Penis Size, Golden Showers and the Sorry State of American Journalism

You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media is the opposition party.”

Stephen Bannon is right.

Sadly, he may even be right in the second part of his now-famous quote to the New York Times, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while now.”

I hate writing these words. I am not a Trump supporter. I disagree with much of his social policies. As a journalist I have written and contributed to many mainstream media outlets, however, it is my job to report facts. And the facts are clear: much of mainstream journalism has failed.

This week, many of my colleagues are delivering media sermons full outrage and pomposity about Trump and his relationship with journalists. However, let us examine the truth.

Lets start our analysis with the concept of “fake news”. It is a popular liberal cliché. Sadly, it is based on two utterly spurious assumptions.

The first is that the “fake news” phenomenon is something new. You have read all the articles, “We’re a unique generation. We’ve got the Internet. Fake news is just click-bait of a kind the world has never seen before.” Nonsense. Fake news is as old as journalism itself.

Two-headed Calves

In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg developed the first printing press of the western world. The orthodox history reports that Europe was immediately flooded with copies of the bible and stern missives written by worthy chaps like Martin Luther thereby kicking off the Protestant Reformation and several hundred years of bloody wars.

Actually much of the first generation of the printed press was either pornography (like the first generation of the Internet) or pamphlets written combining an odd mixture of astrology, sensationalism and current events. These pamphlets were written in simple language and were accompanied by illustrated wood-cut drawings: think National Enquirer meets Nostradamus. One publication about the birth of a two-headed calf, which the author said was a sign of the coming Apocalypse, had a greater short-term effect on the population of the Rhineland then many of Luther’s early writings.

The second assumption about “fake news” is that the people who believe it are generally Donald Trump voters. The underlying idea is that there are two types of people in society – the first group are intelligent, sensible people who obviously loathe Trump; the second class are a bunch of uneducated thickos, so stupid that they do not realize their own self-interest or the difference between “real” and “fake” news and therefore should be protected by censoring Facebook and other social media sites.

The problem with this undemocratic nonsense is that most of my journalistic colleagues have failed to provide “real news”. This has never been more apparent then in their coverage of Donald Trump’s political career.

The Joke Candidate

In June 2015, when Trump announced his presidential candidacy the mainstream denounced him as a joke. Trump, they predicted, would have a brief moment of popularity and then fade as the serious politicians overtook him.

When that did not happen, many journalists began to denounce Trump’s orange skin – then his hair-style. (Imagine the justified outrage if any journalist had made similar ad hominem attacks against a female politician). When those stories did not diminish Trump’s popularity, journalists began to attack Trump’s penis size, with their coy “size of hands” stories. Two weeks ago, some of my colleagues even began running stories saying that Trump enjoying being urinated on by Russian prostitutes.

For the few readers who missed those salacious details: this is what those “journalists” did: they took a report commissioned by the Democratic party to dig up dirt on Trump. Then the Democrats realizing that they could not publicly attack Trump in this manner leaked the report to the media. Most media outlets chose not to release such an obviously biased story. However, when Buzzfeed did so (a media outlet that regularly declaims against “fake news”) the mainstream picked up the story and got around the issue of doing our job – verifying the truth – by staging fake, ethical debates like “Should we report stories like this? You be the judge.”

Never has the media treated any political candidate in such a profoundly unfair way. Some of this slanted, vituperative coverage was not an accident. In the controversy around the purported Russian hacking of the Democrats were emails detailing the collusion between senior party leaders and mainstream journalists they knew to be on their side. Some of these same journalists are now attacking Trump and his people.

Throughout this time tens-of-millions of people did something that many journalists seemed incapable of doing: they listened to Trump’s policies and found them so different and original that they made the choice to support him.

American Carnage

Many voters chose Trump for a very specific reason. That this reason is mystifying to anyone is the largest failure of mainstream journalism of our generation.

For too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation… This American carnage stops right here and right now.”

The reason why so many people chose to support Trump is because these words from his inauguration speech are correct: wide swathes of the Western world have been devastated by globalized trade. There is widespread unemployment, massive levels of debt and our young parent cannot even begin to hope for jobs as well-paying as their parents. Most Trump supporters voted for him not because they are stupid or racist or because they do not understand Trump’s many character failings but because he was the one candidate who best spoke to their issues.

Journalism has, generally, avoided stories about ordinary people and the difficulties of their lives. Instead the media has preferred a kind of inside-the-imperial-court tittle-tattle. Politics has been treated as a sports story rather than any analysis of the effects on society.

The problem is that now Trump and his people are saying incorrect or false things – we journalists, as a profession have lost our credibility. Many voters, seeing how wrong journalists were about Trump the candidate, will not believe the truth about Trump the President. Sadly, it might be the time for journalists to heed Bannon’s words. It might be time for journalists to start listening to people and start reporting the important stories of our time.

