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Journalism vs. Trumpism: On Playing the Gentleman’s Game

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This week, the Washington Post ran an editorial by Charles Lane that looked to deflect criticism of the media regarding its role in creating (or at least not stemming the tide of) Trumpism. The media, argues Lane, has pretty much done everything right. They’ve “made the case” against Trump, he says, and if the public chooses to embrace the Donald despite the media having made that case then that’s on the public.

Like most people who are deeply engrained in a culture that has been especially good to them, Lane’s own case suffers from not being able to detect the very water in which he is swimming, and because of this he relies almost entirely on something bordering on a straw man. I say “straw man” because the anti-media slings and arrows Lane has chosen to confront are obviously silly, partisan, and relatively unserious. I say “bordering on” because these are indeed the so-called crimes I see called out most often in my social media feeds by anti-trumpets who are angry at the media.

Here’s Lane:

The scapegoating reached its reductio ad absurdum in a recent blog post by Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who labeled the media “objectively pro-Trump” for allegedly ganging up on Hillary Clinton like a “high school clique bullying a nerdy classmate because it’s the cool thing to do.” As if her email issue had not been reported first by the decidedly not-pro-Trump Times itself, for the very good reason that it’s newsworthy.

This is silly. The media have been very tough on Trump, relentlessly so. To cite just one organization, The Post, our David A. Fahrenthold has been terrier-like in pursuit of the damning facts of Trump’s phony philanthropy. A Post team published a critical book about the Republican nominee, for heaven’s sake. Our editorial board produced one of the first on-the-record interviews exposing Trump’s disturbingly cavalier view of the United States’ NATO commitments, then followed it up with a series of scathing opinion pieces…

What must be going on is that people — an alarmingly large number of people, it seems — back Trump even though they know, or could easily learn, that he is a charlatan, clueless about policy, bizarrely sympathetic to Russia’s dictator, disturbingly prone to offending women and minorities, and a serial liar to boot.

Trump is benefiting from the political equivalent of jury nullification. This is the well-known phenomenon whereby a jury returns a “not guilty” verdict despite its awareness that the prosecution has proved its case.

Everything Lane says here is, I believe, largely correct. Krugman’s accusation that the New York Times is in the bag for Trump is so ludicrous as to border on parody. It’s the mirror image of the common talk-radio trope that the Times is pro-ISIS. And it’s certainly not just Krugman. My Twitter and Facebook feeds have cried foul that the media would stoop to cover Clinton collapsing on video tape, by people who clearly would want the same to be above-the-fold, 24/7, non-stop coverage had it instead been Trump.

It’s true as well that much of the Post’s work this election has been exceptional; Fahernthold’s reporting on the Trump Foundation, especially, has been nothing short of exemplary. And there is no question that Trump has peeled back the skin of our social fabric to reveal a festering rot we might be happier pretending was not there.

Still,  the truth is that all of this largely misses the point. The media is partially responsible for Trump’s ability to rise. And while much of the coverage of the Donald has been fantastic, most of it has been terrible. To be clear, none of this is directly Trump’s fault, either. The weaknesses within the media that the reality TV star has exploited (be it intentionally or otherwise) were ulcerating long before these primaries even began. Thanks largely to the rise of the internet, cable television, and the democratization of data, the political world has changed in a fundamental way, and journalism has yet to catch up. But catch up it must, if this republic is to continue to thrive.1

Donald Trump lying for 13 minutes straight.

Despite its deservedly dirty reputation, American politics has always been played as a Gentleman’s Game. Which is to say that although laws and ethics are seen as somewhat, shall we say, flexible, there is a set of underlying social mores to which all who play the game have agreed to adhere. For example, politicians have always been encouraged to lie — but only providing that they are not caught. Once caught, it has forever been considered bad form not to grovel, apologize, reverse directions, or even resign. The same can largely be said of politicians engaging in corruption, sloth, greed, and incompetence.

In many ways, the Gentleman’s Game is a terrible system, in that it has historically encouraged the types of behaviors we least want our public leaders to display. The only way it’s lasted as long as it has without serious challenge is that it is a Gentleman’s Game — cross a certain threshold with poor behavior, and the game board self-corrects. And journalism in America has evolved right alongside this system. The media that covers our elections is literally built to keep this system in check. But the Donald Trump campaign has turned the Gentleman’s Game on its head.

A common example of this is the interesting dynamic that’s played out over and over this past year, where Trump or his campaign spokespeople say or do something one day, and then deny they said or did it later. This phenomena happens literally multiple times daily, for a myriad of reasons, such as a lack of coordination, a lack of understanding of the issues at hand, a lack of what other people in the campaign are saying, a lack of personal or professional ethics, etc. And it’s the way this phenomena has been covered the vast majority of the time that Charles Lane misses in his editorial.

Here’s what usually happens when the press covers these instances: Trump will say X, but then X will turn out to be potentially damaging to the campaign. Later, the media will ask Trump and his spokespeople to comment on Trump having said X, and will be told that Trump never, ever said X — despite the fact that there is video and audio proof that he did. The way the press has covered this going forward is to say some version of,

A Clinton spokesperson said that Trump said X. However, the Trump campaign denies that he said X. Moving on to other news…

In previous elections, it has not been necessary for the press to use words like “lie,” “whopper,” “bizarre,” or “factually incorrect,” because the Gentleman’s Game protected them from ever having to do so. Either the candidate or the campaign would acknowledge that they had done wrong, and course correct; in the rare instances where they refused, the candidate’s party would step in and do so in a way that made it worse for the candidate. But neither Trump nor the GOP is playing the Gentleman’s Game with this election. Instead, they’re almost daring the media to call them out for brazenly lying; for the most part, the media, continuing to play by the Gentleman’s Game rules, has politely demurred.

Is Donald Trump, the actual person, the most dishonest, corrupt, sexist, and racist person running for office in modern history? It’s impossible to say, of course. But Donald Trump the candidate is certainly the most willing on any given day to brazenly flaunt dishonesty, corruption, sexism, and racism, because knows that if he’s talking to a different audience the next day, he can always claim he said otherwise and the press will freeze up, not knowing what to do.

Last week while covering Trump’s comments about his history with Birtherism, the New York Times created controversy when they actually used the word “lie.” And there’s no question that Trump was in fact lying — and what’s more, was doing so in an astoundingly brazen fashion. Still, the use of the word was jarring for its rarity. When addressing the decision to use the word, Liz Spayd, the Times’ Public Editor, felt compelled to note that the word lie “however factually accurate, feels partisan.” Times Executive Editor Dean Banquet was forced to make the media rounds explaining and defending why his paper had made the decision to call water wet.

For better and worse, the Gentleman’s Game is now largely broken. This might well be a good thing in the long run, the knowing winks between press and pols potentially giving way to greater transparency and less corruption in government. In twenty years, we might well recognize this as this election’s single saving grace, deeply hidden in the clusterfish of a Pandora’s Box that is 2016 . Like it or not, what the Times did last week is necessary. Had everyone been covering this election that way from the start, we might be in a very different (and better) place than we are right now. Had the press been willing to actively engage with what Trump said during the primaries rather than simply offer up an ever-changing platter of He Said/He Said, we might well have a different GOP candidate right now.

None of this is meant to take away from the good work that is being done by many journalists such as David A. Fahernthold. But work like Fahernthold’s is sadly but a drop in a much larger bucket. Until there is real change in the way the media covers modern presidential elections, Charles Lane’s pointing at Fahernthold’s works as proof that everything is working fine is a little like someone pointing at a tough, quality Chris Wallace interview with a GOPer as proof that Fox News isn’t partisan: it’s a line that will only carry weight when it becomes the norm and not the exception.

Right now, it’s absolutely the exception.

It’s not enough that one candidate says his opponent pocketed 95% of her non-profit’s income, even though that’s factually incorrect. It’s not enough that one candidate says that most blacks live in poverty, are violent, and don’t work, even though that’s factually incorrect. It’s not enough that one candidate says that crime rates are skyrocketing, even though that’s factually incorrect. It’s not enough that one candidate says that the perpetrator of a massacre was a refugee who recently came to our country, even though that’s factually incorrect. It isn’t enough that one candidate says that he doesn’t dip into the endowments of a nonprofit foundation he controls for his own personal use, even though it’s factually incorrect. The real story in all of these cases is not, as the media has largely been covering them, what the candidate says. It’s what is and is not actually factually correct.

In a world where people will publish data (factual or made up) to underscore any fool narrative you happen to carry water for, the need for a fact-checking news media that attempts objectivity is more important than it’s ever been. But in order to continue to be relevant and survive in a world where data is so democratized, it needs to be willing to fully report on the topics it covers, including and especially political races. The press instinctively knew that it needed to cover Clinton’s physical collapse, even though I am sure most of them who did are rooting for her to win. In the same way, it needs to be willing to step outside the Gentleman’s Game with a candidate who refuses to play by those rules, even though they likely feel they shouldn’t in the name of objectivity, since I suspect most of them really don’t like the guy.

