Tuesday, July 09, 2024

The Double Standard in Trump-Biden Coverage

A piece in The Atlantic looks at an issue that drives me to distraction, namely the double standard the medial using against Trump and Biden and, in a larger sense so many of the lies disseminated by Trump, his minions, and so many Republican elected officials. While the piece recognizes the problem, of this double standard, it remains far too apologetic for the media's failure, to stop treating Trump and GOP crazies - think the North Carolina GOP gubernatorial nominee - as if they are normal and within the bounds of what used to be normal politics. I am not hopeful that many in the media will see that they are aiding in the destruction of America's democracy through their double standard, wanting to depict everything as a horse race and failure to fact check and expose Trump and GOP lies. If American democracy ends in November, much of the press will be responsible for failing to take on and expose fascism.  Here are column highlights: 

After President Joe Biden’s disastrous recent public appearances, he and his supporters are attacking media outlets for a double standard in coverage of him and his opponent. They’re right, but that double standard is structural and, unfortunately, will not end during this campaign.

Biden released a letter he sent to his Democratic colleagues, in which he threw punches in multiple directions at those suggesting that he step down: “press,” “pundits,” “big donors,” and a “selected group of individuals.”

The president’s crisis is of his own making. Biden is clearly no longer up to any kind of prolonged extemporizing, but his campaign gambled first on a debate and then on a hastily arranged interview, both of which went badly. Many of Biden’s supporters are blaming members of the media for a pile-on of negative coverage, but there is no planet on which Biden’s behavior isn’t a major and continuing news story.

But critics of recent media coverage of Biden are dead right about one thing: Many outlets have for years been employing a significant double standard in covering Biden and his opponent, Donald Trump. When Biden stumbles over words, we question his state of mind; when Trump acts like a deranged street preacher, it’s … well, Tuesday. If Biden had suggested setting up migrants in a fight club, he’d be out of the race already; Trump does it, and the country (as well as many in the media) shrugs.

The structural issue is that in an open society, almost all views may be expressed in the public square—even outright falsehoods. This principle of liberal democracy leaves Trump free to lie and propagandize, which he and his footmen do confidently and effortlessly. These tactics have been highly effective among a GOP base whose senses have been pounded into numbness by relentless propaganda, a daily barrage of Bullshit Artillery that leaves a smoking, pockmarked no-man’s-land in the mind of almost anyone subjected to it for long enough.

Media outlets cannot counter this by responding with a similar “truth barrage,” in part because there are simply not enough hours in the day. But it is also inaccurate to say that media outlets have not recently tried to cover Trump’s bizarre behavior. The NYU professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, who regularly warns about Trump’s fascistic plans, posted in frustration yesterday that the top stories in several national publications were all about Biden, and not about “Trump and Epstein, Trump and Putin, Trump telling us to inject bleach, Trump wanting to deport up to 20 million.”

The real double-standard problem is not about coverage, but about interpretation. This is not “bias” in the political sense. It is, as Atlantic editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg put it, a bias toward coherence, the inability to accept—and say—that one of the presidential campaigns is completely bonkers. “Trump overwhelms us with nonsense,” Jeff notes, and so, when confronted with Trump’s obvious mental instability, we work backwards: “Trump sounds nuts, but he can’t be nuts, because he’s the presumptive nominee for president of a major party, and no major party would nominate someone who is nuts.”

The result of this bias is that the press too often continues to present what should be appalling, even horrifying information as if it is just part of the normal give-and-take of a political campaign: Trump goes to Las Vegas and rants about sharks, and the press, likely trying to appear unbiased, instead pulls out a dull nugget about Trump’s mention of not taxing tips. Trump vows to destroy the American civil service, and the headlines talk about his “plans to increase presidential power.”

Why? Because it is not in the American journalistic tradition to say: Today in Las Vegas, one of the two major candidates said things so rabidly toxic and incoherent that they raised doubts about his sanity.

Media outlets should stop embracing the bias toward coherence; this is now a struggle between a free press and a would-be dictator. But people cannot expect journalists to provide a daily flood of truths about Trump—and they are sorely needed—while also ignoring grave questions about Biden’s presidential fitness. A free and honest press committed to the truth doesn’t work that way.

Trump’s allies would love for major news outlets to call on him to drop out: They’d reprint it and fundraise off it. Instead, the media should report on Trump’s behavior and emphasize that American candidates—and normal people—do not refer to their fellow citizens as “vermin” or muse about having them prosecuted by military tribunals. A steady recounting of Trump’s ravings and his hideous plans is important—not because it is political, but because it is true, and the public needs to know about all of it.

Setting up a defensive perimeter around Biden won’t change the fact that Trump stands at the head of a cult completely sealed in its own information bubble. Americans, including those who work in the media, can walk and chew gum; we can see that Biden’s campaign is in crisis and also recognize that Trump is a dangerous autocrat. Many Americans are sophisticated enough to discuss multiple worrisome issues, but a fair number refuse to pay attention to politics at all. . . . They are especially not interested in abstract debates over fascism. I remain convinced, however, that seeing a fascist every day, along with a reminder that this is not the American way, will have an effect on them. Indeed, understanding that Trump is an unhinged menace is what makes Biden’s future such a crucial story for all of us.

1 comment:

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

You know who absolutely shocked me? Jon Stewart. He's basically Bill Maher now. So disappointed!
He's both-siding this shit and it's not pretty.