Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Never gonna get that "Seal Of Death" to work

This is from the introduction to Matt Taibbi's book on the 2016 election. He's talking about something a colleague of his has termed the "Seal Of Death" which is the traditional exercise by which the press exploits a gotcha moment (The Dean Scream is the prime example he cites) to ritualistically murder a public figure it has judged outside the acceptable bounds of The Discourse. 
In the case of Dean, TV stations around the country played the “scream” tape a whopping 633 times in the first four days after Iowa, according to the AP. They were like piranhas skeletonizing a waterfowl. It was viral media be­fore YouTube. As Dean’s campaign manager, Joe Trippi, later put it, “The establishment wanted to stop us and they did.”

Trippi’s comment implied that reporters were part of that establishment, which was a pretty damning criticism. But it was true. And people noticed.

It’s impossible to overemphasize the toxicity of this dy­namic. Politicians and political journalists were volunteer­ing to be trapped in an endless conversation with one another about which candidates, and by extension which ideas, were and were not suitable for consumption by the American people.
Trump was different, though.  Taibbi writes that, despite multiple opportunities for the media to apply the Seal Of Death to him during the campaign, it never stuck.
America’s population of otherwise Smart People was stunned. How could the electorate not care that a billionaire admitted to not paying taxes? Why was no one troubled by the threat of a child rape lawsuit? How was the “pussy” thing not fatal? What about the mountain of extant lawsuits— 75 open cases, according to some reports— for offenses ranging from simple nonpayment for services to sex discrimination? Why did no one care? Incredibly, the popular explanation floated inside the nY- Washington- LA corridor was that this was the media’s fault, that reporters were “not calling trump out” while simultaneously overfocusing on issues like Hillary clinton’s emails. But this explanation itself was a continuation of the same original misread of the public. Here was this massive new revolutionary movement rising out of the population, and the first instinct of the establishment was to turn  other members of the establishment for an explanation of why this was being allowed to happen. As in, where’s the Seal of Death? Why haven’t you vaporized this guy yet?
Several months after the revolution, the defeated establishment faction still doesn't grasp the problem.  They're still out looking for the one magic fact that will bring down Trump.  This is why MSNBC has deteriorated into McCarthyesque obsession with rooting out perceived Russian sympathizers.  It's also why Rachel Maddow was keen to run with a "scoop" (likely leaked by the White House) that Trump paid $38 million in taxes a decade ago. But none of this stuff, not the details of Trump's possible relationships with foreign agents, nor his many obvious conflicts of interest arising from his business dealings, nor whatever might eventually come to light via his tax returns is ever going to matter and here is why. None of it has anything to do with politics.

Here's something else Taibbi observes about 2016 election coverage.  He's trying to explain that Trump benefited from an insane amount of "free media" which is true. But far more interesting is that the reason for that reveals a key blind spot of the establishment punditry.
This part of Trump’s rise really was the media’s fault.

Trump was a legitimate news story. He had to be cov­ered. He was leading a historic revolt against his own party, after all. But so was Bernie Sanders, who got nearly as many votes as Trump in the primaries. Yet Trump received some­thing on the order of 23 times more television coverage than the Vermont senator.

Long segments of Trump’s speeches were broadcast un­interrupted, which seldom if ever happened with Sanders, even on traditionally left-leaning cable networks. If we in the media asked ourselves why that was the case, we came up with some damning answers.

It wasn’t just that Trump was outrageous and sensa­tional and lurid, while Sanders dryly pushed substance over salesmanship. Nor was it just the car-wreck element to Trump’s performances that kept audiences glued to the screen, wondering what crazy thing he might say next.

It was also the content. Trump sold hate, violence, xeno­phobia, racism, and ignorance, which oddly enough had long been permissible zones of exploration for American television entertainment. And the news media was becom­ing more and more indistinguishable from entertainment media.

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders talked about poverty and inequality, which are now and always have been taboo. On a level that is understood by news directors in their guts if not their minds, hate is sexy and sells, while the politics of Ber­nie Sanders were provocative in the wrong ways.

A news director who made the decision to run a Sanders speech in its entirety would worry about being accused of making a “political statement.” Meanwhile, running Trump all day long would be understood as just business, just giv­ing viewers what they want. Editorially the press denounced him, but it never turned the cameras off.
In other words, the political press establishment refuses to allow political coverage to be about actual politics.  Whether or not the tax return story can be termed a "nothingburger" by anyone is really kind of beside the point.  Maybe.. probably.. there's all sorts of things to examine in Trump's financial records, should we ever see the rest of them. But none of that is what will determine his future in office.

Or, at least, there are no revelations to be unearthed that will in and of themselves lead directly to an impeachment. Given what we know about how impeachment works, there's probably enough already anyway whenever the Congress might want to run with it.  The question, really, is what might make them want to do that?
A simmering rebellion of conservative populists loyal to President Donald Trump is further endangering the GOP health-care push, with a chorus of influential voices suspicious of the proposal warning the president to abandon it.

From headlines at Breitbart to chatter on Fox News Channel and right-wing talk radio, as well as among friends who have Trump's ear, the message has been blunt: The plan is being advanced by congressional Republican leaders is deeply flawed - and, at worst, a political trap.

Trump's allies worry that he is jeopardizing his presidency by promoting the bill spearheaded by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Wis., arguing that it would fracture Trump's coalition of working- and middle-class voters, many of them older and subsisting on federal aid.
Things have gotten so weird now that the only thing standing in the way of Congressional Republicans depriving 24 million people of health care is... Donald Trump.  I don't buy the speculation that the House GOP is conflicted about this at all. Repeal of Obamacare means a big tax break for rich people. That's all they care about.  If Trump helps them deliver that, then there is no problem.  If he becomes an obstacle, though, well then we'll see if they can apply their own "Seal Of Death." But if establishment Republicans are suffering from the same lack of judgement as the establishment press, it might actually end up being their funeral and not Trump's.

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