But these are also pragmatic answers, as journalism that ostensibly obscures the truth or tries to hide obvious realities for the benefit of a higher cause will inevitably lose the trust of some of the people it tries to avoid demagoguery – undercutting, at the same time, the very democratic order that he is trying to save.
I think it has happened before. There were ways the national news media aided Trump on his way to the Republican primaries in 2016, giving him consistent hype at the celebrity level at the expense of all other candidates. But from his shocking victory in November, much of the press has embraced exactly the self-understanding that critics still advocate as the only way to stop Trump – positioning himself as the guardian of democracy, a moral arbiter. rather than a neutral arbiter, determined to make Trump’s unnatural qualities and authoritarian tendencies the central story of his presidency.
The results of this mindset, unfortunately, included a lot of not particularly good journalism. The urgency mentality mistook the sordid Trumpian for something historic and betrayal, as in the blanket of overworked russia sown by the Steele file. He transformed figures peripheral to national politics, from Nick sandmann to Kyle Rittenhouse, as temporary avatars of nascent fascism. He invented the anti-Trump paladins, from Michael Avenatti to Andrew Cuomo, who have proven to embody their own kind of moral turpitude. And it instilled an industry-wide fear, palpable throughout the 2020 election, of any kind of coverage that could bring too much help and comfort to Trumpism – be it the riots. summer or Hunter Biden business dealings.
Now you can say that at least this mindset has achieved practical success, as Trump lost in 2020 his edge in his quest to maintain control of his party, even when defeated. Meanwhile, the public confidence in the national press declined during the Trump era and became radically more polarized, with Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents maintaining some degree of trust in the media, and Republicans and Republican-leaning independents going in the opposite direction.
This shows the essential problem of the idea that a little less media neutrality, a little more overt alarmism, would put Trumpism in its place. You can’t quell a populist insurgency just by rallying the establishment if establishment suspicion is precisely what generates support for populism in the first place. Instead, you need to tell the truth about the dangers of populism while convincing skeptical readers that you can be trusted to describe reality in its entirety.
Which brings us to the media coverage of Joe Biden. I have a lot of doubts about Milbank’s negativity algorithms, both because of methodological issues identified by analysts like Nate Silver and also because, as a news reader, I feel like Trump’s negative coverage reflected stronger opposition (the president we oppose is terrible again) while in Biden’s case negativity often coexists with implicit sympathy (the president we support breath, and we are upset). But still, there is no doubt that the coverage of the current administration has been quite grim lately.
But it has turned dark for reasons that an objective and serious press corps would have to recognize in order to have any credibility. Piece by piece, you can criticize the handling of the media over the last few months – I think the media coverage of the withdrawal from Afghanistan has been exaggerated, for example – but here’s the big picture: presented to restore normalcy faces a pandemic that stubbornly refuses to go, rising inflation that its own White House failed to predict, a border crisis that was also unanticipated, growing military warmongering from our main adversaries, high rates of stubbornly high homicides in liberal cities, a party that has just lost a race for governor and a stalled legislative program.