"I'm as worried as anyone else about the possibility of Trump getting elected. But if it happens, it's not going to be because The New York Times allowed a few reporters to investigate the Clinton Foundation. It'll be because we're a nation of idiots, who vote the same way we choose channels: without thinking." -- Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone
I love Taibbi. He's a brilliant writer with a keen eye for bullshit and an unshakable willingness to be a colossal prick of an old school journalist when the situation demands it. I've been reading the guy since his days at the New York Press. But when he's wrong, or off-base, he tends to be very wrong and so far off-base as to be on another planet. His latest column for Rolling Stone, published yesterday, is a sterling example of what happens when he misses the mark.
The overall point he's trying to make with the piece titled "Stop Whining About 'False Balance'" is that those excoriating the political press and the way it's been tending to present both presidential candidates as equally flawed have it all wrong. According to Taibbi, it's "not just snobbish, but laughably snobbish" to assume that the media's job is to parse reality from bullshit for low-information voters -- "lesser humans," as he sarcastically calls them -- so anyone claiming this should "shut up." He also argues that the media are basically just giving people what they want because they tuned out of real news forever ago and to fight back against that is a waste because "that ship has sailed."
To some extent he's right on that second point. People have tuned out. They have made their decision and chosen Toddlers and Tiaras, as he says, over Frontline. What's amusing and kind of surprising, though, is that he doesn't seem to see how ironic that second point is considering the first. He basically says it's smug and condescending to try to make clueless people's news decisions for them, then he turns right around and essentially says that there's a whole swath of Americans who are, in fact, happily clueless. As the above quote spells out perfectly, he calls us a nation of idiots while then criticizing those who demand that journalists do their fucking jobs and try to fight back against the idiocy with fact.
Here's the reality: People do make decisions based on the media narrative. An overwhelming media narrative one way or the other can change the fortunes of a political candidate to the point where, I've come to firmly believe, that an election is no longer a horse-race; it's more like a game of musical chairs. The narratives go back and forth, with candidates' fortunes changing from one day to the next depending on whose stupid "gaffe" has captured the media's attention or who has the political wind at his or her back for the moment, and the one who wins is the one who just happens to have the positive narrative when the music stops.
And make no mistake: the political media help to create and foment that narrative. They have a hell of a lot of power depending on what they're choosing to obsess over. So, yes, if they choose to throw their weight behind reporting facts and providing the necessary context as opposed to pretending that everything is relative, that "feelings" matter more than actual reality, that every opinion has equal value -- and for fuck's sake, refusing to call a liar a liar -- then the public becomes, imagine that, well-informed. Or, at the very least, nearly inescapably inundated with the truth to the point where they have to literally stick their heads in the sand -- or just switch over to Fox News -- to avoid it.