Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
The world is faced with threats of nuclear and chemical attacks from North Korea. Iran is hit by protests that might escalate into all out civil war. Islamic terrorist attacks have now become almost routine. And in the U.S. there appears to be corruption at the highest levels of the FBI and the Department of Justice, while at the same time the federal government has produced a national debt exceeding $20 trillion, with more debt on the way.
Have any of these significant stories been the primary focus of our American media, from either side of the political spectrum?
An objective look at the culture of today’s press says no. Even as the leftist American mainstream media continues to focus its energies on petty and ineffective attacks of Donald Trump, too many journalists on the right unfortunately appear to be diving right in to join them with their own petty counter-attacks. The result is a press that spends the bulk of its time on irrelevant stories of partisan bickering that have little substance or importance.
In the last week of 2017 we had one particularly acute example of this. First a mainstream liberal news source pushed an absurdly trivial story in a shallow effort to discredit Donald Trump. This was then followed by a frenzied and as-shallow response from the conservative press. I want to showcase both, not merely to illustrate how weak the original story was (which is obvious on its face), but to also point out the childishness of the response.
I must add that everything written in every one of the news sources that I will cite below appears to be 100% accurate. My point here isn’t to highlight examples of error-filled news reporting — which these days mostly comes from left leaning sources overwhelmed by their blind hatred of Trump — but to illustrate reporting from both sides that hardly rises above the level of a five year old, and is thus completely inconsequential.
Apparently the day before CNN had managed, by peering through some bushes on the edge of the Trump International Golf Club in Florida, to videotape President Trump playing some golf. When they came back the next day a white truck now blocked their view. This then became a big scandal for CNN, with the cable network then spending gobs of time every hour for the next few days investigating the truck and following up on this terrible act of corruption, obviously part of the evil Trump administration’s effort to cancel the First Amendment and to silence the press! Much of the leftwing media piled on as well. Below are some of CNN’s coverage, as well as a bit of that liberal news pile on.
- From CNN twitter feed: White box truck of same type & similar look seen parked at PBSO department parking lot.
- People: Trump Hit the Golf Course Again — But a Mysterious Truck Blocked Cameras from Filming Him
- Newsweek: Trump Golf Outing Obscured by Mystery White Truck as CNN Tries to Cover President’s Game
- Mashable: A mysterious white truck coincidentally blocked the media’s view of Trump’s golf game
The last story provides a lot of links to CNN’s obsessive coverage, showing unintentionally how completely ridiculous and unserious it was.
This kind of stupid partisan reporting repeatedly dominates today’s leftist and anti-Trump press, such as when CNN made a big deal about how many scoops of ice cream Donald Trump ate at meals, or when a Washington Post reporter made a big deal about the high heels Melania Trump wore on her way to Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
While one might be amused for about two seconds by the stupidity of such stories, anyone interested in hard news would generally ignore them. They are irrelevant, childish, and not worth one’s time. They also reveal a great deal about the vapidness and biases of the news sources that think them important. While I don’t boycott CNN because of the story above, it so often descends into this kind of dumbness I generally don’t read many stories from it. Either I don’t trust their reporting (which has been proven recently to be a very reliable conclusion), or the story itself, like the one above, doesn’t merit any attention at all.
What does the conservative press do, however? Unfortunately, following CNN’s obsession with this white panel truck large portions of the conservative press acted as childish and as vapid, mocking this empty story obsessively, as if that mocking somehow makes them better. Below are only a few examples. If I showed them all the list would go on interminably.
- Fox News: CNN mocked after obsessing over white truck that blocked view of Trump playing golf
- Washington Examiner: CNN’s quest for truth behind truck blocking view of Trump golf course stretches into third day
- Daily Caller: CNN Whines About Truck Blocking Golf Course
- Newsbusters: CNN Loses It After Trump Blocks View of Golf Course With Box Truck
- Daily Wire: EXCLUSIVE: CNN Onto Massive Trump Conspiracy — Who Parked That Truck There?!
- Canada Free Press: CNN’s Big, Bad, White Box Truck
- Louder with Crowder: WATCH: Truck Blocks CNN From Stalking Trump, They Hysterically Pretend It’s Serious News
- Ace of Spades: CNN Jerks Itself Off for 48 Hours Chasing Pictures of Trump Golfing, and a Mysterious White Truck Known Only As “Doctor Axles”
- Twitchy: ‘Braking’ news! CNN might have found truck that blocked view of Trump on golf course
The video below nicely dramatizes the maturity of this journalistic debate between CNN and the conservative press. (Hat tip to reader Wayne DeVette for sending it to me.)
