There’s truth here, up to a point. I don’t think “the fight” between Trump and the media crowds out attention to his policies, as Stewart implies. If it did, family separation at the border would still be happening, to take but one example. Another: CNN has managed to squeeze in a few thousand hours of Russiagate coverage amid the nightly indignant emoting by Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon.
President Trump has been able to appeal to journalists’ “own narcissism” by attacking them, says Jon Stewart. “They take it personally, and now he’s changed the conversation to, not that his policies are silly or not working … it’s all about the fight.” pic.twitter.com/2N3V5NqZ6Q
— Christiane Amanpour (@camanpour) October 30, 2018
The element of truth in that is that media narcissism is an often overlooked but important component to why people distrust them. Righties like me are forever complaining about ideological bias, which of course exists, but it’s so well known by now as to be banal. (Almost banal. There are still startling examples that need to be flagged.) Less noticed is how their own self-importance grates on a visceral level. I offer you the example of Jim Acosta. Although he’s plainly a liberal, would anyone bet that he’s further left than Chris Hayes or Rachel Maddow, say? And yet Acosta occupies 10 times as much space in the right-wing imagination as Hayes or Maddow does. Why? Why would he annoy Republicans more than ardent left-wing ideologues do?
Because he’s a smug, preening dillweed, that’s why.
It’s not that he’s “less honest” about his bias than Hayes or Maddow is, which is the normal reason cited by people like me for finding him more objectionable than MSNBCers. He’s not meaningfully less honest; we’re all able to glean what his partisan preferences are from the way he’s framed his questions about policy. It’s his self-congratulatory vanity that’s bothersome. One smaller example of the same thing that jumps to mind is the Washington Post adopting “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as its motto. They did that within a month of Trump taking office, as evidently there wasn’t sufficient risk of democracy dying in darkness during the Obama era despite O’s famous penchant for secrecy and willingness to send the DOJ after reporters to find leakers. But their partisanship aside, it’s the narcissism of the motto that’s irksome. Trump is here to turn off the lights on democracy, apparently, but a band of heroes rises…
Here’s another small example from right around the same time that righties still snicker at:
i rolled my eyes so hard i broke them. i am now blind. pic.twitter.com/92odmJ8ddj
— T. Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) February 16, 2017
America’s heroic first responders: Police, fire, MSNBC reporters.
The narcissism Stewart describes isn’t just a gut-level irritation. His point, which I think is overstated, is that the media’s getting sucked into a pissing match with Trump instead of focusing on more substantive matters, which is a standard complaint among intellectuals. I’d say, though, that their narcissism damages them mainly in how it breeds distrust in consumers. To see them take such personal affront at Trump, particularly at his skepticism of their own integrity, feeds the suspicion that some significant amount of negative coverage is nothing more or less than payback. Bad enough that one would have to wade through ideological bias to get at the truth of what’s being reported, now we have to wade through butthurt too.
I might go so far as to say that that explains why Republicans are far more venomous towards CNN than they are to MSNBC. It’s the Acosta/Maddow dynamic writ large. With MSNBC you only need control for ideology in interpreting their programming; with CNN you need to control for ideology and the anchors’ sermonizing self-regard for their own profession. Maybe they shouldn’t be faulted for that since Trump himself almost always singles out CNN in his media-bashing. He picked the fight and now they’re just defending themselves. But it is a fight, as Stewart says, and the fight dynamic infuses everything they do, which makes them that much harder to trust. It’s ironic that Stewart would end up making his point on, of all places, CNN’s airwaves.