Monday, September 19, 2016

The co-opting of media criticism

Some of what Taibbi writes here can come off as sounding like a cranky old media guy blaming the readership. Which is funny given that he's accusing his targets in this article of "snobbery." Here, for example, he accuses critics of assuming other readers have "weaker minds than theirs."
The people complaining about "false balance" usually seem confident in having discovered the truth of things for themselves, despite the media's supposed incompetence. They're quite sure of whom to vote for and why. Their complaints are really about the impact that "false balance" coverage might have on other, lesser humans, with weaker minds than theirs. Which is not just snobbish, but laughably snobbish. So, shut up.
But then in the very next paragraph, he turns around and blames stupid readers for low quality coverage. 
One of the main reasons the news media has been dumbed down over the years is because audiences have consistently rejected smart, responsible journalism in favor of clickbait stupidities like "Five Things You Didn't Know About John McCain's Penis" and "Woman Strips Naked in Front of Police Officers. You Won't Believe What Happened Next." The Bachelor and Toddlers and Tiaras crush Frontline. And people wonder why Donald Trump gets a lot of coverage? 

On the other hand, when he isn't trying to have that question both ways, he has a point. After about a decade and a half of critics hammering away at the cautious "he said, she said" style in mainstream political coverage, the notion has become weaponized by political operators.

I would say "false equivalence" is still a real problem in political coverage. But what we're seeing this year is that long valid complaint co-opted by partisan Democrats in a disingenuous effort to "work the refs" on important stories. They sound a lot like Republicans used to sound back when they created the myth of the "liberal media" to use as a cudgel against any and all coverage they didn't approve of.

2016 is the first election cycle that truly sophisticated use of social media has come into play.  We've moved from a time when candidates merely had websites or were on Twitter/Facebook to where their consultants and staffers actually know how to speak the language and manipulate the message in those realms. The fake complaints against "false equivalence" are one way that's been manifest.  There are others, but this is a big one.

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