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10 thoughts on “Penis Size, Golden Showers and the Sorry State of American Journalism”

  1. Ian Bell says:

    Sadly, you are right. The flip side that I would argue is that Trump has not earned any credibility either. He has not released his tax returns, his cabinet consists of older white men for the most part who are millionaires and certainly have not suffered in the global economy, nor for that matter has Trump. He is the elite he ran against, as is his government. To quote Gary Newman,’the faces are different but the voice is the same…’

  2. Melissa Metzger says:

    This blog post describes the problems with common “mainstream” media more accurately than some of the ideas in your last post, but I do like to bring additions to some of your thoughts. You say there would be total outrage if a female politician was scrutinized over hair, skin color, clothes, etc. Um, that is all females are ever hyper focused on. I suggest everyone watch the documentary Miss Representation. The later half focuses on female politicians and how differently they are treated than male politicians. Oddly, this last presidential race the men were treated more like the women and there was some backlash, though very little toward how Clinton was treated about her looks. My wish is media would not do it at all, but the owners think that is how they achieve profit.

    Secondly, people are focusing on globalized trade as the “American Carnage” that has happened to the middle class and lower class. But few people are talking about technology and the new industrialized age. Even if we had different or less globalized trade, you would still see employment problems in the areas we see it now because of technology. I heard an interview recently with a foreman of a closed factory. He pointed out that even if the factor reopened not even half of the employees could be hired because of technological developments. That has nothing to do with trade.

  3. Declan Hill says:

    Hi Melissa,

    Fair point on representation of women in politics. It is, frequently, focused on their clothes, appearance, etc, rather than their policies. What was surprising about my colleagues treatment of Trump was that many progressive, left-wing media people did the same thing to him that they would deplore if it were done against a candidate they supported. As for your point about technology. I agree. Yet at least Trump’s candidacy began a conversation about widespread unemployment that has, largely (there are exceptions), been ignored by journalists.

    Declan

  4. Declan Hill says:

    Thanks, Leslie. Much appreciated.

    Another point that is being missed by the media is the importance of the fight over the inauguration crowd. Among the mainstream people – NY Times, CNN, BBC etc – it is portrayed as a question of Trump’s ego, again with coy references to the “size” of his etc, etc… To the Fox crowd it is usual mainstream bias against our man, etc.

    The issue is actually existential for Trump’s presidency and very much worth them fighting. For much of the media is intent on portraying him as a DOA (Dead on Arrival) President. A man so deeply unpopular upon entering the White House that he is not worth supporting. If enough of Congress believe this message he will not be able to get the majority of his legislation passed. Therefore the Trump people have to fight and hard the stories of low opinion polls, an inadequate inauguration, popular vote, etc…

    The real trouble is that there is a massive social and political revolution going on across the western world. It has been disgracefully reported by a biased media on either side. We journalists need to do better.

  5. Anne Mallett says:

    Thoughtful writing, as always, Declan. You are the BEST!

  6. Declan Hill says:

    Dear Anne. Great stuff. Thank you. Stay tuned for the article on how to turn the left-wing around. They are in danger of complete extermination and we need a balanced political landscape. Cheers, Declan

  7. oliver marks says:

    Declan, I think these two articles are fair, accurate, and perceptive and I agree with pretty much everything here, especially about the corporate media’s fade form credibility and relevance. I’d include most state broadcasting apparatus (such as the BBC) in this also.

    The worry with Trump is that he is arguably a puppet who is installed to say whatever it takes to get into power. Going back to Reagan and forward the Republicans have always been eloquent, aspirational and visionary on the election trail but once elected tend to to talk contradictory drivel so no one has any idea what they are doing. The two Bushes are more recent examples of this.

    There seems to be open war between the now omnipotent unelected US military/industrial/security ‘deep state’ and the Trump faction. Adelson and other Trump backers appear to be mob figures, and it’s very unclear to me what Trump is doing, especially given his Morgan Stanley government, a direct contradiction of his stated aims. Trump has been clever in promising massive funding to the armed forces, so they have his back and who may not like the alphabet soup security agencies whose surveillance is now far beyond anything the STASI could very dream of.

    To be continued, thanks for a great site and writing.

  8. oliver marks says:

    Substitute Goldman Sachs for Morgan Stanley above…

  9. Declan Hill says:

    Hi Oliver,

    Agree completely with you. Sad part is the left/progressive parties have lost their ability to think clearly. They have had their song sheet stolen by Trump and are too busy on issues that have no relevance for their votes. So they focus on bathrooms for transgender people, rather than jobs.

    Declan

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