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Pressing Issues

Legacy Media Has a Trump Fetish

If democracy dies in darkness, then why are the Washington Post and New York Times so intent on hastening its demise with their myopic focus on white GOP voters?

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You are not imagining things. We are still in a global pandemic killing hundreds of people every day, largely because of the actions or inactions of Republican politicians.

You are not hallucinating. A Republican president backed a coup against the United States and continues to tell huge crowds of followers he was right to do so and would do it again.

You didn’t make it all up. The GOP is leading a national movement to ban any book that paints fascism in a bad light, that accurately depicts slavery, genocide and exploitation as it happened. In addition to outright bans, they’re encouraging campaigns of intimidation and punishment toward teachers who do assign books about the murder of Black people and Jews, with an end goal to forbid the teaching of accurate American history altogether.

You certainly didn’t invent the outrage you, and many other Americans, feel about all of this.

You can, however, be forgiven for thinking you did. You can give yourself a pass for maybe feeling a little disoriented, given that if you follow or watch mainstream, corporate news outlets, all you’ve heard is how great people think Donald Trump is.

Yes, still. Yes, now. Yes, even after he incited his followers to attack and beat police officers on national television. Yes, after he said he wasn’t sorry and should have coup-ed harder.

Reporters and pollsters are still being sent out to find Trump supporters who back the former president’s racism, sexism, xenophobic violence, and KKK nostalgia. Legacy media is still taking the word of six unemployed coal miners who think the president alone controls the price of oil as the mood of the entire country.

They’re still representing “real America,” not as a multi-ethnic democracy free of state-mandated religion, but as a seething gated community of white Christians who feel victimized because they have to hear once a year about Hanukkah.

And they’re still pretending the GOP isn’t leading an attack against the very existence of fair journalism, voting rights, religious freedom, and the autonomy of women and basic human rights of LGBTQ people, especially trans people.

Fox News, of course, is a cesspit of this kind of propaganda, broadcasting multiple shows a day that focus on how white Americans hate Covid restrictions and believe nominating a Black woman to the Supreme Court is the worst form of racism. They regularly give their microphones over to climate deniers, vaccine skeptics, and white nationalists to spew their garbage and hawk their hate.

But what’s the excuse for the New York Times to give its influential real estate to hazy remembrances of the Jan. 6th insurrection? Showing they learned nothing from their “dapper Nazi” debacle, the Times decided to interview and publish the thoughts of those who—the forbearance!—did not smash up the Capitol or throw things at cops, but simply supported those who did.

The postmortems and prosecutions that followed that infamous day have focused largely on the violent core of the mob. But a larger group has received far less attention: the thousands who traveled to Washington at Trump’s behest to protest the results of a democratic election, the vast majority of whom did not set foot in the Capitol and have not been charged with any crime. Those who simply went home.

For these Donald Trump supporters, the next chapter of Jan. 6 is not the ashes of a disgraced insurrection, but an amorphous new movement fueled by grievances against vaccines and President Biden, and a deepened devotion to his predecessor’s lies about a stolen election.

Thank heavens we can get inside the heads of the people who still love Donald Trump! What stunning insights they have to offer, certainly nothing that’s been said in the past five years, over and over and over again, in profile after profile of the same kind of conspiracy-addled grievance-huffers who once merited an entire USA Today section.

At least that last MAGA-loving compendium was published before Trump’s election. His entire term was marked with anthropological forays into the philosophies of petty little assholes, as journalists who should know better (and most likely do) struggled to explain to their readers that a lot of this country was mean as hell and real racist on top of it.

Six in 10 Trump supporters still support Trump, CNN noted, in 2017.

Trump’s support among Trump supporters was still high in 2018, reported Vox.

In 2019, the Deseret News found and interviewed six people who still supported Trump.

Trump’s supporters stay loyal, wrote the Financial Times in 2020.

Another day, another declaration of eternal fealty to the man whose approval rating was by then in the 30s. Another edition, another bit of crucial news: People who voted for Trump don’t regret voting for Trump. What a scoop!

It provided a marked contrast to the lack of such stories about Obama voters and supporters deep into his two terms, to the way Hillary Clinton’s supporters disappeared from the public eye the moment her opponent was inaugurated, to the complete absence of concern for the feelings of John Kerry’s supporters after his loss to George W. Bush.

But now that Trump is out of office, why on earth is an esteemed publication like the Washington Post publishing columns asking for understanding for the coalition of fascists and fools still frothing at the Capitol gates?

Why is the Times taking the word of 14 so-called “independents,” pulled from a focus group run by a Republican pollster, and using them to craft opinion pieces and tweets about the failings of President Biden and the re-ascendancy of Trump?

Where are the deep dives into the motivations of Black voters, Hispanic voters, Native American voters, liberal voters, voters who favor abortion rights and gun control and social programs to teach children to read and cure diseases? Most Americans agree on these things, but you’d never know it to read the front pages.

It’s starting to seem less like an editorial decision than a fetish, a compulsion, like they’ve replaced the copy desk with a parrot that squawks STILL SUPPORT TRUMP, STILL SUPPORT TRUMP every time someone coos “pretty bird.”

What’s behind this fascination with the conservative ideology? Is it a desire not to be seen as biased? Good luck with that. Republicans already hate free and fair reporting, as it tends to portray them in an unfavorable light, and have been running attacks on journalism for decades. That isn’t going to change because you took a field trip to an Alabama ice cream shop and published a few quotes about how much Trump loves the flag.

Is it a sincere desire to uplift underrepresented voices? Who is more clearly heard than white Americans right now, even middle- to lower-class whites? “Not being exclusively catered to” is not the same as “being ignored,” and these people’s feelings occupy a disproportionate amount of real estate in reporters’ heads.

A genuine focus on the concerns of forgotten low-income Americans would focus on the people of color living in poverty as a result of systemic disinvestment in the very manufacturing sector we’re told it’s critical to hear from (when it’s a white guy at the mic). Actual reporting on the scourges of drugs and crime would show that even in the Hillbilly Elegy territory fetishized by out-of-town journalists, thousands of Black and Hispanic people die of overdoses and gun violence every day.

Is it just a force of habit, after a Washington social scene so long controlled by Republicans and conservative Democrats? Does no one update the contact list no matter where the electorate lands? Are there no new activists or influencers to push coverage toward, say, the percent of Americans who want to scale back the military budget, the number who believe taxes on the billionaire class are too low?

Not only does this endless examination of the “ideas” Roosevelt and Eisenhower put to bed in the 1940s (with the New Deal and the 82nd Airborne, respectively) encourage actual fascists by making their madness seem mainstream, it demoralizes everyone fighting it every single day.

Overrepresentation of GOP loyalists gives those whose views are not on the hard edges of the political spectrum the sense that nothing can be changed. If you agree, there’s zero pressure to think or change because you presume everyone agrees with you already. And if you disagree you feel hopeless, marginalized, and alone, even though millions are at your back.

It removes any incentive for the few thoughtful Republicans left to actually compromise, because if the conservative ideology is all-powerful, clearly the only choice is to go along with it. If the views of radical-right Marjorie Taylor Greene and ultra-conservative Democrat Joe Manchin are the two ends of the political spectrum, then the middle is Kentucky Senator and GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—who represents one state, and barely half of that.

Mainstream political reporters often protest that they just reflect the views of people they talk to. I think we need to find them all some new friends, ones who don’t think masks are terrorism, women are incubators, and “I heard some Spanish at the grocery store” is justification for a bloody coup.

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