It physically hurts watching most of our Main Stream News Media grapple with Donald Trump. He’s so much a creature of their making — his entertainer’s DNA is the same as theirs — that they fail to see their own fatal flaws in him.
It’s days/weeks/months/a presidency like this that make me think about Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant screenplay Network.
If you haven’t seen it, see it! When you remember that Chayefsky wrote it eons before Fox News flared to life in Roger Ailes’ fetid mind (the feature came out in 1976) — a propaganda tool designed from the ground up to stop a Richard Nixon type president from ever getting caught again (that’s right — Roger Ailes believed that had Fox News been around during Nixon’s time, Nixon would never have had to quit) — Network becomes even more visionary.
Chayefsky anticipated the marriage of news and entertainment — and the birth of their Frankenstein Monster-like love child — a wildly out of control noise machine that gleefully blurs the lines between fact and fiction, reality and bullshit, ordered moral rectitude and total Machiavellian chaos. In one extra-brilliant scene, Ned Beatty — playing the Chairman Of The Board — explains “the rules” to renegade anchor man Howard Beale (Oscar winner Peter Finch). This is a wonderful example of “FRAMING”…””
9A5% of our Main Stream News Media cannot “frame” a story to save their lives. To save OUR lives either. We need to remember — so does our Main Stream News Media — that journalists are storyteller first and foremost. News is just the story of what’s happening now and why. Journalists must follow the same rules fictional storytellers play by — if they’re going to be any good at storytelling.
All storytelling begins with framing. It’s storytelling’s “In the beginning…”. Do we frame Hitler (in a story about him) as a good guy or a bad guy? The overwhelming majority of us would probably frame Hitler as the villain regardless of the piece. But a few — white nationalists for instance — would probably frame Hitler as a hero. Framing equals point of view. Whose point of view does a story represent.
If you go and frame a story from Hitler’s point of view — or, say, Donald Trump’s — then things like Jew hatred to the point of causing a Holocaust or caging Latino babies at our southern border — then outright evil doesn’t seem so… “evil”. Evil gets normalized. Not all at once — but enough so that the next evil act plays to a collective psyche that accepts a certain amount of evil as “just how things are”. No, they’re NOT how things are.
Framing begins with what you know and what you can legitimately believe based on the preponderance of evidence. Donald Trump is a liar. Donald Trump is a money launderer. Donald Trump is a fraud. Donald Trump is a bully. Donald Trump is a racist. Donald Trump is a rapist. Donald Trump is a traitor. One could legitimately frame any story about Donald Trump from any one of these points of view — and successfully tell a NEWS story.
One could NOT (for comparison’s sake) frame a story from the point of view that Donald Trump is an honest actor who believes every word he reads off a teleprompter. That story would be demonstrably false even as you told it. And yet — our Main Stream News Media persists in framing the Donald Trump story from that very perspective: that Donald Trump is a normal person and a normal president. Sorry — I got that slightly wrong: they frame Trump as a “different kind of potus” who “expresses himself directly”.
Allow me to translate from the bullshit — “Trump’s a chaos agent and we have no idea how to report on him”. There’s no such thing as “different”. A journalist reporting that a politician is “different” because he ignores all rules and norms is a lazy journalist. “Why” are they different? “What do you mean exactly by ‘different’?” To call Donald Trump “different” is to frame Trump from the point of view of bullshit. It helps no one — except Donald Trump.
And that — right there — is the problem. When you frame a story from the point of view of, say, a villain — you see the world through the villain’s eyes. You empathize with the villain and see their goals as our goals. You normalize evil and make it not only respectable but desirable.
The Poster Girl for this rancid brand of un-journalism is NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell.
I’m sure Kelly’s a lovely person. I’m sure she’s a wonderful friend — she seems very empathetic. But she lacks critical faculties. She’s no more discerning of the Truth than an open microphone. Kelly happily reports everything Trump says from her White House beat as if Donald Trump was a tower of integrity whose every word was his bond.
FFS, Kelly — when we look back at this period a few years from now (provided we’re not all living in a gulag or a mass grave), we’ll look squarely at the Fourth Estate and their many profound failings. Journalists are the only job mentioned specifically in the Constitution. They are obligated to be our final check on power.
But a check that frames stories from the point of view of the things it’s supposed to be checking cannot check shit. It surrenders the necessary perspective the moment it starts reporting. Any story about Trump that doesn’t immediately frame Trump as a liar is a lie itself — how can it not be? It’s telling the liar’s lie for him. carrying his lying water wherever he wants it carried.
This isn’t hard to fix. Gaining perspective is as easy as stepping back from a story and allowing yourself to see all the great details you’ve uncovered in the largest possible context — so that you can see, evaluate and appreciate how your small cogs work as part of the larger wheel. I think of NBC’s number cruncher Steve Kornacki.
I’m sure Steve’s a lovely person, fun to lunch with. And he’s bright, too. I’ll give him that. But bright without perspective is less bright than it could be. Than it SHOULD BE. Steve Kornacki can tell you everything you want to know about a grain of sand — so long as we’re only talking about that one grain. Does that grain of sand live on the beach at Malibu or smack in the center of the Sahara Desert? Steve can’t tell you that.
He can only frame the grain of sand’s story from the grain of sand’s point of view. That is only part of its story unfortunately.
We need our news media to report the WHOLE Trump story every time out of the gate. We need them to see Donald Trump the way Fusion GPS saw Trump. Fusion, you’ll recall, was the research entity hired by the Washington Free Beacon then (through intermediaries) the Hillary Clinton campaign to learn all the could about Trump — through legitimate means. Fusion (as principle Glenn Simpson testified to Congress), upon being hired, started the job by doing its due diligence. They got ahold of every bit of publicly available material concerning Trump. Books, magazines, video, radio, internet. They bought from Amazon, browsed book stores & magazine racks and even went to the public library. What they found in publicly available material so convinced them that Trump had used his Atlantic City casinos to launder Russian Mob money that they hired former MI6 Russia desk guru Christopher Steele. Steele had the best sources inside Russia.
Fusion, in its report to its clients, framed Trump from the widest possible perspective. That perspective saw Trump as a criminal.
There is nothing whatsoever — still, to this very day — stopping America’s Main Stream News Media from doing the exact same due diligence.
It’s a little late now, of course. CNN & MSNBC (and all the rest) could easily have done this back when Trump was insisting that Mexicans are rapists. Perhaps if our Main Stream News Media HAD done that, there wouldn’t be a pile of dead Mexican bodies right now in El Paso.
When our MSM mis-frames stories, it isn’t just bad storytelling, it’s toxic to our Democracy.