Our Deranged Media

Even though it has been over two months since the Inauguration, and even longer since Election Day, the sight of Donald Trump in the White House still feels like a dream – or, more aptly, a nightmare. That a man so manifestly unqualified for the office of the presidency and so obviously uninterested in its duties currently holds it is absurd to the point of near parody. But this is the fate of the nation, to be in the hands of a total buffoon and his band of white nationalist advisors.

If one were to simply read with an unbiased mind the news about what Trump has done since taking office, one would get a pretty clear – and accurate – picture of the man. There are few if any policy issues that really matter to him (see his quick dropping of an Obamacare repeal) and he seems wholly incapable of handling the tasks required of the presidency. From his failed attempts to institute the travel ban to his inability to confirm his cabinet nominees, at nearly every step the Trump administration has been remarkably incompetent. And none of this is really surprising. Trump ran through three different campaign managers during the primary alone; he could barely go a day without sticking his foot in his mouth.

All of this is abundantly clear to most people with even a passing interest in politics. But Trump’s obvious stupidity creates a problem for the mainstream media. The media was perfectly happy when Trump was rolling to the Republican nomination, giving him tons of free, mostly positive media. Even left-leaning news organizations such as CNN broadcast Trump’s rallies, enjoying the large viewership that resulted.
Of course, that all changed once Trump won the nomination and the idea of him being president shifted from a ludicrous fantasy to a frightening possibility. According to a study by Harvard’s Kennedy School, 77 percent of Trump’s general election coverage was negative (as compared to 64% for Clinton), representing a massive increase as compared to the primary, when just 56 percent of Trump’s coverage was negative. None of this is at all surprising given the political leanings of most journalists. According to a study by two Indiana University professors, just seven percent of all journalists identify as Republican.

Now the problem for the mainstream media begins to become clearer. The media obviously did not want Trump to win, and expended great amounts of effort to achieve a Hillary Clinton victory, breathlessly declaring that she had won every debate and that she was on track for an easy victory. But, as we all know, their efforts failed, and Trump won, despite his gross incompetence. The media went toe to toe with perhaps the dumbest man to ever seek the presidency, and they lost. Either the media is an impotent body with no ability to influence elections or it got outsmarted by a man everyone knows to be a moron. Neither conclusion paints a rosy picture of the current state of our media.

If the American mainstream media were competent, it would have considered the above conclusions and made some changes. But the one area the mainstream media excels in is self-importance, so they find most criticism to be untenable. Instead, the media has chosen two separate routes to explain their inability to deliver a Clinton victory.

First, in a classic hot take, the media has declared that Trump is not dumb, but actually insanely smart. That poorly written and disastrously rolled out travel ban? A trial balloon for a coup. Getting incredibly angry about the crowd size at his inauguration? Simply a distraction from his other nefarious schemes. And so on and so forth, until Trump wets himself during a speech and the media scrambles to explain how it is actually part of the sixty-eight-dimensional backgammon game he is playing. This is a moronic idea that barely warrants a reply. Trump rolled out his executive order poorly because he and his advisors are incompetent. He complained about crowd size because he’s insecure. As difficult as it may be to come to terms with, there are mountains of evidence pointing to one simple conclusion: Donald Trump is not a smart man.

The second way the media has tried to explain away their failure is by going full Joseph McCarthy. In this conception of the election, Trump only won because he committed treason with the help of the Russians. While Trump’s connections with Russia are certainly concerning, the media has gone overboard in its attempts to find the smoking gun. The New York Times, in a sign of its decaying standards, recently allowed Louise Mensch to write an editorial on Trump and Russia. Mensch is a notorious pusher of Russian-related conspiracy theories, claiming, for example, that Russians murdered conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart.

It is time for the media to face the truth: it is not as powerful, important, or smart as it thinks. The election of Donald Trump should have been a wakeup call for the media, but so far that call has gone unanswered. Until the media makes serious efforts to reform the way its covers stories, expect to see its attacks on Trump continue to fall flat.

Max Handler

Max Handler is a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences. He can be reached at maxhandler@wustl.edu

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