could even walk a fifth-grader through "How a Bill Becomes a Law," but then again, lots of voters probably can't, either.

That's one reason we've landed in this mess.

Our current president, Barak Obama, says "fake news" is another reason we're in this mess.  Or at least, that fake news is one reason Hillary lost.  Facebook and Google have begun exploring ways to make fake news less, um, "impactful" on our political discourse.  Many ordinary websites that feature content from third-party providers are beginning to curtail that content, since much of it fits into the fake news category.

So, what is fake news?  Fake news is stories we often see on social media that have very little basis in fact, but are written to suggest that something is entirely true.  Fake news involves correlations drawn from and claims based upon distortion and spin, which in a way, doesn't make the concept very new at all.  What is new about it involves the platform upon which it's most commonly dispersed - websites and Twitter feeds, for instance, that serve as phantom propaganda machines for left-wing and right-wing organizations.

In the case of this recent election, I saw enough junk from both left-wing and right-wing fake news sites to convince me that Hillary didn't lose because only conservatives were engaging in such deceit.  And I suspect the biggest reasons companies like Facebook and Google are considering censoring fake news sites is because they themselves like to spin the news towards their own founders' personal political agendas.

Nevertheless, I believe the biggest reason Hillary lost stems directly not from any new media platform, but from one of America's most imperious and increasingly disreputable institutions, our mainstream media (MSM).

Yes.  I'm laying blame.  And here it is:  If it wasn't for the often-liberal, always politically-correct MSM, Trump wouldn't be headed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Blame ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and even Fox News.  The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and even the Wall Street Journal.  Hey - look at Rupert Murdoch, and how much his sordid, salacious lifestyle mirrors Trump's.  The two are brothers from another mother.  And with Murdoch in control of Fox and the Journal, political conservatism may be important, but juicy social liberalism (which generates the profits) is paramount.

Then there was NPR and PBS getting in on the act, dryly putting a high-brow spin on their coverage of the decidedly bourgeoisie apartment building contractor from Queens.

After all, during the Republican primary, it wasn't the right-wing and even more draconian alt-right that were giddy over Trump.  It was the MSM.  Who else was reporting - daily, hourly even - on the latest exaggeration or goofy sound bite from the Trumpster?  I don't have the software to run the studies, but I hope soon somebody that does will test to see how often Trump-centric headlines dominated the MSM, while conservative media outlets were exploring all of the Republican candidates.  Jeb Bush.  Ted Cruz.  Marco Rubio.  Carly Fiorina.  All those other guys.  Remember how many candidates there were at the start?  Thousands, at least.  Yet from that broad slate of candidates, male and female, black, white, Hispanic, we ended up with Trump.

And it's the MSM's fault.  For example, during most of the campaign, Trump wasn't on the evangelical radar at all.  National Review?  I don't think so.  Instead, it was the MSM that was papering America with incredulous reports of Trump's missteps.  They were the ones repeating Trump's heady tweets.  They were the ones following his every move, waiting to regurgitate them back to consumers eager to be entertained by the audacity with which Trump conducted his reckless campaign.  I doubt there was any other Republican contender who garnered nearly as much attention from the MSM as Trump.  Some were even banished from the televised debates because the major networks wanted the fireworks only a Trump circus could generate.

And Trump obliged them all.  After all, he's not the kindest, humblest, most gracious person on this planet.  But he is incredibly savvy when it comes to marketing and the media.  How many times did he himself joke that he was barely spending anything on his campaign because the MSM was doing all of his promoting for him?  Trump is the prototypical "there's no such thing as bad publicity" headline-grabber.  And while that may say some negative things about his persona, publicity in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing.

But there is such a thing as distorting reality by focusing only on one candidate.  Especially when ratings are involved.  After all, the MSM knew that many folks - Democrats and Republicans alike - were lapping it all up, every bizarre drop of it.

Somewhere along the way, apparently, Democrats and the MSM - along with many Republicans - were presuming that reason and rationality would take over the GOP race.  At some point, primary voters would come to their senses and get serious about their party's chances to defeat Hillary.

But that never happened, did it?  State after state, like dominoes, fell to Trump.  Many conservative pundits couldn't explain it.  They were exasperated.  But the tide wasn't turning.  There was no self-correction.

Meanwhile, the media was becoming apoplectic.  Yet they couldn't help themselves; ratings and revenue are more important than those things that actually constitute "news."  The MSM wasn't prodding Trump or Hillary to debate issues; the MSM was happy to let them bicker amongst themselves.  The MSM wasn't ignoring Trump's hyperbole to focus on the quieter, more staid GOP hopefuls.  After all, policy can be very boring, especially when you're not calling other people - and their spouses - sordid names.  So the MSM capitulated to the populace - and indeed, it's unclear if the populace really wanted all this Trump coverage in the first place - and, like addicts drunk on a willing supply of suffocating elixir, they guzzled the lot.

Glug, glug, glug.

Turns out, this election may not have been as much about Donald Trump, but about the mainstream media's addiction to people like him.

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