Donald Trump, Vanity Fair, and Our Broken Media

The New York Times got themselves quite a scoop- our vacationer-in-chief President gave them his one interview from Mar-a-Lago. The reporter doing the interview made a decision- to not really press Donald Trump, and instead to mostly let him talk. It was a smart decision from the standpoint that it got Trump to essentially babble and ramble, and not go back into his shell. It was a terrible decision for a reporter though- follow-up questions and clarifications on things that a reporter knows to be false are part of their job, not just an option to consider. Basically Trump was given an open microphone to spew what he wanted, and while he made some mistakes, the bigger danger is in letting his words reach the public without a challenge.

In essence, this is part of why we have Trump- our media allowed him to be an option. His rallies were shown in full, rarely were his lies challenged on their way to the American public. While Hillary Clinton was pressed for details on her plans, and forced to defend herself on trumped up scandal after scandal, Donald Trump never gave us details on his plans, from building his wall to taxes, to health care, and so on. The press is so afraid of both losing access, and being viewed as unfair, even if those they’re being “unfair” to are lying and lost. They did not press him for details enough during the election, or now, and they did not challenge his lying enough, then or now. Their job is to challenge those who lie or have weak ideas. They didn’t. In fact, they didn’t with several candidates in 2016.

The Trump interview showed us that, at least as 2017 ends, this is still a problem. The behavior of writers from the New York Times, especially Maggie Haberman, shows that we shouldn’t expect change any time soon.

I could go on all day, but I won’t. Maggie Haberman spent the whole day circling the wagons to defend her paper, her colleagues, and her view of journalism. She literally trolled and sub-tweeted people over the criticisms. This is one of the top reporters at the New York Times, not some random nobody. This is also a reporter who has a reputation for being fairly rough on Hillary Clinton, the woman Trump beat for the White House, despite losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes.

Speaking of people who are pretty tough on Hillary Clinton, Vanity Fair is having quite a tough week. They published a list of “New Year’s Resolutions” for Hillary Clinton that included getting new hobbies, “like knitting.” They also told her to keep wandering the woods, not run for President ever again, and basically to just go away. They got hammered on the internet for it, and were forced to apologize. The video was purely sexist, and that was plain to see, even if you don’t like Hillary Clinton. Those who made it should be reprimanded or fired by Vanity Fair, to save their credibility. Bad journalistic work, like bad work in any other professional field, should have consequences. I guess not everyone though…

Yeah, that’s what this is about- not liking the opinion. It’s not about the sexism and ageism that is thinly, if at all, veiled in the Vanity Fair product. It’s not about the insult to an accomplished and successful woman, it’s about how it makes us *feel* to Elizabeth. But wait, there’s more:

This is just… WOW! According to Elizabeth Bruenig, if someone is bad at their job, they shouldn’t face consequences. Of course, she doesn’t afford Hillary Clinton nearly as much leniency, bringing up her “low approval ratings” in her defense of her colleagues. I guess Hillary should pay for her sins, but the writers of VFHive should not. Much like Maggie Haberman, she is running to the aid of her colleagues to defend them- circling the wagons.

Could there be a reason why Mrs. Bruenig is doing this? Well, her husband Matt Bruenig was fired from his blogging job at Demos for calling Neera Tanden a “scumbag” for one thing. He had a track record of this kind of behavior, and his “side-employer” canned him for it finally. He then created a “go fund me” page and asked people to finance his health care- which is funny for a guy who’s a lawyer, and who’s wife writes for the Washington Post. To say the Elizabeth Bruenig has a bias that should have prevented her from writing this piece is the least of it. It seems to me that she actually agrees with this behavior that has been directed at Hillary Clinton, Neera Tanden, and many, many other people on the internet. Or, at least she agrees with it when it’s people who espouse her socialist views, directing it at members of the Democratic Party.

Why does the Washington Post employ someone so compromised? Why does Vanity Fair think sexism is okay against politicians they don’t like? Why does the New York Times think it’s above reproach? Listen, I love the media, and generally agree with a lot of the things the people I’ve mentioned here write. I don’t know what I’d do in my business of choice without them. This isn’t about killing all journalism. It’s about fixing it.

The media has had several great failings in the 21st Century, with the Iraq War and 2016 Election standing out, but one could also include the run-up to the 2008 Market Crash. In each of their cases, they failed to pressure the main actors nearly enough, and ultimately the public didn’t even see the negative outcome coming. The words of Elizabeth and Maggie suggest that accountability is still something they’d rather avoid. The problem is that journalism is a really, really important field. The only way to have an “informed” public is for them to read the whole story. That might mean sacrificing some objectivity between “both sides,” or making a subject uncomfortable, or even losing some “access” that the powerful grant them.

The most revealing thing in Donald Trump’s New York Times interview this week was his statements saying the media needs him to win again. He probably believes that, and to be honest, I’m not sure he’s wrong, from the media’s perspective. His nonsensical babbling will continue to be treated as coherent and of some value, he won’t be pushed for the details on his vague policy and harmful statements, and his lies will be debated, as though they are not objectively lies. Why? Because it gets reads. When some of us challenge their unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton and other, actually competent politicians, they will circle the wagons around their colleagues and defend their poor performance. They will not look themselves in the mirror, and accept accountability. At least not the voices at the top echelon of the media. This is one part of why we’re in this mess. This is one really important thing that we have to push back on in 2018.

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