There’s a distinct shift in the winds of mainstream media operations taking place right now, but it’s not the one many of us might have hoped for. We’re closing out a period of eight years where deference to the White House, respect for the office even if you disagree with the occupant and a general sense of traditional propriety were the watchwords of the major newspapers and television networks. Even if you took issue with some of Barack Obama’s policies, the important and oh so very historic nature of his presidency demanded a certain level of dignity in the discussion. Failing to do so immediately branded one a racist in the eyes of the media machinery.
If you were watching the disparity in the amount and type of coverage that the two candidates in the presidential campaign received (Trump’s was 91% negative in the final weeks), you already had a clue as to how these attitudes would be shifting on the afternoon of January 20th. Now, with a few days remaining, reporters and editorial boards are already firing the first warning shots and revealing what the new paradigm will look like. For our first example I would point to a column published yesterday by the WaPo’s Dave Weigel dealing with the fallout from the ongoing battle between the President Elect and Congressman John Lewis.
You will recall – and Weigel reminds you frequently himself – that any discussion of birtherism was out of bounds because it could easily be portrayed as trying to undermine the legitimacy of the President. (A fair point, as I think most of us would agree.) So what happened when Lewis took the more direct approach of flatly stating that the next president is illegitimate? Hey, folks… the Democrats are just doing what works. (Emphasis added)
It’s true that few Democrats will embrace Lewis’s insult of Trump. It’s just as true that media gatekeepers will define it as out of line, and fringy, to say that Trump is not a legitimate president. But Lewis’s line is exactly the sort of thing that distracted and enraged Democrats, and the same media gatekeepers, when it was directed against Obama. I’m not making an equivalence between the racist birther conspiracy and the “legitimate” jab — I’m just saying that many Democrats, Lewis included, appeared to learn from 2016 that explosive rhetoric that drives the other party to distraction is its own reward…
Trump, who will soon be etched in history books alongside George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, has not given up his habit of Twitter-fighting with people who are mean to him. Democrats have figured out that a #ThisIsNotNormal hashtag is not the way to respond. Their antidote is the New Rudeness.
That’s a lovely phrase, isn’t it? The New Rudeness. And it’s suddenly completely acceptable so long as you “keep it on the down low,” as the kids these days are wont to say. This is far from the only example however. Take a gander at this doozy from Dana Milbank yesterday. He’s talking about a Kellyanne Conway interview with Anderson Cooper where she highlights the fact that Trump “got no respect.” (A comment which Milbank writes off with a Rodney Dangerfield quip.) Does the author disagree? Hardly. But he does at least have an explanation for why this is.
Conway raises a fair question: Why hasn’t the president-elect been given more respect?
Here’s a fair answer: He hasn’t earned any.
To Trump’s many self-assigned superlatives, he can now add another: the sorest winner. With charity for none and with malice toward all but his supporters, he has in the past two months set a new standard for gracelessness in victory.
There’s been an unofficial shift in the publishing guidelines at the Washington Post and other major outlets, and you’ll apparently be seeing it for at least the next four years. Back during the closing months of the campaign I wrote about the daily newsletters sent out by the WaPo to their digital subscribers. They list a summary of the most recent articles published – broken down into newsroom items and opinion columns – and during that time the contents read like a series of strategy papers issued by the most acid tongued members of the Clinton campaign. Has that changed now that we’re about to usher in the 45th President of the United States? Let’s take a look at the opinion section from one of the daily mailers which arrived this morning.
I didn’t selectively pick out a few pieces and photoshop them together. That’s the entire opinion section. Are you noticing a pattern? Trump isn’t even in office yet and virtually every square column inch is dedicated to direct attacks on him without any balance in the other direction or effort to soften the language. You can flip over to the New York Times or the website for MSNBC and find pretty much the same thing. (With a few notable exceptions.)
The days of “respect for the office” are gone. This is war, and the usual suspects are armed for bear and coming out of the gate strong. So do you still think that Trump should “put down his phone” and go back to the traditional model of letting the press filter his message and shape the conversation? If so, there may be a job waiting for you at one of these outlets.