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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Media mis-information detracts from quality of American public debate

If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed” – Mark Twain (or maybe it was Thomas Jefferson).

Standing around with family and friends recently the subject of media credibility arose rather suddenly, specifically in connection to the always controversial news reporting surrounding President Donald Trump. A Mark Twaincouple of those present took the standard “Trump is a big fat blowhard who spouts off on Twitter and the fact checkers said he’s lied like 7,000 times since his awful administration began.”

These doubters questioned the president’s intelligence as well as his veracity. If you’re out somewhere and the talk turns to politics there’s likely some representative of this mindset present, so be prepared.

On the other side were Trump’s defenders who sided more with the longtime real estate billionaire’s eternally antagonistic view of the Fourth Estate, citing the proven bias of the reporting class and the selfish and greedy interests of major network heads attempting to attract readership and viewership by bashing the president as relentlessly and consistently as possible. It’s no secret the Trump-haters are drawn to negative stories on the current White House occupant like insects to a blue light on a summer evening – offer to feed ‘em and they will come.

Courtesy of the good (?) folks at MSNBC, the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN and virtually every other mainstream establishment news provider the negative anti-Trump slime isn’t hard to find, either. If you can’t get your fill of Trump-hate sludge in the traditional way then ratings-driven comedian smear jockeys Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert will be more than happy to besmirch all things Trump after hours on network TV.

It’s evident no one’s ever going to win this argument – whether Trump is the real demon or it’s the “fake” news folks telling the stories and Trump just feeds off their incompetence and partiality to further his own reputation. How is the public to cut through all the nonsense?

Joe Concha wrote last week at The Hill, “For those calling on Trump to tone down the rhetoric, don't expect that to ever happen. For him, this is sentiment half-based on emotion on the negative coverage itself and half based on political calculation. ‘Enemy of the people’ is overplaying the hand by a factor of 10, but that's always who Trump has been in terms of hyperbole and absolutes dominating his rhetoric. ‘Enemy of my administration’ would be more accurate.

“On the other side is the media. Many dismiss or ignore polls showing an overwhelming bias against Trump. To acknowledge these findings would step on their own narrative...

“In the stands watching all of this unfold is the American news consumer. Yes, the hardcore partisans on both sides seem to enjoy the food-fight, despite it becoming so repetitive and almost tedious at this point. But many in the middle — largely apolitical — are the ones losing big-time here.”

Concha certainly has a point though a question should at least be posed: exactly who is in the apolitical middle anymore? With polls consistently showing President Trump’s approval ratings holding steady (or perhaps ticking up slightly) and around nine in ten Republicans supporting him, the anti-Trump media doesn’t appear to be making much headway in convincing conservative Americans that the outsider president is the plague and he needs to be quarantined (through a Democrat Congress) or locked in a shed and fumigated.

Likewise when less than one in ten Democrats approves of Trump the feelings are just as strong on the other side. The president’s constant tirades against the media aren’t hitting home with this group either, and no matter how many strong economic reports are released or foreign policy successes announced the haters are more interested in hearing about things like Don Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting with a Russian nobody than the latest hot job market figures showing how employers can’t find enough bodies to man their businesses.

For those of us who consume a lot of news on a daily basis we instinctively understand where to go to find whichever point-of-view we’re seeking. For a liberal slant you can check just about any establishment-oriented source and discover something of value; for the #NeverTrump angle there are goldmines as well – just hunt for the latest rants from George Will, Max Boot or Bill Kristol and you’ll likely strike pay dirt. Likewise, conservatives can turn to The American Spectator, PJ Media or and there’s typically great commentary and news reporting from the right perspective.

Talk radio is another terrific source of industry assessment with the always reliable Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin (among others) poring over the latest themes and providing their unique take on the happenings. Here in the DC area Larry O’Connor’s afternoon drivetime show has always got something interesting to say (as does Chris Plante’s morning show) and it isn’t singularly focused on politics.

In other words, perhaps the hysteria concerning Trump’s “war on the media” is overstated. The average apolitical person really isn’t all that burdened by the back-and-forth “food fight” (as Concha called it above). In today’s world there are plentiful media alternatives to choose from – if you try hard enough you may never come across anything of substance. Ask today’s teens about how to bypass the responsible intellectual chatter, for example, and they’ll direct you to a billion different thought-free outlets – games, chat rooms on virtually every subject, etc…

Face it, there’s a mass of people out there who know more about the British royal family or Kim Kardashian’s love life than they do the inner-workings of American government. Sad but true.

If you truly desire you won’t have to think about anything in today’s world – and judging by the level of ignorance in the country it’s obvious a lot of people take advantage of the opportunity.

Even regular members of the media are confused as to who believes what. Jonah Goldberg of National Review is a well-known #NeverTrumper, but he was recently “accused” of being a rubber-stamp ally of Trump’s by liberal political dimwit Stephen Colbert (referenced above). Goldberg wrote last week, “I think it’s fair to say, literally, that no one who knows much about me and my political stances these days would call me an ally of Trump’s.

