Craven Media: We Have Met The Enemy And He Is Us

October 27, 2016

There is a saying in the tech industry: garbage in, garbage out. It refers to computers and the fact that, because they cannot differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ input, simply process everything, producing commensurate results. In its description of the phrase, Wikipedia adds: “The principle applies to other fields as well.”

Like our political system, perhaps.

Historically, the media has long favored covering ‘the horse race’ over actual issues in elections. It has been particularly pronounced this year, making Focus On Issues, Not Politics the biggest Rule break of the political season, by far.

On top of that, the disingenuousness of the media in their own acknowledgement of this failing—feigning shame with their mea culpas, while making excuses to continue doing the same thing—nominal cover in the past, is on especially high display this year.

Consider this Charlie Rose interview on the presidential election with Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, journalists and co-hosts of MSNBC’s With All Due Respect.

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Craven Media: garbage in, garbage out

About 13 minutes in, Mark Halperin broaches the subject: (paraphrasing) ~”On our show, we asked the Trump campaign regularly: ‘We want to to do a segment on healthcare, or on tax cuts, or ISIS, could you give us an expert?’ They won’t give us anyone, and the Clinton campaign often doesn’t either. That problem from the candidates notwithstanding, the press has failed, we have everyday followed the drama that Trump and, to some extent, Clinton creates.”

Charlie Rose: ~”Why don’t you take, and we should do this too, take 10 minutes [to cover issues]?”

Mark Halperin: ~“We should, … it’s hard to do at the end [of a campaign]. … The problem is, he has almost no policies, and she has few specifics [in hers]. … It’s not an excuse, and I wish I could turn the clock back six months and do ten minutes on policy a show.”

John Heilemann adds: “Or even just ten minutes a week.”

So, you couldn’t cover issues for the past year because the candidates wouldn’t cooperate, and now it’s too late.

Really?

Nineteen minutes in, picking up on Halperin’s comment on why Trump’s 42 million followers are unconcerned about his temperament, Heilemann offers: ~“Many [of them], for 25 or 30 years, watched establishment politicians come in, promise to change things, and didn’t, and their life prospects got worse. … The core of Trump supporters are fed up with establishment politicians, the financial establishment and the media establishment, and say: ‘I’m willing to roll the dice on this guy. … He’ll throw a stick of dynamite in there.’ ”

Hmm. Candidates won’t supply experts, so the media can’t cover issues. Trump supporters are fed up with the establishment (media & other), so they want to blow it all up.

I think I see the problem, Messrs. H: We have met the enemy, and he is you!

Mr. Halperin, if you report on the issues, the public will demand policy solutions from the candidates, forcing them to supply experts and position details to you …and us!

Mr. Heilemann, people have disdain for the media establishment because you don’t report facts or cover things that actually affect them.

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In short, Messrs. H: The more informed the public is, the more levers of knowledge they have to pull. And the more they pull those levers, the more responsive the candidates, and the less need for dynamite.

I identify as Democrat on this website, but this blog is about exhorting the media to report facts and cover issues without regard to ideology—indeed, do facts/issues even cohere to ideology?—so I call ‘em as I see ‘em, political affilation, notwithstanding. But Halperin and Heilemann, whose show is on Democratic leaning MSNBC, are far from the only ones failing here. The problem is pervasive in the extreme. This AP article cites 2 studies that show how little substance was covered in this election—1 of them says it’s the lowest amount in almost 3 decades.

Certainly Trump’s inciting rhetoric and (alleged) predatory behavior, and Hillary’s emails and political dualities merit coverage, but not to the exclusion of issues. With Heilemann’s acknowledgement of frustration with the media establishment, and Halperin’s defense of it’s practices (however sheepish), can we expect this to change? It certainly doesn’t look that way. This problem has been around forever and will not go away until we demand it, that is the reality. And if we don’t demand it, who then is really the ‘us’ of ‘the enemy’?

ATD Rule break: Focus On Issues, Not Politics!

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