Why the media is getting it wrong

Another great take from TNR’s Brian Beutler.  I think this one makes a helluva lot of sense:

It could be that reporters are disciples of a religion of false balance, or that news organizations are filled with intellectually myopic people. It could be that Trump is such an underdog that reporters feel obligated, honorably, to scrutinize Clinton more aggressively than Trump; or that Clinton disclosures have tended to dribble out slowly and strategically over the time, whereas Trump disclosures have leaked like water from a stone because he refuses to release any information about himself. Or it could be a mix of these factors, none of which is mutually exclusive. All of them likely contribute to the phenomenon.

But I think there’s a more economical way to explain why the media’s behavior this election is so troubling to liberal intellectuals, and it has less to do with partisan liberal biases or the media’s powers of judgment than with basic anthropological facts about the press itself…

The press is not a pro-democracy trade, it is a pro-media trade. By and large, it doesn’t act as a guardian of civic norms and liberal institutions—except when press freedoms and access itself are at stake.[emphases mine] Much like an advocacy group or lobbying firm will reserve value judgments for issues that directly touch upon the things they’re invested in, reporters and media organizations are far more concerned with things like transparency, the treatment of reporters, and first-in-line access to information of public interest, than they are with other forms of democratic accountability.

That’s not a value set that’s well calibrated to gauging Trump’s unmatched, omnidirectional assault on our civil life. Trump can do and say outrageous things all the time, and those things get covered in a familiar “did he really say that?” fashion, but his individual controversies don’t usually get sustained negative coverage unless he is specifically undermining press freedom in some clear and simple way…

The result is the evident skewing of editorial judgment we see in favor of stories where media interests are most at stake: where Clinton gets ceaseless scrutiny for conducting public business on a private email server; Trump gets sustained negative coverage for several weeks when his campaign manager allegedly batters a reporter; where Clinton appears to faint, but the story becomes about when it was appropriate for her to disclose her pneumonia diagnosis; where because of her illness, she and Trump will both be hounded about their medical records, and Trump will be further hounded for his tax returns—but where bombshell stories about the ways Trump used other people’s charity dollars for personal enrichment have a hard time breaking through.

News outlets are less alarmed by the idea that Trump might run the government to boost his company’s bottom line, or that he might shred other constitutional rights, because those concerns don’t place press freedoms squarely in crosshairs. Controversies like his proposal to ban Muslim travel into the U.S., create a deportation force to expel millions of immigrants, and build a wall along the southern border are covered less as affronts to American values than as gauche ideas that might harm his poll numbers with minorities. Trump’s most damaging scandal may have been his two-week political fight with the Khan family, but even there, the fact that Trump attacked the Khans’ religious faith was of secondary interest to questions like whether attacking a Gold Star family of immigrants would offend veterans and non-whites who might otherwise have voted for him.

Maybe not a perfect explanation, but that strikes me as explaining a lot that’s going on.  In a tweetstorm, Nate Silver, also has an interesting take that the media just cannot calibrate quite right (man, if only Nate Silver had a platform to coherently write this all out instead of an annoying series of tweets!  I’ve selected the most relevant, click on the first to see the whole series)

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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