“And that’s okay. If all you knew about me was that I was a conservative columnist and a Fox News contributor, you might think it safe to call me a Trump ally. I don’t want to make some Ron Burgundy–like argument about how I’m a really big deal and that Colbert and the writers of The Late Show should know who I am.

“Still, given how invested Colbert has become in being a very serious, very liberal politics guy, you’d think someone on his team might have seen me on, say, The Daily Show, Morning Joe, or heard me on NPR or CBS’s own Sunday show, Face the Nation. Maybe his showrunner might remember a long talk we once had in NYC. Maybe one of the writers who follow me on Twitter recalled my somewhat frayed relationship with the president?”

You would think, wouldn’t you? For a liberal late night TV host to accuse Goldberg of being in the tank for Trump is akin to assuming the current president is a warmongering neoconservative interventionist (like John McCain) just because he’s a Republican and sought the party’s presidential nomination in 2016. As would be expected, the “outsider” Trump defied convention.

Translation: there’s no such thing as guilt-by-association when it comes to Trump, either in the commenting class or with the man himself. In the post-Reagan years, the Republican party became known for its aggressive deployment of American military power to further “democracy” around the world. According to Wikipedia, the so-called “Bush Doctrine” was “used to describe specific policy elements, including a strategy of ‘preemptive strikes’ as a defense against an immediate or perceived future threat to the security of the United States. This policy principle was applied particularly in the Middle East to counter international terrorist organizations and to justify the invasion of Iraq.”

Trump rejected the notion from the start; not only did he put distance between himself and the GOP establishment’s long-time hardline “democracy everywhere” approach, he rejected it outright, savaging poor Jeb Bush (for being inexorably linked to his brother’s foreign policy failures) during debates. Trump’s was a daring and successful political strategy but it required the media to do its work in reporting the differences in attitudes between the candidates.

Only in the Democrat party can you assume everyone believes the same thing. The absence of distinction is now the minority party’s calling card. Sad.

These days Trump has changed what it means to be a Republican and the media lags behind in appreciating the evolution. Reporters (and lay people alike) still claim the GOP is the party of greed-filled money interests and rich people when statistics show corporate heads love the swampy marriage of big government and big business a lot more -- because it fixes the rules of the game in their favor. A majority of big business mavens (and Wall Street contributors) are Democrats – shouldn’t the media be pointing this out?

Intelligent political conversations with people off the street are extremely difficult to find because there’s so much issue illiteracy fanned by a media that’s more intent on getting at and bringing down Trump than they are in presenting the dispassionate facts. Under Trump the Republican Party has become the new home of the hard-working union class, people who just want the nation’s trade laws to be fair and provide them a chance to compete with the world.

They’re often labeled “Reagan Democrats” and have proven crucial to every national Republican campaign since The Gipper’s time.

Contrary to the media’s depiction of them these “forgotten Americans” don’t engage in class envy. And sorry, Hillary Clinton, they’re not “deplorable” racists, sexists, homophobes and xenophobes. These good folks just don’t want the system stacked against them in order to protect a class of people (such as illegal immigrants or transgenders) who seek to change the entire culture to fit the needs of a token few.

If you read a mainstream establishment newspaper or watch a liberal cable show you’d get the impression everyone who isn’t a Democrat is a bigot – including the president himself. Again, going back to what Twain (allegedly) said, “If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed.

Because of their inherent liberal bias journalists take a set of would-be objective facts and twist them around to fit their point-of-view. Some might even say they’re “creative” in the process. Wesley Pruden wrote at The Washington Times, “The president’s detractors compete to be the first to describe how he finally comes a cropper, with his carcass nailed to the barn door by Robert Mueller, who was commissioned to find the evidence of collusion with the Russians. Everybody knows the evidence is so abundant a child could find it.

“But Mr. Mueller apparently can’t. After two years of grunting, huffing, puffing and blowing through the top of his head, like a great white whale, he only has evidence that the president’s onetime campaign manager is guilty of being a lawyer.

“This has enabled many distinguished newspaper pundits, columnists, correspondents and other artists to keep dispatching learned assurances that the proof is finally at hand, almost. Maybe. We’ve come to so many turning points in the Mueller inquiry that the customers are spinning like yokels lured into playing Three Card Monte at the county fair.”

The substance-free Mueller investigation is only one iteration of the phenomenon of media mis-information. Plenty of evidence exists that the entire notion of Russian collusion into the 2016 election was a grand figment of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s and Obama deep state’s imaginations. Together with their willing enablers in the establishment media the tale of Russians cooking the final results has gained a foothold on Americans’ psyche, so much so that every Trump adversary can’t help but mention “Mueller” when the topic turns to politics.

How are Trump supporters supposed to answer for something that isn’t real? Can you explain unicorns to a doubter? How about the tooth fairy?

Mark Twain was right – without a competent media you aren’t informed, but if you pay too much attention to the wrong sources, you’re mis-informed. We can’t necessarily control what we read but there is leeway to choose what to believe. Remember this the next time talk turns to politics.

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