Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
For years, reporters were content to obscure their ideological dogmas and partisan goals behind the pretense of objectivity and detachment. Though the Washington Post, New York Times, and CNN practiced combat journalism against conservatives and Republicans, they did so while aspiring to professional standards of facticity and fairness, and applying, every now and then, scrutiny to liberals and Democrats worthy of investigation.
Donald Trump changed that, of course. He is so unusual a figure, and his behavior so outlandish, that his rise precipitated a crisis in a profession already decimated by the collapse of print circulation and advertising dollars. The forces that brought Trump to power are alien to the experience of the men and women who populate newsrooms, his supporters unlike their colleagues, friends, and neighbors, his agenda anathema to the catechism of social liberalism, his career and business empire complex and murky and sensational. Little surprise that journalists reacted to his election with a combination of panic, fear, disgust, fascination, exhilaration, and the self-affirming belief that they remain the last line of defense against an emerging American autocracy. Who has time for dispassionate analysis, for methodical research and reporting, when the president's very being is an assault on one's conception of self, when nothing less than the future of the country is at stake? Especially when the depletion of veteran editors, the relative youth and inexperience of political and congressional reporters, and the proliferation of social media, with its hot takes and quips, its groupthink and instant gratification, makes the transition from inquiry to indignation all too easy.
There is still excellent journalism. I would point, for starters, to the work on charter flights that led to the resignation of Tom Price. But the overall tone of coverage of this president and his administration is somewhere between the hysterical and the lunatic. Journalists are trapped in a condition of perpetual outrage, seizing on every rumor of discontent and disagreement, reflexively denouncing Trump's every utterance and action, unable to distinguish between genuinely unusual behavior (the firing of Comey, the tenure of Anthony Scaramucci, the "fine people on both sides" quip after Charlottesville) and the elements of Trump's personality and program that voters have already, so to speak, "priced in." Supposedly authoritative news organizations have in one case taken up bizarre mottoes, like "Democracy Dies In Darkness," and in another acted passive-aggressively by filing Trump stories under "entertainment," only to re-categorize the material as news with the disclaimer (since dropped) that Trump is "a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, and birther." The mode of knee-jerk disgust not only prevents the mainstream media from distinguishing between the genuinely interesting stories and the false, partisan, and hackwork ones. It also has had the effect of further marginalizing print and broadcast journalists from middle America.
The other day, for example, Bob Schieffer observed on Face the Nation that one in five journalists live in New York, D.C., or Los Angeles. The news is manufactured by residents of the liberal bubble, where conservatives are few and far between (and certainly do not sound like Sarah Palin), jobs are plenty, education is high, and the benefits of globalization manifest in cheap prices, exotic restaurants, and a reserve labor force of cleaners, contractors, and home care specialists. Can't say I was shocked when Schieffer's finding passed barely noticed, the consciences of the press untroubled by the fact that their experiences and backgrounds are so unlike the majority of the public whose interest they presume to uphold.
Source: Town Hall