February 7, 2017

THE FAKE NEWS PROBLEM, THEN AND NOW: At Tablet, James Kirchick explains “Why the left is also responsible for the proliferation of inaccurate information—and why the big beneficiary is Donald Trump:”

Now that Trump is in the White House, much of the media feels uninhibited in their campaign to destroy him, seeing the unprecedented nature of his presidency as license to get away with anything. Take Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor of The New York Times. Since he was targeted by pro-Trump, anti-Semitic Twitter trolls last summer, Weisman—a man who is supposed to at least feign objectivity—has completely dropped any pretense of political independence. His own Twitter feed—like the feeds of a growing number of Times reporters—is a constant stream of anti-Trump invective indistinguishable from committed anti-Trump pundits like myself.

Why do I hold myself and Jonathan Weisman to such wildly differing standards? Because my job is to opine and provoke. His job is to accurately report on events, so that I know that the things I am reacting to are real, rather than the products of angry mass hallucinations or partisan messaging campaigns. By publicly refusing to do his job, he makes my job (and all our jobs as engaged citizens) much harder because I can’t reasonably trust that what I read in The New York Times is factual or based on good sourcing. Who in their right mind inside the Trump administration would talk to The New York Times, except to mislead the paper’s reporters and editors, by spinning them up or sending them off on wild goose chases that serve the administration’s own aims? How can I trust that what I read in the paper’s news columns isn’t hopelessly distorted by the angry bias evident in the social-media feeds of the paper’s editors and reporters? Much of the reporting on the Trump administration thus far seems to be so poorly sourced, riddled with caricature and negative wishful thinking as to be actively misleading, for all intents and purposes “fake news.” The beneficiary of the resulting confusion and hysteria is not The New York Times or its readers. It’s Donald Trump.

But Kirchick’s take doesn’t feel all that far removed from how left-leaning media critic Jack Shafer, then with the Washington Post-owned Slate described the state of the MSM in May of 2008, with an assist from the since-deceased Michael Crichton:

In 1993, novelist Michael Crichton riled the news business with a Wired magazine essay titled “Mediasaurus,” in which he prophesied the death of the mass media—specifically the New York Times and the commercial networks. “Vanished, without a trace,” he wrote.

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“[T]he American media produce a product of very poor quality,” he lectured. “Its information is not reliable, it has too much chrome and glitz, its doors rattle, it breaks down almost immediately, and it’s sold without warranty. It’s flashy but it’s basically junk.”

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As we pass his prediction’s 15-year anniversary, I’ve got to declare advantage Crichton. Rot afflicts the newspaper industry, which is shedding staff, circulation, and revenues. It’s gotten so bad in newspaperville that some people want Google to buy the Times and run it as a charity! Evening news viewership continues to evaporate, and while the mass media aren’t going extinct tomorrow, Crichton’s original observations about the media future now ring more true than false. Ask any journalist.

That was nearly decade ago, building on an article that Crichton wrote a quarter century ago. And yet things have only gotten exponentially worse for the media in the years since, passing through their quasi-religious hagiography of the Obama era along the way. Just think of the MSM as Democrat party operatives with bylines, and it all makes sense.

UPDATE: Mark Hemingway on “The Problem of Two Unreliable Narrators: Trump Versus the Media — When both the person in power and his critics are both perceived as lacking credibility, the person in power is likely to come out on top.”

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