By Tom Johnson ~
Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU, is one of America’s best-known left-wing media critics. Last weekend on his PressThink site, he delved into “the precepts and maxims I have used to understand press behavior during this long and startling campaign season.”
Rosen’s main point is that even though Donald Trump “is not a normal candidate and can’t be covered like one,” generally the media are covering him as if he were normal. Rosen (pictured) did note that recently, journalists here and there have acknowledged that Trump often “makes things up and doesn’t care if they are fact-checked and found to be lies.”
The media, contended Rosen, are used to treating Republicans and Democrats as “comparable parties with different philosophies” and haven’t adjusted to what the GOP has become:
Imagine what happens when over time the base of one party, far more than the base of the other, begins to treat the press as a hostile actor, and its own establishment as part of the rot; when it not only opposes but denies the legitimacy — and loyalty to the state — of the other side’s leader; when it prefers conspiracy theory to party-friendly narratives that at least cope with verified fact; when it is scornful of the reality that in a divided system you never get everything you want.
As Rosen put it, “asymmetry between the parties fries the circuits of the mainstream press” and has left it unable to see Trump as a product of Republican extremism and dysfunction, whereas “Hillary Clinton, for all her problems…is a conventional politician running a conventional campaign that observes the norms of American politics.” Rosen asserted that “asymmetry is in many ways the story of the 2016 campaign,” and that journalists “should have built asymmetric polarization into their mental model but it was a lot of work and ‘both sides do it’ was too comforting, too attractive.”
Then there’s each nominee’s attitude towards the media. Rosen declared that “Hillary Clinton would like to avoid the press. Trump is trying to break it.” He went on (bolding added, except in the last sentence):
When I say he’s trying to break the press, I mean the entire system that gives honest journalism a role in the republic. Trump is running against such basic notions as:
- “we need a fact-based debate or there can’t be consent of the governed;”
- “there’s a public record that cannot just be wiped away;”
- “a candidate’s position on major issues should be made clear to the voters;”
- “lying cannot become a universal principle in politics without major damage to our democracy.”
Not only is he running against such fundamentals, the continuity of which is assumed by all forms of campaign coverage, but journalists are the ones who understand best his assault on these basic principles. They’re living it every day. Of course, he’s running against them, too.
A political style that mocks the idea of a common world of facts — and gets traction with that view — is an attack on the very possibility of honest journalism…
…A candidate the likes of which we have not seen requires a type of coverage we have never seen.
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters.