If you obsess on just one or two dots (even three) of a connect-the-dots picture, you’ll never know what the big picture is. To make matters worse, having no sense of a bigger picture, you’ll probably take that “small picture” view of a much larger thing and project all kinds of conclusions that, no surprise, get everything utterly wrong because, well — you had no perspective! America’s news media, to this day, have not connected the dots on their picture of Donald Trump. Actually, they haven’t connected a single dot — not from the instant Trump oozed down that golden escalator and announced his candidacy by insisting “Mexicans are rapists”. At that point, one shouldn’t have had to ask “Is Donald Trump a racist?” He told us unequivocally that he was. All the news media had to do was listen to him. Quick side note: it’s not up to a racist or the racist’s friends or even the media to decide “who’s a racist”. It’s up to the racist’s victim. If someone says, “That person was racist towards me”? then whoever they’re pointing at IS A RACIST. See how the dots connect?
But you have to want to connect dots to see the pictures they form. “Both sides do it” journalism insists it’s not journalism’s job to connect dots — that’s for journalism’s audience to do. Okay, fair enough. But, asking for the audience, is journalism presenting the stone, cold, literal truth or are they presenting a “truth” already compromised by mis-framing? In the current climate, to claim Republicans are honest actors in a debate about American democracy is horribly, HORRIBLY mis-framed. They’re not and haven’t been for a generation — at least going back to Newt Gingrich and the open culture war he declared on the left and Democrats when he was Speaker of the House. Yet, every day, the news media frames every debate — about immigration, about the pandemic, about the economy — about the The Big Lie itself — as if the Democrats and their desperate battle to protect every American’s right to vote was just “another point of view” one could have — as is the Republicans’ blatant attempts to restrict voting for everyone — but especially for Black people, brown people and young voters. “Both sides do it” journalism insists on seeing a criminal attempt to infringe on voting rights as “just another way to run a campaign” as if everyone could or might do it. It’s perverted our viewpoint to such an extreme that we now think of Republicans openly CHEATING to win elections as “just another way to ‘win” elections”.
No, it’s not.
How the hell did we get to a place where we shrug off the GOP’s relentless attempts to seize political power from the majority? It doesn’t help that the news media asks why but, either doesn’t stick around for the answer or, worse, assume (cos lazy) that Republicans behave the way they do “because it’s just how they are”. For five years now, through darkening circumstances including losing the White House and the Senate (having driven the economy into a ditch in large part by totally mismanaging the pandemic), Republicans have become not less devoted to Trump and Trumpism, not more. For five years, our NEWS MEDIA has stared at that fact while scratching its head, unable to CONNECT THE DOTS. Why, they wonder, scratching so hard now they’re carving literal furrows into their skulls, is Trump sooooooo beholden to Vladimir Putin? Why, oh why, doesn’t Trump ever stand up to Putin? Why did Trump always seem more interested in protecting Russia’s interests instead of our own?
Is it really so hard to connect those dots? Really?
How much EVIDENCE does a “journalist” need before they’ll draw a conclusion, say, about how Donald Trump bankrupted his Atlantic City casinos even though he had all those Rich Russian oligarch pals “giving him money”? Hmmmmmmm… can’t imagine why… . Faced with those facts, Fusion GPS (when hired to do oppo research on Trump for the Marco Rubio-backing Washington Free Beacon) became so alarmed (being ex-journalists with some experience reporting money laundering) that they hired Christopher Steele because his bona fides inside Russia were so rock solid. These former journalists wanted to know the truth behind what their due diligence had uncovered (their due diligence being a survey of every piece of PUBLICLY AVAILABLE material on Trump) and whether Trump, having laundered money for Russian mobsters (all with strong ties to Putin), was now fully owned by them.
Dishonest scumbag though he is, Donald Trump can be shockingly (if unintentionally) forthright. He projects literally everything terrible about himself usually onto other people. It’s hardly difficult to spot. He keeps telling us who and what he is. The news media refuse to take him at his word — to this very day.
On the one hand, it could just be mediocrity at work. In any given profession, the majority of pros will be good enough to be pros but, otherwise, unremarkable. Mediocre. It’s probably a good thing most people are mediocre. It’s their mediocrity that helps the good performers stand out. Watergate attracted a lot of Woodward & Bernstein wannabes to journalism. That’s swell so many people were so aspirational. Too bad 99% of them simply didn’t and don’t have the chops. That doesn’t stop them from thinking they do — every day when they do the thing they call “journalism”. On the other hand, if it’s not mediocrity, that means it’s probably a total failure of imagination.
If you can’t “imagine” that Republicans are being entirely disingenuous when they wonder if Joe Biden really is POTUS then you can’t imagine Republicans. You’re thinking of some other group — “normal Republicans” from some time in your past. You definitely don’t have THESE pirates on your radar. If you can’t imagine that Vladimir Putin literally OWNS Trump, literally RUNS Trump and literally has his hooks in the entire Republican Party, then maybe you’re in the wrong line of work. Hell, even if those things weren’t true — that Putin owns Trump and the GOP — it would simply be good journalistic practice to definitively rule them out. Not just because you can’t imagine it but because, like Fusion GPS, you did your due diligence.
What’s most frustrating about American journalism’s inability to see Trump clearly is that they’re doing this despite their own reporting! All along, American journalists have written stories about Trump and his circle that, all by themselves, should have been the end of, first, Trump’s candidacy and then his presidency. The GOP knew before they nominated Trump to be POTUS that Russia owned him. They said so — OUT LOUD — and that got reported on — IN THE WASHINGTON POST! Current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy walked into a meeting of Republican muckety-mucks a month before their convention and said, “There’s two people I think Putin pays – Rohrbacker and Trump – swear to God!” This story was reported in 2017 — in the Washington Post and the Guardian (among plenty of other papers). No one in the room expressed either outrage or shock. Outrage that Kevin would say such a thing and shock at the fact that it might could be true.
No journalist (to my knowledge) has revisited that reporting? Why? Isn’t it good enough? Isn’t it valid? Isn’t it, maybe, revealing of something pertinent to now? Imagine if American journalists were to aggregate the Donald Trump story… imagine if — instead of returning to a weird ‘square one’ ever day, they BUILT a portrait of not only Donald Trump but his circle and the Republican Party as a whole that shifted and changed and evolved as more and more new information got added. The point of the exercise would be a truthful, realistic picture of what is — of what we know.
When we get to the part of the story (and we will) where the indictments and subpoenas and charges start raining like fire onto the hapless Republicans, the news media will act as if it was shocking. It shouldn’t be. Any real journalist or storyteller worth a damn should have seen it coming from a thousand miles off. Because it was there; in fact, they already reported it.
Oh, by the way, American news media? The connect-the-dot picture up top? It’s a dinosaur…