Friday, December 16, 2016

American Political News Media Suck

In my unremarkable view, there isn't an aspect of the US political system that didn't fail big time in the 2016 campaign and election, save perhaps the people who actually run the actual elections in their communities.

A short list of failures would include: Republicans, Democrats, pollsters and the news media.  Taking just the media for the moment, we've seen this building for years: the decline unto nearly nil of paid reporting, the closing of news bureaus (foreign and domestic) while blatantly partisan "news" media, easily manipulated Internet and social media "news" proliferate and take the previous niches plus more.  So the only kind of "reporting" that exists is the cheap kind: sports and political "reporting," which doesn't involve any real reporting other than reproducing and organizing statements and information provided by politicians and their servants.  And then the endless punditry, almost always on the same topic, using the same tidbits of "information."

Since the game is all about building image or tearing down image, it is an information environment practically designed for what is essentially gossip.  Enter the unholy alliance of Russia, Wikileaks, Republicans and the news media.

A fiction writer couldn't come up with a less likely combination, at least before this year: America's historic adversary and Cold War enemy, the "Evil Empire" that is no longer an empire but is arguably more evil than ever.  Working with the supposed whistleblowers speaking truth to power.  Working with and enabled by the most extreme reactionary major political party on the planet.  Working with and enabled by the American news media system.

As recent headlines tell it, the US intelligence agencies--including the CIA and even the FBI--conclude that Russia intervened (by way of hacks into organizations and individual email accounts) in the US election deliberately to assist the election of Trump, and that this effort was personally approved by Putin.  He is the leader, by the way, who has cynically caused the deaths and suffering of millions in Syria.

There is still some responsible journalism in this country, such as this article beginning to describe the Russian cyber-incursion.  But as I said more than once in this space while it was happening, the Russian hacks and the Wikileaks dispatches only achieved dominance in this campaign because American media fell for it.  They took stolen goods and made stories out of them, whether there was much substance or not (and did so in congressional campaigns as well, as the Times piece notes.)

Few if any of the important issues that the outcome of this election will drastically affect (and this time this wrongly and overused word is appropriate)--will drastically impact--were so widely and loudly disseminated.

Here is how President Obama put it in his press conference Friday:

"When we had a consensus around what had happened [Russian hacks], we announced it -- not through the White House, not through me, but rather through the intelligence communities that had actually carried out these investigations. And then we allowed you and the American public to make an assessment as to how to weigh that going into the election.

And the truth is, is that there was nobody here who didn’t have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. I'm finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton because you guys wrote about it every day. Every single leak. About every little juicy tidbit of political gossip -- including John Podesta's risotto recipe. This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage.

So I do think it's worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates, came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks. What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations -- which, as I've said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated.

This was not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme. They hacked into some Democratic Party emails that contained pretty routine stuff, some of it embarrassing or uncomfortable, because I suspect that if any of us got our emails hacked into, there might be some things that we wouldn’t want suddenly appearing on the front page of a newspaper or a telecast, even if there wasn’t anything particularly illegal or controversial about it. And then it just took off.

And that concerns me. And it should concern all of us."

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