In essence, the debating tactics of these two toddlers is no better than that of our modern press. Moreover, the boy’s use of a mild obscenity to make his argument mirrors exactly the shift to crude language we now see almost everywhere in today’s culture. Rather than make smart arguments, people go on Twitter and curse at their opponents. Or they simply curse nonchalantly, because that makes them feel good, even if it is makes it harder for them to think coolly and with depth.
Though I absolutely agree that CNN’s low credibility is further damaged by this silly story, I just don’t see the point of spending my time reading it. What CNN does is what used to be called tabloid junk journalism, and for substantive information one generally doesn’t go to such news sources. Instead, you obtain your information from credible news sources that focus on stories that might really be important.
Sadly, much of the conservative press here does little to distinguish themselves from CNN. Instead, they act as silly and as empty. The result? A spat between toddlers.
I think back to my early teens in the mid-1960s, when my father, a delivery truck driver with barely a high school education, would come home on Sunday with the New York Times. No comics, but the Sunday newspaper then had a large number of sections covering a wide range of topics, from real estate to entertainment to human interest to serious news coverage. This was before the NY Times had devolved into a partisan rag pushing Democratic Party talking points. Then, it tried to cover the world’s news with some depth and seriousness. The Sunday Week in Review section was especially thoughtful, with long articles from all sides of the political spectrum ruminating about the consequences of the previous week’s events.
I can’t imagine the Times of the mid-twentieth century — or any serious newspaper or any of the news bureaus of the three major networks at that time — spending much time or effort on any of the stuff above. They certainly wouldn’t consider it a front page story to report on how often the president golfs, or whether the high heels the First Lady wore sent the right optics. Nor would they have been bothered much if the president’s people took action to give him some privacy during his time off. And they certainly wouldn’t devote any time ridiculing the bad reporting of their rivals. They might report that bad reporting, as a news story in itself, but in those days this kind of bad reporting would not garner much attention, mostly because everyone would generally consider it supermarket tabloid junk, not to be taken seriously, and a discredit to the news organization that published it.
This is why so few stories like this were ever seen then in the mainstream press. The press knew then that if they focused on this tripe instead real news, their customers would vanish. The news-reading public, including my relatively uneducated father, wanted hard news, written carefully, accurately, and with some depth.
Unfortunately, that is not the news-reading public we have today. CNN’s reporting here as well as the reactions of the conservative press tell us a lot about both their readerships. Today, it appears that the only kind of news a majority of the public wants to see is tabloid junk. Make it short! Make it sexy! Make it silly! Make it fit the narrative I expect, even if it isn’t true! And above all, don’t make it thoughtful and in depth! People will simply click away out of quick boredom.
I grant that not all readers want to read these shallow news stories. I also grant that a significant portion of the news media today is not interested in participating in these immature spats. The problem however is the overall trend.
One of the regular commenters here thinks that a major house-cleaning in Washington is about to happen. He believes that the existence of the Constitution in the United States makes our situation somewhat unique in human history. Power always tends to concentrate to the top, and with that growing power comes corruption and the abuse of power. As Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This commenter believes however that the Constitution has provided the United States with a unprecedented legal and cultural framework for defeating this corrupt power at the top. As he noted recently, “What we are also witnessing as this entire thing rolls out in the coming months has the potential to be the germination of a true rejuvenated America reconnecting to its foundation document [the Constitution], if we as a people have the guts to do what must be done.” [emphasis in original]
I unfortunately remain reluctantly pessimistic. We as a people have been reelecting these corrupt frauds, now in power, for decades (Trump, a non-politician, being the exception that so far proves the rule). I also believe we will elect them again. And while much of the blame might fall on the liberal voters in liberal states, the conservative states don’t have much to brag about either. (Sadly, my weekly reports since October on the insanity, the inanities, and the fascism that now dominates the culture of American college campuses dovetails with this pessimism quite clearly.)
You get the government you deserve. Right now, I think this corrupt bunch in Washington is unfortunately exactly what we deserve. And I remain doubtful we are acting in a way that will make us deserve better, illustrated clearly by the petty immature tastes of today’s general news-reading public and the press that it serves, as noted above. If more people made the simple decision to go elsewhere when either CNN or conservative websites acted like little toddlers arguing, CNN and those opposing websites would either grow up and change their reporting, or would go out of business, beaten by better more mature competition.
That is not what we see however. Instead, these news outlets garner bigger ratings and clicks, first by reporting these shallow stories and second by mocking them. The childish tit-for-tat appears to be exactly what the public on all sides of the political spectrum want right now. There appear to be few adults in the room.
Meanwhile, the protests in Iran grow, the tensions in the Korean peninsula grow, the spread of Islamic terrorism grows, the federal debt grows, and corruption in the federal government grows. And few in our so-called intellectual class are looking at these issues with any sense of maturity.
How then can we expect these problems to be handled thoughtfully and with success?