I get the objective pose in journalism, and it makes sense in a lot of contexts, but in political coverage it is inconsistently applied and, for normal people, completely inverted. It’s okay to express outrage that someone said something mean about John McCain. It’s “political” and “taking sides” to give a shit about brown kids being kidnapped from their parents. It would not be “taking sides” to give a shit if white kids were being kidnapped from their DC private schools. In other parts of journalism, the question of what to emphasize can be divorced from ideological leanings, but in political coverage it just can’t be. It is everything.
Which is the question of escalation. It’s a three-day crisis when a comedian kinda-sorta insults Sarah Huckabee Sanders, but call Hillary Clinton a “bull dyke” (as Roger Stone did) and not only will no one raise an eyebrow, you might even get invited on CNN as an expert source! Only some things get escalated to all-day-speculation-and-chatter status.
Only some things are worth examining or arguing about, and raising to the level of discussion that everybody and their hairdresser can have an opinion about it.
I sat at a table recently listening to someone very seriously make the argument that Democrats — currently our last best hope for keeping many people alive — just needed to “find a voice” that could “rise above the chaos” and somehow magically capture media attention, as if what gets made into a weeklong story is a matter of merit. As if, if the work is good enough, it will magically find its audience. As if none of this is true:
And built into most of the reporting are certain assumptions that at best make no sense and at worst are, themselves, highly ideological. Bipartisanship is good, even though usually the worst things in DC happen under the cover of bipartisanship. Deficits are bad, unless caused by tax cuts. Poor people get “welfare” and rich people get “incentives.” There is no racism, there are just things that are “racially charged.” The only poor people in America are white people in coal country. Black people don’t exist in the South or, really, anywhere. Cops are good. The military is unquestionably good. Republican style patriotism is good.
We have deeply lazy, stupid people in charge of our public discourse, and they will twist themselves into knots rather than admit something counter to their narrative does in fact exist. Maggie Haberman’s all over Twitter yelling that the word “lie” doesn’t matter and Politico’s “analysts” are calling Trump’s goat rodeo in North Korea some kind of secret brilliance and it’s all to avoid having to do things differently. We act like there are rules stopping us from doing or saying anything.
There aren’t any rules. At least, none that we didn’t make up, and can un-make.