I finally had to carefully transcribe Janine Jackson’s brilliant analysis of the depth of our media-aided American dilemma, from her CounterSpin podcast of September 18, 2020. I suppose the reason we can’t read something this important to our democracy in Jeff Bezos’s beacon of freedom, or in the Grey Lady, is self-evident. But, still… Janine Jackson:
Josh Cho lays it out plainly on FAIR.org:
When the president of the United States has:
- explicitly declared his intentions to withhold federal election funding from states that are trying to make it easier to vote during a pandemic;
- appointed a major donor with conflicts of interest to sabotage the US Postal Service;
- claimed that the defeat of lawsuits aimed at disenfranchising voters is the “biggest risk” to his reelection bid;
- deputized 50,000 “poll watchers” to intimidate people;
- advised his supporters to commit the felony of double voting;
- proposed postponing the elections;
- preemptively cast election results into doubt by suggesting the results may not be legitimate; and
- repeatedly refused to state whether he would concede the election in the event of a loss;
Well, then the evidence threshold has been more than satisfied for journalists to declare that he is trying to steal the 2020 election. Journalists and newsrooms have an obligation to report that the most powerful person in the country is trying to subvert the democratic process, a failure to do so is journalistic malpractice.
Yet, while you can find several op-eds pointing out that Donald Trump is acting to steal the 2020 election, for serious news reporters it remains, and one suspects, will continue to remain, a theoretical possibility.
Cho searched articles in the NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, LA Times and USA Today from July 7th to September 7th and found various scenarios of how Trump could steal the election, columns wondering what might happen if Trump refused to concede the election and reports on Democratic politicians asserting that Trump is trying to steal the election, but not a single news article treating it as something that is happening.
And along with stories on Democratic party politicians like Beato O’Rourke warning of what might happen, corporate media have made space for Trump to air his accusations that it’s Democrats who are trying to commit election theft. Encouraging any who would want to to see it all as a story of partisan dispute.
Maybe worst, while a number of stories explore scenarios, Cho found no articles calling for action, conveying a presumption that citizens are supposed to be passive spectators and not active participants.
Legal scholars note that the peaceful succession of power relies more on norms than on laws or institutions, and as we have learned norms mean nothing to Donald Trump and every time he runs roughshod over another of them corporate elite “democracy dies in darkness” news media cover for it with palaver about how he’s breaking with tradition.
The cowardice is shocking, but get ready for the hypocrisy if Trump, as one can only wish, loses and the same corporate press corps claim they’re the ones who pulled us back from the precipice.
History will look unkindly also on things like the Associated Press’s September 4th election season launch piece which multiple critics noted could stand as an emblem of elite media’s abdication of duty in the Trump era. Joe Biden and Donald Trump, AP told readers, offer “dueling versions of reality.”
AP chief political reporter Steve Peeples wrote: “on the campaign trail with President Donald Trump. the pandemic is largely over, the economy is roaring back and murderous mobs are infiltrating America’s suburbs. With Democrat Joe Biden. the pandemic is raging, the economy isn’t lifting the working class and systemic racism threatens black lives across America.”
Oh, those “dizzyingly different versions of reality,” laments the piece, before adding a note that should enter textbooks:
“all the conflicting messages carry at least a sliver of truth, some much more than others.”
For a reporter, to find yourself translating away from the coherent like that might be a sign you should turn to a different profession. For readers, it’s a sure sign to turn the page.
And finally, the both-sideism that plagues elite journalism extends beyond partisanship per se, writer/organizer Dorothy Benz called out a Washing Post piece from late August “US Political Divide Becomes Increasingly Violent, Rattling Activists and Police.”
Her high school English teacher, Benz noted, would have taken a red pen to that title, pointing out that divides can’t be violent, only people can. So people on both sides of a divide are becoming violent is what the Post meant, and that’s the real problem. The piece describes an armed right wing attack on a voter registration rally sponsored by a Democratic Congressional candidate in Tyler, Texas.
Hundreds of armed people descended on the peaceful crowd, yelling obscenities and physically assaulting them. The piece describes the scene as “scuffling”, downplaying the level of violence and intimidation involved in the attack and suggesting that both sides contributed to it.
The article refers to a “spate of exchanges”, and a “series of disturbances” to describe what is a pattern of right-wing political violence directed directed at protests against police brutality. Later on the assault in Tyler, Texas is summed up as an incident where “brawls erupted.”
Worst of all, Benz notes, the Post manages to talk about various armed attacks on people protesting police violence without ever using the words racism, racist or white supremacy. The US is teetering on the brink of white supremacist-fueled authoritarianism. Instead of raising the alarm, the Washington Post all but shrugs, concluding this piece:
“with so many people showing up armed, including growing numbers of left-wing social justice activists, police are warning people that they need to understand the risks associated with modern-day protests and political activity.”
Thus, democratic protest is treated like some kind of luxury extreme sport where you need to consider carefully whether or not to participate, and if you get hurt, it’s your own fault.