Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Itchy and Scratchy School of Journalism

Whilst I was away, this headline appeared in the USA Today "newspaper."

Trump, Clinton both threaten free press: Column

I know Trump has stated that if elected he will loosen the libel laws to allow him to sue reporters who write negative stories about him. That seems like a pretty serious threat. But in what way has HRC threatened the Fourth Estate?

Well, let's see.
Oh, first of all, in the interests of full disclosure, let me once again state that I am no fan of Hillary Clinton. I have a lot of issues with her, but next to Trump, she looks like George Freaking Washington.

Anyway, let's see how the comparison shakes out.

The public’s right to know is infringed if certain reporters are banned from a candidate's events because the candidate doesn’t like a story they have written or broadcast, as Donald Trump has done.

Okay. You'll get no argument here.

Similarly, refusing to regularly answer questions from reporters in a press conference, as Hillary Clinton has, deprives the American people of hearing from their potential commander-in-chief in a format that is critical to ensuring he or she is accountable for policy positions and official acts.

Oh, sure because that's totally the same. . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . wait, what?

"She doesn't hold enough press conferences" is the equivalent of "he bans reporters who dare criticize him?" In what universe?

This is just the latest example of what I like to call "Itchy and Scratchy journalism."

If you've never seen "Itchy and Scratchy," the cartoon-within-a-cartoon featured on the Simpsons, it goes something like this. There's a cat and a mouse. Each episode begins with the cat either minding his own business or trying to be friends with the mouse. Then the mouse murders the cat in some spectacularly gruesome and sadistic way.

 But the opening title sequence of each episode is this:

The lyrics to the theme song are:
They fight
And fight 
And fight and fight and fight.
Fight, fight, fight!
Fight, fight, fight!
The Itchy and Scratchy Shooooow!!!!!

And sure, it's funny. But it gives a completely false impression of what the show is all about. They don't fight and fight. The mouse just eviscerates the cat for no reason other than his own psychotic enjoyment. But if all you saw was the opening, you would think it was some sort of fair fight between equally-matched opponents, both of whom, hate the other.

Similarly, if , like most news consumers, you just glanced at the headline and maybe skimmed the article, you could be forgiven for thinking that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are equally villainous in their treatment of the press.

I remember the first time I noticed this phenomenon. It was during the 2000 Presidentiual campaign, after one of Bush and Gore's debates. The article listed any number of instances where G.W. Bush had lied, distorted, or otherwise told falsehoods. Then they tacked on a bit about Al Gore exaggerating some statistic and slapped on a headline that read something to the effect of  "Both Candidates Stray From the Truth" or something like that.

Anyway, this is why we can't have nice things. Because no one in the media has the nerve to stand up and say "hey, you know what? Both sides don't always do it! Sometimes it's just the one side."

So no one will say "by refusing to even consider a nominee for the Supreme Court, the Republicans have entered in an unprecedented level of partisanship, pointless obstruction, and politicizing of the court." When's the last time you heard Merrick Garland's name on the news? Today, he just broke the record for the longest time waiting to be confirmed, did you hear about that on the evening news? And not only has he broken that record, but he's broken it without a single hearing. It's completely unprecedented, but no reporters have the guts to poin it out. It's just "partisan gridlock," or "business as usual in Washington" and **shrug** what can you do? The two sides just can't get along!

And that's why Trump advisors can say things like this:

“This whole thing disgusts me, Hillary Clinton should be put in the firing line and shot for treason,”

or this:

Without it even being a story.

That's why people could keep getting beaten up at Trump rallies without it being a major scandal. They're so married to their supposed "objectivity," that they can't bring themselves to admit that the two parties are not the same, not mirror images of each other. One party has gone completely off the rails and the press stands by and says "Gosh, the emperor's suit is fantastic!"

Which is why it should be heartening to hear that Chris Cuomo actually said the following to Trump surrogate Paul Manafort:
“I can't move on,” Cuomo said. “Because you keep lying about it, so I can't move on from it.”
Hearing a journalist actually state the obvious, that someone is telling a lie, is about as rare as hearing Pavarotti covering Led Zeppelin. But, of course, the exchange took place during a discussion about Melanoma Trump's plagiarized speech. No journalist (no mainstream, corporate journalist, I should say) would ever call a lie a lie when it's about something important. All we're likely to get from them on issues on importance is " they fight. And fight. And fight and fight and fight. . ."