President George W. Bush’s speechwriter and current senior editor at The Atlantic, David Frum, tweeted today that “As President, Donald Trump benefits from two inbuilt biases of mainstream pundits.”
We will let Frum’s fellow Canadian, author Guy Gavriel Kay introduce Frum’s tweets:
Media not just gullible, they are hunting for a 'new' story. Plus, you know, 'I'm a war reporter!' https://t.co/2SucmrwOIr
— Guy Gavriel Kay (@guygavrielkay) April 7, 2017
Here is what Frum had to say in a series of ten tweets:
“As President, Donald Trump benefits from two inbuilt biases of mainstream pundits:
“Bias 1 favors fair-mindedness: the wish to offer tips of the hat along with shakes of the finger. This bias exerts itself extra strongly with a bad actor like Trump. The worse he does, the more eagerly the pundit seeks something to praise. We’ve all experienced this. ‘There has to be something good to say about Trump. Even Hitler liked dogs!’
“Bias 2 is the bias in favor of surprise and novelty. Pundits don’t want – bookers won’t book – endless repeats of ‘He’s a liar & a crook.’ How much more interesting to say: “He’s a liar and a crook, but …” How boring to insist that the first part must always overwhelm the latter.
“And so TV punditry flits from one seemingly clever (but actually deeply false) pivot to another, chasing insight & missing truth.”
This brings Frum to Fox News, and the one advantage Fox News enjoys over other networks:
“This is the one great advantage of Fox over more normal TV punditry. Committed to one big story, they don’t have to keep devising subplots. No demand there to say, ‘President Obama may be a secret Muslim socialist, but Michelle is right about school lunches.’
“They stick to the main theme! I wish those who value journalistic truth and the integrity of the US government could do the same. But apparently we cannot – especially when the main theme is so depressing. Viewers want hope & reassurance. Reality? Not so much…”
While Frum is probably correct that viewers want to be made to feel good, the hope and reassurance he talks about, we could disagree with Frum about Fox News. It is a propaganda network rather than a news network and wishing all networks were equally propagandistic seems self-defeating.
The press should be open-minded and willing to entertain all views, but to impart the news with unbiased analysis, something we have so far failed to say, in part for the reasons Frum enumerates.
However, there is more to it. We could add too, that mainstream media is corporate and that also taints coverage. They are in a profit-driven business and Donald Trump sells. He made them money. If Fox News is so propagandistic that Trump named them his state news agency, even CNN hired one of Trump’s employees while he was still on Trump’s payroll.
It could be argued that this, too, in some way “committed to one big story.” Republicans have long dominated the mainstream media and the Sunday talk show circuit and Democrats are seldom allowed to get the the last word in. There is nothing new here and the mainstream media’s treatment of Trump.
Frump’s former points stand. However, at least a valid an explanation as a desire to be fair is that the treatment of Trump is, despite Republican disinformation about a “liberal media elite,” the logical conclusion to years of pro-Republican reporting by the mainstream media.