The press needs to step up to the plate here. Because simply constantly reporting what Donald Trump says, without fact-chekcing or context, isn’t actually “making the case against him.”

 

Image via Wikipedia.Notes:

  1. I should probably take a moment to note that from here on out, when I refer to journalism or journalists, I am using a very specific and old-school definition. It has become fashionable these days to call anyone who broadcasts anything in any fashion a “journalist.” In today’s parlance, someone who sits at home and takes wild guesses about what is going on in the world, without in any way attempting to engage with the people or processes they take these guesses about are considered to be “journalists.” Jim Hoff is an extreme example that comes to mind here. So too are people who try to come up with hot “takes” about things that they read. For my purposes here, however, a journalist is someone who actually goes out into the field to do research, engage with the people they are covering, verify rumors, fact-check their sources, and report out the story they are following. []

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Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also executive producer and host of the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre. He is  a regular contributor for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast. Follow him on Twitter. ...more →

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194 thoughts on “Journalism vs. Trumpism: On Playing the Gentleman’s Game

  1. Overall good post, but it raises two questions.

    First, is there any evidence that the people who are supporting Trump would even listen if the old school MSM took a harder line? It isn’t at all clear to me that the New York Times or the Post have any credibility among the people who gave the primary to Trump.

    Second, is it really the gentlemans club thats the culprit or is it the faux objective view from nowhere thats the problem? From my perspective, its the view from nowhere that’s become a horribly broken feature of the MSM since at least the Bush 2 era. Trump may be benefitting from it more than any past candidatr and I find his rise very disturbing but there’s a part of me that thinks what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. If, as you suggest, this ultimately makes the MSM realize it needs to be much less deferential to insiders it may be the best thing that’s happened to the media in decades.

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    • I came here to say your first point. I think the Mr. Kelly is correct that the media could assert more editorial authority when reporting Trump’s statements, but I’m quite skeptical at this point that such assertion would help much. Do Trump’s supporters really care if he is dishonest, has had questionable business dealings, or is attacking what have been considered cherished American ideals (at least for the last twenty years or so)? I think the MSM’s problem in attacking Trump isn’t so much a lack of gumption or excessive deference but rather genuine – and ongoing – cluelessness as to what would change anyone’s opinion of him.

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  2. Do you really think that more accurate reporting on what Trump or any of his surrogates have would have hurt the Trump campaign? I would like to think that, but I am skeptical. This is election is largely being fought on… not even ideology grounds, but on almost pure tribal identification.

    My own view is that the press is very much asleep at the wheel in their coverage of Trump. However, it’s less that they are failing to go after him and more that they are incompetent at it. You saw this from the beginning when they tried to fit Trump into some larger narrative about the 1%. And from there, they went straight to the ‘Trump is a novelty candidate who we don’t have to take seriously’ and then to ‘we have to take him seriously as a candidate, but he lies so much we’re not even going to bother to check him anymore.’ And I sort of understand why it went down like this. To put it bluntly, I just don’t think that the press is equipped to adequately and authoritatively question politicians and policymakers The press we have right now is a horrible combination of too partisan, too psuedo-objective, and most importantly too beholden to authority, in whatever form it happens to take. Plus, there is the whole savviness problem.

    One thing that I consistently see is Hillary supporters taking “the media” to task for not being harder on Trump. And it’s true to some extent that the media’s coverage of Trump is lacking. But again, if the media hasn’t taken down Trump, it’s not for lack of trying. They’ve just been trying to take him down by attacking him and his followers and mostly ignoring the substance of what he’s saying or investigating what it might actually mean. It’s just so much easier to focus on demeanor and appearance and gaffes, especially when you’re dealing with a sh*t show like Trump. The interesting thing, however, is that Hillary’s campaign and her extended support network have been doing the exact same thing. Their message has been a constant barage of ‘Trump is unfit/recent thing X is disqualifying/his supporters are deplorable.’ So it’s not the strategy that Clinton supporters are lamenting, it’s that the strategy isn’t working.

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    • I think “beholden to authority” is key. It’s also why I have so much trouble sympathizing with Clinton and her supporters when they complain about this. She’s been as big of a beneficiary of a deferential press as anyone.

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      • Couldn’t disagree more with this.

        The press treats her DENYING a request for a visa (to do aid work) as a pay-for-play scandal. And generally treats the Clinton foundation like a slush fund rather than a top-rated charity.

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        • I have this suspicion that she’s both benefited from the deference and been harmed by some sort of paranoia or hostility, just with respect to different topics and opponents. (Precisely what kind, I’m not sure. I’m reluctant to accept that it’s just about her, or about her and her husband, but I don’t know what it actually would be about.)

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            • The photo on the C-17 with the sunglasses on her face and the mobile device in her hand – before her cybersecurity practices came into question but after she had assisted for the second time in her career getting the US involved in a questionable war.

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            • The general air of inevitability around her nomination. She had won a fair bit before Sanders gave up, but it was closer than portrayed. Particularly, I remember Google’s* display of delegate counts always showing her immense lead in “number of superdelegates who had endorsed her”, despite those votes not being locked in. This overwhelmed the initially close counts of actual delegates won, and made it look like she had led by something like 200 delegates since before the Iowa caucuses, when in fact there was a period where the totals were close** to the 2008 numbers into early March, if I remember right.

              I’d bring up the supposed inevitability of her actually being elected, but that’s probably hurt her more than it helped.

              * I know Google isn’t exactly “the press” here, but they pulled that info from a more serious news source. I unfortunately can’t remember which one; the screenshot is from DKos which was nice enough to provide an image but decided to yell at Google instead of telling me anything useful. I think the source might have been Politico? This snapshot from March seems to show the same sort of counting trick, at least.

              ** Sanders never did as well as Obama (obviously, I suppose), but there was a period where he had a shot, and the coverage of the election portrayed him as not having a shot. Of course this also meant that a substantial portion of his supporters couldn’t tell when he actually did lose (mid-late April, I think). I’m in the middle of taking wikipedia’s numbers for (pledged) delegates won and turning that into a statpedia chart. I’ll link it here (or elsewhere?) when it’s done. I might pull it down and graph it all with matplotlib, though, if I can’t get statpedia to handle the dates correctly.

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              • Here is a chart showing pledged delegate counts for Clinton and Sanders (nobody else got any delegates, unlike in 2008 or the Republican primary) after each primary day. I’m not especially proud of it, frankly. Most glaringly, I lost about 80 delegates somewhere, though I don’t think this affects the result too badly. It also splits the x-axis evenly between primary days, rather than over actual time (May 17 to June 4 looks the same as June 4 to June 5), so don’t trust the slopes. Big jumps, though, are mostly multi-primary days: March 1, March 15, and June 7. Because of this, I’m not publishing it (yet).

                Conclusions:

                (1) Clinton didn’t have a majority of pledged delegates (that is, at least 2026) until June 7. (Also, baring superdelegate flips, the DC primary was completely inconsequential)
                (2) The race was essentially even up until Super Tuesday, where Clinton pulled ahead. Clinton grows her lead through mid March, but Sanders regains some ground over the next month or so before trends locked up in late April. This is … not the story I remember people reporting.

                I’d like to do more analysis of this election, and especially compare it to the 2008 election, which I remember being a very similar thing starting out, with the differences showing up in the late March – early April period. The only problem is that I don’t know where to find superdelegate endorsements over time for either election. (Wikipedia’s data groups unbound delegates with their corresponding primaries, not their time of endorsement; I *think* there were about 400 superdelegates pre-selected before any primaries happened, but that doesn’t fit with the numbers Google was showing)

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                • Fivethirtyeight.com had a running chart called Path to Nomination showing how many delegates each candidate needed in each primary to win the nomination.

                  It was clear after Super Tuesday that Bernie would not be able to catch Hillary. By the end of primary season he would have needed like 90% of the delegates in each remaining state to catch up.

                  Bernie and Hillary captured very similar amounts of delegates in the vast majority of states(*) -which had relatively small delegations- but Hillary had a big lead in the handful of states that had large delegate counts, like Texas, where she captured 147 delegates to Sander’s 75.

                  Her big lead in high population stTs also means that in number of cast votes Hillary amply surpassed Sanders.

                  (*) The continuous reporting of state after state splitting half and half for Hillary and Bernie fed the narrative that it as a neck to neck race and that Hillary’s fate hinged on the super delegates. For every Txas that Hillary definitely won the media would report five New Mexicos, ignoring the relative weight difference between TX and NM

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                  • More than that, since no state is winner-take-all, there was no real chance of a viable comeback. After the Michigan surprise, Bernie needed to win the remaining delegates by something like 20-25 points (and that’s ignoring the fact that it was clear to all non-fantasists that Clinton was going to win NY/CA, which would have required DRAMATICALLY higher margins in the other states).

                    I don’t begrudge Bernie his decision to stay in, and don’t think it ended up hurting her. But it was never a winnable race for him (and he, for fully virtuous reasons, went into the election cycle knowing that).

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                  • To clarify a little bit, I think Clinton was clearly winning after Super Tuesday, and the ultimate result was obvious after April 19th or April 26th (after which point Sanders needed absurd majorities that he had just demonstrated he couldn’t get). She just didn’t have it completely sewn up until close to the end (given that superdelegates would likely flip to avoid the appearance of ignoring a mandate from voters).

                    After looking at the actual numbers, I don’t think the reporting was ever a good reflection of what was going on, for either side. Superdelegates needlessly counted in Clinton’s favor beforehand; stories of a “comeback” from Sanders that fell apart after closing about a third of the gap. Silly me, expecting the media to be biased towards something other than extending the primary season.

                    (Also holy crap I forgot how much of a mess 2008 was. The Democrats were just not prepared for a serious race in ’08.)

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                    • Yeah. 2008 was actually a close race (though the outcome was pretty solidly established pretty early too).

                      I apologize for responding to every answer with a question, but I don’t understand what you mean about “Silly me, expecting the media to be biased towards something other than extending the primary season” when I thought your complaint was that the media tried to anoint Clinton and shut down the primary season.

                      My view was that Hillary was always going to win, the media said that, they included super-delegate support as a reason, and all of that offended Bernie supporters (which makes sense, since they wanted a different outcome). Then, Michigan showed a potential polling problem and kicked off more bog-standard horserace coverage. The larger point is that I don’t see any of that as “deference” to Hillary in the same way that the media allows Trump to lie constantly and doesn’t call him on, for example, bribing states attorneys.

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                    • Regarding superdelegates — if they didn’t have a vote, you might have a point. But they do have a vote. Furthermore, if you take other metrics — number of pledged delegates, number of votes cast, etc — you’d find Clinton established a comfortable lead and never lost it.

                      Bluntly put, Sanders basically managed his “big wins” in small states while Clinton racked up the large states — and often by huge margins.

                      The media was very generous to Sanders after the middle of March or so, because a factual account would have been “Sanders losing, deficit almost insurmountable either as number of votes cast, pledged delegates, or overall delegate count and the gap is only widening”

                      They wanted a horse race, so they went along with his claims it was a close race. (Something, I am sure, Sanders never actually believed after mid March or so).

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                      • “(Something, I am sure, Sanders never actually believed after mid March or so).”

                        I think it’s the opposite.

                        Sanders started his campaign with the understanding that he had no chance to win, but that there was a message he needed to bring to the fore.

                        And he succeeded there. His message resonated (and somehow paralleled Trump’s). Hillary, and the party platform, veered left and incorporated a watered down, more palatable to the general electorate, imterpretation of his proposed policies, a department store version of Sander’s “couture design”, so to speak. Without Sanders, Hillary would have veered to the right on day one, with her eye totally on the general. So far, I think this process was good for the Democratic Party and for the USA.

                        But….

                        Somewhere in the middle, probably in Michigan, Sanders forgot what he was doing and why. Too many small states divided half and half, several wins here and there, all went to his head. He suddenly appeared to believe he had a chance, nay, he was winning except for the malevolence of the party PTB and the media in Hillary’s pocket. By the end his campaign turned nasty. It was no longer about the message (he had already succeeded beyond his wildest expectations there), but about himself. And his low point came when he suggested the Superdelegates should vote against the popular vote and chose himself. Sanders became Corbyn. An altruistic man running to give voice to a message became a bitter man running to win. He only (barely) regained his senses by the Convention.

                        Sanders changed the Democratic Party, the 2016 race, and, Amaterasu willing, the USA. He should be happy with that.

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                        • HOW did Sanders change the democratic party?
                          As far as I can tell, he simply organized a shitton of resistance against himself. Didn’t do jack to take out any players, did he?

                          Clinton is as far from Sanders as it’s possible to get and still be a Democrat. Not, perhaps, in politics, but definitely in corruption and deal-making.

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              • general air of inevitability around her nomination

                But it was inevitable. Bernie was always going to do terribly in the south, and in big states. Losing Nevada showed he didn’t play nation-wide; losing South Carolina (by almost 40 points) showed he didn’t play in diverse states. The closest he had to a bright shining moment where he had a chance was New Hampshire, but all that did was make it a two-person race.

                Google’s* display of delegate counts always showing her immense lead in “number of superdelegates who had endorsed her”,

                1. I very much doubt this had any impact on normal voters.
                2. It was a statement of true facts.
                3. Clinton’s ability to win party support (by, you know, being a member and huge supporter of the party) would seem to be relevant information in choosing the party’s nominee.
                4. The only candidate who ever suggested super delegates should sway the vote to the popular vote loser was Bernie.

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    • I think it would have. Trump went into the convention with a lot of people who normally would–or might–vote Republican being absolutely appalled. By reporting on Trump in the normal way, the media has normalized Trump. (As an aside, I read blog posts at the time predicting exactly this.) At the same time, by reporting Clinton’s lapses as if they were far more significant and unprecedented than they really were, they have treated Clinton as if she were in a class with Trump. Between the two, those people who came out of the convention appalled have been reassured that Trump isn’t really so bad, and Clinton in any case is just as bad.

      No, none of this would matter to the die-hard Trumpistas. But the election doesn’t turn on them.

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      • I’m joining Richard on this. More accurate and earlier reporting on Trump’s extreme and racist beliefs could have caused many Republicans to stay home and not vote for him rather than see him as flawed but acceptable. Many would be horrified to be associated with such a horrible person.

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        • I’m not sure focus on the views would have worked as well as focus on the apparently grotesque corruption of his foundation and alleged charity work. The media did not pay enough attention to that; neither did his GOP primary opponents.

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            • Also, it would have possibly worked earlier in the process, when–to be blunt–the GOP establishment candidates knew that a frontal assault on Trump as an authoritarian racist would alienate the vital authoritarian and racist constituencies in the Republican Party.

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          • Perhaps — but, it was far too late in the game that Trump was taken seriously by the intelligentsia in the more regular GOP circles or the media.

            Or even the second-tier intelligentsia like the authors of this blog. Myself included; Our Tod stands out as one of the few even here who ever predicted that Trump could and likely would secure the nomination in his own right. For my part, and I recall that I had quite a lot of company on this boat, my attitude through most of the primaries was, “Trump? Come on, get real.” Up through a very late stage in the primaries, I was considering, more hoping really, that this would give rise to a contested convention and the behind-the-scenes brokering would deny Trump the nomination because come on, Republicans can’t seriously rally behind this guy, right?

            Only no, that turned out to be wrong. They did pick him and for the most part, they have rallied behind him.

            And now we have the disgraceful spectacle of what seems like a majority of GOP partisans rallying behind the party banner telling themselves (loudly enough to make it look like efforts to persuade the electorate when in fact it is to a large extent a form of mental self-conditioning) some combination of a) “Hillary is worse,” b) “Trump isn’t really so bad,” c) “SCOTUS!” and d) “Pence is really going to be running things anyway, Trump just wants to be the front man and doesn’t care about policy.”

            I don’t believe any of that. Well, the Supreme Court thing a little bit, because I’m quite sure Trump doesn’t care even a peppercorn’s worth about the Supreme Court, no matter what he says on the campaign trail — it’s a way he has of basically forcing conservatives like Hugh Hewitt to fall in line under his banner.

            And at this point, yeah, nothing matters. It’s 45 days to election day and it seems that an unusually large number of people have made up their minds already. Anyone who hasn’t yet, but is going to vote, will probably be motivated by the same calculus that all but the die-hard partisans have already used: “Who is the least bad choice?”.

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            • I disagree, not with the (obviously correct) charge of complacency, but with the conclusion that the complacency in question was some kind of block to doing an effective opposition research on Trump. I think pretty much nobody ever thought Herman Cain had the slightest chance to win the nomination in 2012, but they still destroyed his candidacy by dredging up his history of sexual harassment long before the first primary,

              Now, sure, some of this is 20/20 hindsight, but some isn’t, I’d say. Trump already had a reputation as a gritting egomaniac, they had stuff like Trump U in their crosshairs, and it would have beautifully set up the Clinton Foundation as a line of attack against Clinton.

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            • One sentence in this struck me. Considering the dumpster fire that is Trump, people are treating Pence as a relative normal and voice of sanity. Notwithstanding that, he’s far more extreme than Rubio and on par with a Jindal or Cruz – if he was at the top of the ticket, he’d be recognized as possibly the most conservative nominee for either position with “President” in the title since Goldwater.
              But with Trump around, that passes completely under the radar. Frankly, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I think I’d take my chances with Trump running things rather than Pence.

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            • Our Tod stands out as one of the few even here who ever predicted that Trump could and likely would secure the nomination in his own right.

              This old myth again. Tod is on record in August of last year, when Trump was leading the national polls, unequivocally saying that Trump wouldn’t win the nomination. By then, lots and lots of other people were not only very open to the possibility, but saw the writing on the wall.

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        • “More accurate and earlier reporting on Trump’s extreme and racist beliefs could have caused many Republicans to stay home and not vote for him…”

          Considering that what’s attracting most Trump supporters is his willingness to say extreme and racist things right there in public and not apologize for it afterwards, accurate and earlier reporting probably would have caused an even bigger amount of support for him.

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          • I have to agree with Duck here. A big part of the complacency was thinking that he’d lose most of his support when people found out who he really was. Everyone in American’s who’s paying any attention at all knows that by now, and it hasn’t hurt him.

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    • My own view is that the press is very much asleep at the wheel in their coverage of Trump. However, it’s less that they are failing to go after him and more that they are incompetent at it.

      I disagree. The press did what a market-driven, for profit enterprise is supposed to do: play whatever angle you need to maximize revenue. They didn’t NOT go after Trump outa incompetence. They didn’t go after Trump because that’s not part of their job description or business model.

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      • Adding: And actually manymany media outlets have gone after Trump: USA Today, WSJ, NYT, cable news outlets, etc. It just doesn’t stick, which makes folks who think it should blame the media for what’s viewed as the electorate’s failings.

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  3. Some thoughts:

    1. I think it is a stretch to say US Politics was always a gentlemen’s game. The mid 20 th century was an uncommonly bipartisan and consensus driven period because a bunch of historical accidents made both parties big tent with liberal and conservative wings. Before then politics was much more uncivil, the Federalists jailed their rivals using the Alien and Sedition Acts. Third parties like the Socialists were seen as serious threats instead of as harmless curiosities like Libertarians and the Greens today and subject to violent raids by the police. Charles Sumner was beaten within an inch of his life on the Senate Floor and the South Carolina congresscritter that did it was hailed as a hero by Southern Democrats. The problem is that everyone alive remembers the bipartisan age and doesn’t like the idea of regressing to the mean.

    2. I think the media has followed this trend. Early American newspapers were extremely partisan. The non-partisan objectivity came from a desire to be more respectable and less grubby as a profession. The NY Times did not want to be seen as a Hearst Tabloid/penny paper.

    3. This desire for above the fray respectability is not the first time the Times has gotten in trouble for not taking a side. Many believe that the Times downplayed the Jewish crisis arising from the Nazis because the Times owners were Jewish and very sensitive to having the paper seen as a Jewish paper. The New Jew Times was a frequent slur back in the pre-WWII era along with New Jew City.

    4. New media like Slate or legacy mags like the Atlantic have largely been better at calling out Trump than old daily newspapers.

    5. Lastly I suspect that as part of a more partisan age, almost anyone is guaranteed 40 percent of their vote if they are an R or D running for President. I think most Republicans are turned off from the Times like most liberals are turned off from the NY Post or Fox News. Interestingly, the NY Daily News made a business decision to become the liberal tabloid and it seems to be going well for them in terms of social media sharing. People respond to their editorializing front pages both positively and negatively.

    Fun fact: The NY Post used to be the liberal tabloid until Murdoch purchased it in the 1970s! Pete Hammil the legendary liberal newspaper editor and columnist spent most of his career at the NY Post.

    6. The online press and bloggers are stating to wage war against media coverage of Trump as kid-glove. Or they gloat. The breaking straw for old media was last week when Trump tricked the media into playing a 30 minute promo video. Bloggers like Drum are already getting angry at the prospect of broadcasters saying Trump “sounded presidential” after the first debate.

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    • Early American newspapers were extremely partisan.

      I was once at the Library of Congress reading a Philadelphia newspaper from 1864. The front page had a gorgeous engraved portrait of George McClellan, with a caption declaring him the next President of the United States. The portrait really stood out, and it caught the attention of one of the reference librarians who happened to walk by. We talked about it and its context, and the librarian started aloud reading a poem–a bit of electoral doggeral–next to it, describing Lincoln. I have never heard anyone verbally trip over himself to stop speaking, when he got to the part that rhymed with “by jigger.”

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    • And even during the uncommonly partisan mid-20th century, you still had millions of Americans that saw the Democratic Party as a subversive Communist front because of the New Deal, Great Society, Civil Rights, unions, and losing China.

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        • One anecdote: A professor of mine in college grew up in Kansas which was always a Republican stronghold. He said his dad danced on the table in joy when FDR died.

          But read Rick Perlstein’s books on the rise of the modern Right. There were lots of voters and others who always saw even the slightest bit of welfare state as being nothing less than an infinite number of atomic bombs on the Republic.

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          • If you give me a number I’ll take you at your word, just give me the dang number.

            As to the anecdote … I wouldn’t generalize from a Roosevelt presidency (either one). Both were very unusual in their way, especially in comparison to their predecessors but also to some extent to their successors. More specifically, both acted as extremely strong executives, and both framed their actions as their own, rather than as the actions of a coalition they led. I’m reluctant to grant that opinions about a Roosevelt are comparable to opinions about the coalitions that they actually did lead, or about their successors. A good comparison would probably be 1948-49 opinions about Truman following his election*: did Republicans respond to Truman in a way comparable to (some) Democrats’ responses to Bush after Bush v Gore? (For the record, I think a roughly equal number of Republicans would have responded the same way in a mirror-universe where that case went to Gore)

            * I note that Wikipedia puts the responsibility for that famous headline on a man in Washington who had successfully predicted “four out of the past five elections”. That is, he missed one of Hoover (’28), Roosevelt (’32), Roosevelt (’36), Roosevelt (’40), or Roosevelt (’44). That is a much less impressive track record than it should be.

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  4. I think the savvyness issue also needs addressing. In 2007, Jay Rosen wrote about it for the HuffPo. The media wants to be savvy above all. They see themselves as world weary, sophisticates, bored by earnestness, cynical, etc, plus policy is hard and everyone knows it doesn’t matter in the end.

    This lets them be conned easily by the likes of Rove and Trump. Winning is better!!

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      • My issue with the “policy” journalists is that they are incredibly bad at rhetoric and/or understanding why people don’t always follow what the policy paper says. Vox and co. articles are often of the “All these policy papers say we should be doing X. We are not doing X. This is madness.” They don’t seem to understand the push and pull between conflicting interests and policies and seem to think we can all use policy papers to get us to Utopia.

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        • I’m not sure how fair that is. Klein became a star during health care reform because he actually figured out the policy and explained it clearly.

          He hasn’t been as essential since, which may be what you’re talking about, but there needs to be a place that can digest important policies being debated and tell you how they’ll work, what they’re likely to improve, and what the downsides are.

          (of course, one reason that he hasn’t had another HCR to dig into might be that the GOP has removed the possibility of any major/complex legislation pretty much ever since that squeaked through).

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  5. I look forward to the day when a report on what a candidate or political figure says has 50 footnotes exposing the lies & inaccuracies.

    Also, even if such hard nose reporting wouldn’t sway Trump fans, it would help media credibility, which is currently gut shot.

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    • “Also, even if such hard nose reporting wouldn’t sway Trump fans, it would help media credibility, which is currently gut shot.”

      This. So very this. This, exponentially.

      Due to several very good (or not) individual reasons, the media is not the place to find factual information. From the dumbing down of complicated matters (“math is hard!”) into worthless, and incorrect, mush, to fair and balanced (“opinions on the shape of the Earth diverge. We report, you decide!”), to giving preference to insignificant, but emotional, issues over boring but important (“kitten afraid to death until saved by gallant firefighter, see full coverage at 9; in other news (in the ribbon), Louisiana to explore bankruptcy options for the state”).

      It’s not a matter of being a gentleman in a rough pub (Kingsman proved it can be done). It’s a matter of abdicating the duty to crib facts and disseminate accurate information in the pursue of easily bored or partisan eyeballs. Or perhaps that duty only existed in the fairytales I heard growing up.

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    • This will get played faster than you think. Trump already releases his speech transcripts with hundreds of footnotes:

      https://assets.donaldjtrump.com/DJT_Radical_Islam_Speech.pdf

      You will find instances such as:

      In a series of speeches, President Obama described America as
      “arrogant,” “dismissive” “derisive” [61] and a “colonial power.” [62]

      Where footnote [62] leads to the following quote from Obama (his only use of the words colonial in the entire interview):

      THE PRESIDENT: … My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.

      Think the average reader is going to parse this?

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      • In a series of speeches, President Obama described America as
        “arrogant,” “dismissive” “derisive” [61] and a “colonial power.” [62]

        Wait, wait, wasn’t the problem with Obama that he was *anti-*colonial?

        …oh, wait, I get it. He thinks America is a colonial power, and he’s anti-colonial…so he must be anti-American!

        It all fits together!

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  6. Despite its deservedly dirty reputation, American politics has always been played as a Gentleman’s Game.

    Well, except that time Aaron Burr shot dead the leader of #NeverBurr.

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  7. I think fact-checking political candidates is rarely useful. People seem to rarely quote Trump when they accuse him of lying, most likely because they are merely repeating third-hand tweets or Trump’s statements are oblique enough not to be truly falsifiable. And the corrections don’t tend to be important, a wall is like a fence, but there are differences; crime may be bad in certain cities, but crime isn’t as bad as it was 20 years ago; or some Muslim Americans were celebrating 9/11, but not thousands and thousands.

    I don’t necessarily agree w/ Saul that 80% of the electorate will vote on party-lines regardless of the candidate; I might go for 70%, but at this point the remaining available votes are not forming opinions on policy points and almost certainly don’t care about NATO. If 86% of college students don’t know about U.S. commitments to NATO, (source), then perhaps the media deserves some of the blame.

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    • You and I must read different things, because Trump statement is almost always cited and the corresponding fact which proves him wrong is supplied.

      Whether you think it is important is another matter. Claiming that “inner city crime is reaching record levels” is just factually inaccurate. Using it to stoke fear for electoral gains is, in my opinion, deplorable. And, from my experience, this is not only how this information gets out to millions of people, but it is how it becomes accepted wisdom. I had a Trump supporter in my office two days ago on an expungement issue because he wants concealed carry permit based on the fact that it is “more dangerous than ever.” (He lives in a small Indiana town). But the hordes are coming for him unless Trump brings back law and order.

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  8. To what extent does the politicization of an ostensibly non-partisan institution usually precedes the loss of moral authority of said institution (except among True Believers)?

    I’m thinking that we saw it happen with the Babtists.

    Pretty sure that this is what we’re seeing now with Journolism (sic).
    See also: The Academy.

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    • The press ostensibly became non-partisan because of radio arguably. Because there was a public service requirement for the use of airwaves, which were seen as government policy, and because of the fairness doctrine, mass media news developed a professional and objective format. Print news followed suit. Before that print news was very partisan in who and what they supported.

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        • I think there’s a lot of room between, “Liberals and libertarians sending each other email isn’t a conspiracy,” and, “The moral authority of the press is obvious.”

          However, if you have large numbers of people devoted to obscuring this difference, and many of them make a lot of money for doing it, well, at least some of the contempt is pretty easy to understand.

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          • Which brings me back to my original question:

            To what extent does the politicization of an ostensibly non-partisan institution usually precedes the loss of moral authority of said institution (except among True Believers)?

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            • The problem isn’t the original question, it’s the original question-begging. Unless your argument is really that simply by being subjected to partisan attacks, the mainstream press has gone from being ostensibly non-partisan to politicized… in which case I’m curious why you brought up one of the more frivolous partisan attacks on the press.

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              • What conclusion is being assumed as a premise, here?

                simply by being subjected to partisan attacks, the mainstream press has gone from being ostensibly non-partisan to politicized

                Ah, well. At this point we get to figure out which is the chicken and which is the egg.

                Given that it’s certainly possible that the view that the mainstream press moving from ostensibly non-partisan to politicized has resulted in it being subjected to partisan attacks.

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  9. Krugman’s accusation that the New York Times is in the bag for Trump is so ludicrous as to border on parody.

    I suppose it would be ludicrous had he done so. But he didn’t, at least not in the linked post.

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  10. I think this post misunderstands the fundamental aspect of this election season. And misunderstands it in such a way as to make the possible election of Trump happen. Look at the defections. Conservative “intelligentsia” and white union workers.

    This election isn’t about who is lying or not, its about class warfare.

    That is what the media, who as mentions above is gut-shot, doesn’t understand. It is why we here at OT can’t seem to wrap our heads around the idea of a Trump presidency. As says above:

    most likely because they are merely repeating third-hand tweets or Trump’s statements are oblique enough not to be truly falsifiable.

    Trump isn’t speaking to us, he is speaking to the working class, which has been left out of the Gentleman’s game for far too long. This is the language of the working class, that the Management class- which is the media, which is us – doesn’t speak. The left used to speak for the them, but they got left behind in the last shakeup. The right is only now starting to speak for them. And it doesn’t make the cognoscenti comfortable.

    The Gentleman’s Game? It isn’t just for gentlemen anymore. This is why Trump was selected.

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      • “In what way does Trump speak for them?”

        He doesn’t speak FOR them, he speaks TO them, or at least, he speaks ABOUT them.

        The previous GOP iterations would rather speak about makers and job creators, because speaking about and to the working class was veering too close to starting spouting Democratic memes

        Trump wasn’t afraid to spout some Democratic memes, like shoring up SS and Medicare, so he was able to use a different language than the Fabulous Deepest Bench Fifteen and reach a constituency that was already there (mainly for cultural reasons) but never addressed to or about.

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        • @j_a

          I’m still not following. Does speaking TO the working class mean the stuff I identified? Does it mean constant lying?

          I guess I don’t see how that’s the language of the working class. Maybe that’s my ignorance showing, but maybe it’s us non-working class folks guessing about what life might be like at the (nonexistent) Applebee’s salad bar.

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    • Trump isn’t speaking to us, he is speaking to the working class

      No.
      Trump supporters are not working class. They are white people, mostly prosperous but sometimes not, mostly white collar but sometimes not.

      The common thread among Trump supporters is not income or occupation. Its skin color and age.

      Meanwhile, there is a vast pool of black and Hispanic people who are working class, but who mysteriously seem to get left out of the media narrative of the “working class”.

      I swear, I think that when media folks sit down at their Macbooks to type out stories on the “working class” its like their entire background research is listening to the Springsteen catalog.

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    • The idea that Trump is speaking for the working class as a whole is laughable. At best Trump is speaking for or to a segment of the working class and very small one at that. He definitely isn’t speaking to working class people of color or those in service jobs. At and worst and more accurately, Trump is speaking for white racists. Many Trump supporters are also well off economically.

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        • @j_a

          He isn’t even really speaking to the white working class largely. He is speaking to what Europeans would call the petit-bourgeois. Shop-keepers, small-time contractors or small time business people. IIRC the Trump voter median income is around 70,000 a year.

          Now many of these people do not have college degrees but they are the traditional source of right-wing populism/volkish politics because they can be hurt by the vagaries of the free market and too much regulation easily.

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    • Remember when the GOP spoke for Christians, where “Christian” didn’t include most Catholics or Episcopalians, and hardly any dark-skinned people, but did include people who hadn’t set foot in a church in years?

      Now Trump speaks for the working class, which includes hardly any dark-skinned people, but does include people who haven’t worked for years.

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  11. I’ll respond to you all en masse, since your points are all the same, and to which I have two separate answers:

    1. You are all correct that better reporting would not move the needle on Trump supporters. For one thing, they don’t care about what’s true or not — they’re partisans for a particular kind of conservatism, and there’s probably precious few crime Trump could be caught red-handed committing that would make them change their vote. Besides, those voters aren’t ever going to get their news from agencies attempting objective reporting. That’s just the way the tribal nature of politics works. As well, there are a lot of Republicans — including a slew of #nevertrumpers — who are going to vote for him no matter how much they dislike him because he has an R in front of his name. But elections aren’t won or lost on these people; they were never in play.

    If you go back and look at the aggregate polls over the past three months (and especially since each nominee officially clinched) you’ll note that they have been relatively consistent. But there has been temporary movement in both directions, and that movement directly follows how each candidate has been covered the prior 3-7 days. Some are less the way the press has covered than the actual news itself, of course: the FBI report on the emails, Clinton’s passing out, Trump’s choosing a battle against a Gold Star family and not letting up. But how it’s been covered has also absolutely moved the needle. When the Times and the cable news networks were focusing on Trump’s claims about the Clinton Foundation in a “Clinton’s connection to the money remains clouded to many” kind of way, it had a tangible effect. I submit that had it been reported in a more factual way — (The Trump camp claims that Clinton pocketed 95% of the money, but IRS records and independent audits show that this claim was entirely without merit, and in fact… etc.) — you would not have seen the needles move in the direction that they did.

    2. Specific candidates aside, there’s actually an important meta question here about the role of journalism in out society. I would submit to the three of you that journalists have a responsibility to fact check, provide context, and report out stories rather than parrot what people in power tell them not because then Donald Trump would lose the election, but for its own sake. Donald Trump will be gone in a few months, collecting yuge royalties off the branding his name to a populist/conservative news network. But the Republic will keep chugging along, and the need for reporters to report will continue to be as important then as it is today. Trump is only a symptom of the current problem, and his defeat in and of itself doesn’t actually address what’s happening to journalism.

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    • Not being a sufficiently sophisticated poll watcher I’ll defer to you on number 1. There is of course always the issue of correlation and causation. Maybe I’m so isolated in blue tribe territory it’s hard for me to think about news cycles impacting polls that way but I’m open to the possibility that it does.

      No real disagreement on number 2. The traditional media has become too close to establishment power much to the detriment of the democratic principles the country supposedly operates on. My point way back at the top was just that this has been a problem for at least 15-20 years now. It’s how we end up with Ellsberg revered and calls to prosecute Edward Snowden.

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    • Hi Tod,

      Haven’t been here for a long time mostly because i browse blogs on my iPad and this site doesn’t like mine.

      However I have been hitting the Dilbert site for years and started to notice Scott Adams had a blog. Fascinating stuff, especially when you consider that he’s been predicting a Trump landslide for over a year, long before he was even the nominee. Too much to unpack here but his most current blog entry follows. Sorry can’t do the fancy embedded URL with this iPad

      http://blog.dilbert.com/post/150816666991/blowing-your-mind-as-promised

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  12. I would also add that I, an active consumer of news, find mainstream political coverage essentially worthless. It rarely provides me with information that I find useful or interesting, except on the meta- level of what the mainstream political press is saying. The imperatives the press follows (horse race coverage and the shiny object of the day) leave the person using it as the primary source of information uninformed about the substance. Indeed, the horse race coverage often misinforms the news consumer about even the horse race. I first realized this eight years ago reading Nate Silver.

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  13. Let’s make a distinction between objective and neutral. An objective press would look at facts and make determinations about them. We have a neutral press, one that ignores facts in order to stay right in the middle (or what they see as the middle). This isn’t the result of bias; it’s the result of laziness and/or understaffing.

    A reporter gets a press release emailed to him. He writes 2/3 of a story. He looks for a press release from an opposing group. He writes the rest of the story. He hasn’t looked up a single fact, or done a single interview, but he produced a superficially balanced article that he can put out on the wires in under 10 minutes. That’s the problem.

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    • A related problem is the following: two reporters are each tasked with covering the Trump/Clinton Foundations and producing 90 seconds of video. The Trump report spends 90 seconds accurately describing the way in which his charity was used to settle personal lawsuits and purchase works of art for his businesses, with a denial from the Trump campaign calling the reporter disgruntled; the Clinton report spends 90 seconds accurately describing the way in which wealthy donors thought they could get access to the Clintons through the foundation but were typically denied that access, with an apology/non-apology from the Clinton campaign saying this is how the charity world works. The reports are presented by the news anchor as “a story on shady dealings at the Trump foundation … and now a story on shady dealings at the Clinton foundation”.

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      • The Washington Post’s reporting on the Trump Foundation is excellent and comes from them giving their reporter a phone, a notebook, and time. I have a feeling that the push for content now creates a time crunch and less than great reporting.

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        • Yeah, “time” (and the in-depth reporting that comes from it) is the thing that non-volunteer news organizations can sell. Part of it is also presentation, though, and that’s something that most newspapers and old school news networks are bad at (a few have caught on, but it’s not yet central to their model).

          There’s now a standard presentation style for longform reporting, analogous to the old magazine style (and some of the older magazines, like the Atlantic, get it). Tod uses it, and the LA times used it in their story on that drug framing in Irvine that was linked here (I think) a while ago. The Coates reparation piece wasn’t quite the same presentation, but it was close. But if you look at the websites of major papers and especially news networks (looking at you, CNN), they aren’t designed to present that sort of thing. As far as I can tell, they’re designed to present the notion of information, with no concern shown to actually presenting that information. Random people on Medium do a better job conveying information than most newspapers.

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  14. Yeah, mostly right. A couple of notes:

    * Covering Trump is much harder for TV than print. In print you get to write the story however you want. (The New York Times does not stress to much over it’s “objectivity” when reporting on the Clintons I note. They repeatedly run stories that amount to “it looked suspicious, but there’s nothing there”). On TV interviews, what happens is a dominance battle. Trump (or Christie!) says, “Muslims were dancing”. Reporter says, “No, they weren’t”. Trump glowers and says, “Yes, they were”. The only way to deal with this is to not put him on TV or to get in his face completely. But getting in people’s face is not what made them reporters. It’s all part of the dominance display that’s core to his appeal to authoritarians, who are mostly in the Republican Party these days.

    * Steve Bannon backed a book about the Clinton Foundation called “Clinton Cash”, written by Peter Schweitzer that the NY Times has been using as a handbook for covering Clinton. It came out a year ago, and it’s full of innuendo, if short on facts about, you know, actual wrongdoing.

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  15. As an aside, I don’t agree with Lane’s piece, but it’s much easier to take coming from the Post than the Times. I’d say the Post really has done its job, and just wish more of its peers had followed suit.

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  16. Here is the savvyness essay:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-rosen/karl-rove-and-the-cult-of_b_60411.html

    Savviness! Deep down, that’s what reporters want to believe in and actually do believe in — their own savviness and the savviness of certain others (including master operators like Karl Rove.) In politics, they believe, it’s better to be savvy than it is to be honest or correct on the facts. It’s better to be savvy than it is to be just, good, fair, decent, strictly lawful, civilized, sincere or humane.

    Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness — that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, “with it,” and unsentimental in all things political — is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.

    What is the truest mark of savviness? Winning, of course! Everyone knows that the press admires an unprincipled winner. (Of a piece with its fixation on the horse race.) Josh Green, a reporter for the Atlantic Monthly who actually took the time to understand Rove’s career, totaled up his winnings in a 2004 article (“Karl Rove in a Corner”) that I highly recommend.

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    • Yes and no.

      Trump is playing to peoples’ fears. If something happens that agitates that fear, yes, that is to his political benefit. I think that’s a worthwhile observation.

      At the same time, the reporting on the events themselves should be treated as apolitical. When it’s not election time, things like that are treated as apolitical, as tragedies and things everyone deplores.

      But then again, deploring something, or in the alternative being deplorable, has itself become a partisan token thing time around. Ah, it’s depressing and it makes me want to hide under a rock until November 9. (But of course I’m not going to do that.)

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      • It’s not total fear. I think he read somebody elses playbook. There are several elements in play:
        1. An upbeat ideology (make america great again, bring back jobs, make better deals)(of course this is in stark contrast to the dark chunks of ideology brought forth)
        2. Some context of a “better future” (at least one better than Hillary would provide, which is an extention of Obama perceived lack luster)
        3. Anti-establishment branding
        4. Focus on the needs of the moment
        5. Propaganda (insert media tooling here)

        Even as one of the worst examples of an agent of change can be found. People are so damned hungry for change away from the Hillary/Obama blan march into social democracy, they forgive/look past the Trump of crazy lies.

        The media should reduce tons of authority in these contests, but they tend to serve up the needs of propaganda required by both sides, and inevitably service the winner.

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          • Well, I do see “I’m going to bring our manufacturing jobs back” and “Make America Great Again” as positive sorts of campaign rhetoric. “Brighter days are in our future once I’m President!” isn’t negative campaigning. So while I see a whole lot of fear and negativity in Trump’s campaign, I don’t think that it’s all dark. Like all campaigns, it’s a marble cake — some light, some dark, all sort of swirled in together. Trump’s, in my opinion, has way more dark than light, but as always YMMV.

            I don’t think there’s ever been an all-negative campaign at the Presidential level; there simply can’t be. The successful politician of necessity must promise that, if she or he is elected, things are going to be better for the voter. Without that, the undecided voter lacks a necessary condition to select that candidate.

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            • Well this week there was this from His Trumpness:

              “We’re going to rebuild our inner cities because our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape that they’ve ever been in before,” Trump told a crowd in Kenansville. “Ever, ever, ever.”

              “You take a look at the inner cities: You get no education. You get no jobs. You get shot walking down the street,” he continued. “They’re worse, I mean honestly, places like Afghanistan are safer than some of our inner cities.”

              So i see the better days are coming stuff, but really it is surrounded with a metric butt ton of doomsday and everything sux. Yeah it depends a bit on viewpoint, but upbeat is pushing it.

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            • I’m going to bring our manufacturing jobs back

              Manufacturing, extractive industries, etc. The US has a jobs problem. The conventional Democratic response has been to push education. The conventional Republican response has been to push lower taxes on employers’ profits. Buried amongst all of the ugly stuff, Trump seems to be the only candidate saying, “If the problem is too few jobs, then we need policies that directly create jobs for our citizens.” It resonates. Specific policy proposals (Build big walls, tariff and otherwise!) resonate with some people for other reasons, but that doesn’t mean that the jobs problem doesn’t exist.

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              • Michael Cain,

                Bingo! This

                The US has a jobs problem. The conventional Democratic response has been to push education. The conventional Republican response has been to push lower taxes on employers’ profits. Buried amongst all of the ugly stuff, Trump seems to be the only candidate saying, “If the problem is too few jobs, then we need policies that directly create jobs for our citizens.” It resonates.

                is an excellent point. Along the way, as you (indirectly) note, he’s also saying that both Parties are offering a load of ideologically self-serving horse-manure to the electorate. And that really does resonate.

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                • The jobs can’t be brought back. They no longer exist.

                  Not here, not in Mexico, not in China.

                  Is not true that the USA manufacturing has disappeared. Manufacturing value added in the USA, at over two trillion, is around an all time high, and second only to China’s. Manufacturing output growth rate is also one of the highest in the world. See for instance http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NV.IND.MANF.CD?end=2014&locations=US&start=1997

                  But the high paying manufacturing jobs that could be had with a high school diploma and would keep you safely in the middle class were killed by automation. And they were killed because they were “High paying jobs”.

                  The Democratic policies of education and retraining for new jobs are, at best, a poor fit of a solution because (a) many people are too old or have other issues that make retraining difficult or impossible; (b) these new jobs are not available in the old industrial communities, so the successfully retrained worker still has to uproot himself and his family,mwhich might be difficult for many reasons; and (c) the new jobs pay less than the old manufacturing jobs.

                  The Republicans propose tax cuts for the rich because they don’t conceive of any problem that won’t be alleviated by tax cuts for the rich (war in the Middle East? Tax cuts for the rich, 2003 version, and voila, Iraq is free). Snark aside, the policy that richer rich people would invest in new manufacturing facilities is even worse because than the Democratic policies because: (a) it does not include any nudge or stick to force the rich to invest their additional capital in new manufacturing instead of buying a new yatch; (b) it does not give workers any tool for them to have more agency in heir own fate, but condemns them to the whim of a perhaps possible investor to perhaps possibly hire them; and (c) ignores the fact that any new manufacturing facility will be automated to the max, and would generate very few high paying jobs.

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                  • J A,

                    I think the bigger issue, and the one I was trying to point at, is that Trump’s rhetoric about jobs cuts two ways: 1) it’s a big political concern for folks who’ve been outsourced/offshored/downsized/wagestagnated/automated/etc etc. (I think that’s a lot of folks, myself), and 2) his proposal (as Michael Cain mentioned and you follow up on) stands in stark relief to the pie-in-the-sky ideologically and institutionally driven “job creation” proposals offered by Dems and Gopers, ones which won’t really effect anyone who feels American workers have lost economic ground over the last 20, 30, 40 years or so. So it’s a sorta political double wammy.

                    Personally, I think Trump’s rhetoric about jobs (“redo the trade deals!”) is just a piece of his broader “positive” campaign strategy, which focuses almost entirely on evaluating current policies and practices in terms of the border (trade, immigration, international treaty commitments, the role of the US military). His approach is a blunt and direct appeal to a conservative* conception of nationalism as defined by our own borders, one which he has been able to effectively contrast – favorably, for his supporters – with the prevailing, more expansive ideological views currently embraced and championed by the GOP and Democrats (add: and all the institutions – various important “think tanks”, the NSC and so on – which share those views.)

                    *In a non-partisan, pre-political conception of that term (if such a thing is possible anymore).

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                    • And here we are now talking about two different things: policies (Clinton, Ryan), and politics (Trump)

                      There is a problem, the dissaperance of job, and there are fellings about the problem. The feelings are as real as the problem, don’t get me wrong. People that are victims of the problem, also feel the problem..

                      Technocrats, like both Clintons, J_A, or Paul Ryan, fixate on the problem, and try to come up with POLICIES to try to solve the problem. Perhaps (probably, in this case) the problem has no solution in real life, and the Clintons, J_A, or Paul Ryan, at best are able to propose palliatives to ameliorate the issues (*).

                      Raw political people, like Trump, fixate of the feelings. They acknowledge the existence of the feelings, address the feelings, and say things that make the people with the problem think he understands them. Trump GETS them, and they feel validated and respected, in a way that no policy proposal, no matter how good, can provide. Trump does not offer any policy worth anything (and he knows it), but he’s managing the POLITICS of the problem.

                      (*) For instance, noted political commentator and pundit J_A has proposed that a significant number of displaced workers should be given early retirement in similar terms as disabled workers.

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                      • Technocrats, like both Clintons, J_A, or Paul Ryan, fixate on the problem, and try to come up with POLICIES to try to solve the problem.

                        Yes, true. But, and I think it’s an important “but”, they do so within the constraints of their own ideological commitments. Trump’s appeal is that he’s essentially expressing the view that those very ideological “wonk-based” constraints aren’t immutable, or necessary. They can change. (Heck, in her first run for President Clinton floated the idea of taxing repatriation of foreign derived profits from US-based firms as a mechanism to curtail offshoring. She quickly abandoned the idea…)

                        Perhaps (probably, in this case) the problem has no solution in real life, and the Clintons, J_A, or Paul Ryan, at best are able to propose palliatives to ameliorate the issues (*).

                        Yes, and if so, then the “wonky” types, like Ryan and Hillary, ought to be honest about that and begin introducing the idea of a GBI as the only solution. But they don’t. So they’re playing the same game Trump is from the other direction.

                        But look, I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said about the distinction between politics and policy. My only disagreement is the idea that “policy” does, or ought to, follow from some evidentially based conception of inexorability, since that either presupposes that our economic models (as currently constructed) are in some sense necessary, or that they are entailed by necessary moral properties. I don’t think either is the case. And Trump is picking apart (for better or worse) the institutionally-based conception that it is.

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                      • Technocrats, like both Clintons, J_A, or Paul Ryan, fixate on the problem, and try to come up with POLICIES to try to solve the problem.

                        With respect to jobs, at least, the policies they come up with are indirect to an extreme. As in, the Dems assume that if person X gets four more years of education, there will be a job for them. Such may be entirely true for one person, but it’s more problematic in the aggregate. Ie, a million people getting four-year degrees in software engineering are very unlikely to find a million software engineering jobs waiting for them.

                        Even Trump is only somewhat more direct. Eg, he suggests that if we build high enough walls, any one who wants to sell furniture in the US will have to sell furniture made with US wood (timber and milling jobs) built by US craftsmen (or at least, on US machines maintained by US citizens).

                        Even noted pundit @j_a suggests displaced workers should get early retirement. No one suggests giving them jobs. Send me to any US state of moderate size and give me six weeks with carte blanche to poke into things, and I guarantee I can find needed software that is not being written. At the standard billing rates for the companies that do such projects, hundreds of millions of dollars worth of software. Software that won’t ever be written and maintained at those rates. That such a situation exists suggests something.

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            • Former OTer Bouie has been doing some great stories on the dark undercurrents of the Trump slogans. Make America Great Again has an air of plausible deniability but minorities do not necessarily look upon the olden days as great. They might not even look upon today as great considering this week’s news.

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    • I will, once again, go back to point this out.

      There is a number.

      I suppose the formula is something like this:

      A + (B/Z)

      A is the number of Significant Events in the USA. Stuff like riots in cities, police officers killed in particularly horrible ways, terrorist attacks (or events that present similarly to terrorist attacks.

      B is the number of these things that happen in Europe.

      Z is some number that I don’t know what it is but it’s probably between 2 and 5 given that crazy stuff that happens in Europe is important… but it’s not *AS* important as the stuff that happens on US soil.

      If that number hits some number (let’s call it “T”), then Trump will win the election. If that number is lower than T, Hillary will win.

      I point this out not to say “HEY I SAID THAT FIRST” but to say “I believe that this is an accurate representation of reality and, as an accurate representation of reality, it’s something that is observable by others.

      It may be in very poor taste to accurately describe what one has observed. Criticizing an accurate description as being in poor taste strikes me as being a criticism that will not stand the test of time.

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      • What is giving you confidence that this model is accurate? A pretty big counter-point was the attacks in Orlando and Nice, which were followed by wall-to-wall law and order coverage at the RNC, which lead to a huge crater in Trump support.

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            • Because I was responding to this particular point of yours:

              A pretty big counter-point was the attacks in Orlando and Nice, which were followed by wall-to-wall law and order coverage at the RNC, which lead to a huge crater in Trump support.

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                • Are we still talking about why I think my formula is accurate, at this point?

                  I probably should have added something about “horror decay”.

                  I mean, the Orlando Shooting doesn’t even matter for the election anymore, does it? The Nice Truck Attack? Pffft.

                  So let’s stipulate a “horror decay” function into the formula.

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                    • His support started immediately cratering right around the start of the Democratic convention.

                      Which, from what I understand, is something that happens quite regularly.

                      To be sure: Trump is not the *ONLY* factor here. Clinton is a factor as well.

                      But I still kinda think that my formula is accurate (though we need to tweak it with some sort of horror decay function).

                      Out of curiosity, do you think that Trump’s numbers next week will be better than this week’s or worse?

                      My hypothesis, which is falsifiable, is that his numbers will be better next week. They will be better due to such things as the events in Charlotte.

                      How’s this? If his numbers are *NOT* better by this time next week than they are today, I will shut the hell up about my formula henceforth.

                      Here’s what Sam Wang, Our Numbers Guy, has to say right now:

                      Snapshot (143 state polls): Clinton 289, Trump 249 EV Meta-margin: Clinton +1.4%
                      RSS
                      Clinton Nov. win probability: random drift 68%, Bayesian 79%

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                      • >>Out of curiosity, do you think that Trump’s numbers next week will be better than this week’s or worse?

                        My model for Trump is (1) he does well when he attacks institutions and not individuals; (2) to the extent that he benefits from Serious Events it’s by talking about how he’s going to kick ass and not about how awful things are. I don’t think he was able to do either this week, so I think his numbers will be worse. Of course, we have the first debate on Monday which throws everything for a loop. But let’s see what happens.

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                        • Good! This is falsifiable.

                          Are Sam Wang’s numbers good for you or would you prefer someone else’s?

                          I’m happy with anybody we choose to use, they just have to update a handful of times between now and this time next week.

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                          • Wang is fine, and keeps you on the same page with your other commitments :) In the unlikely event that you’re right by Wang but wrong by HuffPo that would mean Trump is doing what you say he’s doing *and* in the states where he needs to do it so I will eat two hats.

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                  • No, he’s saying that at the time things didn’t follow your model. I’d say that’s because your model is premised on an assumption that the whole voting population, or maybe just the dithering, undecided part of the population, is going to react to terror attacks the way diehard Trump supporters evidently do.

                    Some people, after a terror attack, want to hear about how someone is going to step in and take charge and ruthlessly defend them from scary foreigners.

                    Other people, though, worry about putting a blustering, idiotic, egomaniacal conman in charge.

                    Some of those people may fear foreigners and want to be ruthlessly defended but still balk at giving the job to a blithering megalomaniac.

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                    • Well, I’d also say that, at that particular point in time, we weren’t even close to T being sufficient.

                      At the time, I said “if the election were held today, Clinton would win”.

                      Right now? I’d probably say “If the election were held today, Clinton would win”.

                      November?

                      We’ll see if T is larger than it is today (taking into account some sort of Horror Decay function).

                      If T is large enough, Trump will win.

                      And the only evidence for this that I can provide is whether my hypothesis that Trump’s numbers will be bigger next week than they are this week.

                      (I suppose the other evidence for my formula is that other people are seeing it too.)

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                        • Oh, not *MORALLY*.

                          We all know that terrorist attacks are bad and the Charlotte riots are righteous and good.

                          It is known.

                          I’m merely saying “events that signal great instability and create feelings of uncertainty in the viewer” rather than “bad events”.

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                          • It has nothing to do with morality.

                            It has to to with the kinds of fear and uncertainty created, the people feeling the fear and uncertainty, and the sorts of things that people who are feeling that fear and uncertainty are going to want to hear in order to feel relieved or hopeful.

                            Speaking very tentatively, if either is going to help Trump, I’d expect that it would be things like the Charlotte riots that will help Trump, rather than terrorist attacks. My impression is that persuadable people upset by the Charlotte riots want to, for instance, see the police defended rhetorically, which Trump is actually capable of doing.

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                            • Terrorist attacks, on US soil though, tend to start two very different conversations:

                              Clinton: Islam is a religion of peace, policy targeting Muslims are bigotry!
                              Trump: I told you so. I can put an end to this shit. I *WILL*.

                              Trump people are Trump people and Clinton people are Clinton people.

                              Which will befenced people be more persuaded by?

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                              • The past evidence suggests that Clinton’s arguments are the ones to go with. They prevailed after Orlando and Nice, they prevailed at and after the party conventions, they prevailed for Obama and most importantly and relevantly, they prevailed for George W. Bush.

                                I’m not arguing on the basis of which arguments are appealing to me, or that I believe are true [1], I’m going on the basis of arguments I think are election-winners.

                                So even starting there, I think that Clinton has the advantage. Beyond that, though, Trump on terrorism always ends up being about how only he can save us. Which, come on. Even a lot of the people who think that a campaign of lawless, pitiless murder is the only thing that can save us from ISIS already think that Hillary Clinton is a lawless, pitiless murderer.

                                [1] Hell, I think “religion of peace” is basically cant no matter what religion you’re applying it to. Any religion can–and every religion I know of has–empowered both warmongers and peacemakers.

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                          • The reason why I don’t think Charlotte will help Trump among the “undecided” is as follows:

                            What strategy can Trump propose when confronted with a Charlotte? Martial Law and machine gun the demonstrators (*)? I don’t think his very Manichaeans worldview can accommodate fighting Americans without crossing a line that even him would rather not cross.

                            That’s a big difference with ISIS. He can propose to machine gun ISIS all they long. Even Hillary voters would be cool with that.

                            (*) A significant percentage of convinced trumpists would support the machine gun the demonstrators option, but they were going to vote for Trump already. He got them “rapist Mexicans” already

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                            • What strategy can Trump propose when confronted with a Charlotte?

                              Off the top of my head: “Cops have a tough job, the guy was brandishing a gun and by doing that, was asking to get shot, Cops have a tough job, these rioters don’t care about justice, they only care about property damage and looting, Cops have a tough job, Obama has failed to recognize Cops have a tough job, one thing that I’m going to do when I am president is make it easier to be a cop and easier to keep us safe. Believe me.”

                              Something like that.

                              Something like that.

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                              • I agree he would say something, but I’m generally pro cop and even I don’t think it’s anywhere as effective as going against ISIS.

                                Because he can’t say what he would do to the protestors. It’s the only part missing in your otherwise fairly good description of what he would do.

                                He can’t say what to do to the protestors.

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        • What is giving you confidence that this model is accurate?

          Chip’s Theorem:
          Any formula whose variables are expressed as nonfalsifiable numbers is nonfalsifiable.

          A= a quantity of things we can’t define;
          B= a quantity of things we can’t define;
          Z= a range between 2 and 5;
          T= a percentage between 0 and 100

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          • I can’t falsify my formula. I can only point to stuff like “other people seem to be seeing this sort of thing too… and that tells me that it might not exist only in my head”.

            What I can do is test whether what the formula suggests would happen is something that actually happens.

            We’ve had several days of “events” in Charlotte.

            My hypothesis is that Trump’s numbers will go up.

            I have already said that, if they don’t, I’ll shut up about my formula.
            I’ll go a step further: If Trump’s numbers stay the same or if they go down, I will consider my formula falsified.

            Deal?

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            • I believe that this answer falsifies Chip’s Theorem, does it not?

              If not, how not?

              Edit: Oh, I think it could be argued that it merely demonstrates Chip’s Theorem’s inapplicability to this particular case.

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  17. Reading everything again, some thoughts

    1) You can blame the media in part for Trump’s rise due all the free ‘earned media’ he got from Summer 2015 to Summer 2016.
    a) but a lot of that earned media was Trump speaking off the cuff and making his most famous ‘gaffes’, e.g. comments about Mexicans, comments about Megan Kelly, comments and gestures about Serge Kovaleski. These were all fairly widely reported and well remembered even now. (people may not recognize Kovaleski’s name, but they remember ‘mocking a disabled reporter).
    Trump’s media presence *should* have been the cliche of giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. It didn’t, and that’s not “the media’s” fault; that’s the fault of the people that elevated Trump *despite* all the gaffs.

    2) Now that we have 2 major party nominees, a situation that is ‘normal’, it’s a lot to ask of the media to treat it any differently than normal. I do agree with the Gentlemen’s Game to the extent, to borrow from O’Rourke, to the extent that all the major party nominees since FDR have been wrong (or right), they have been wrong or right within normal parameters.
    a) Trump is outside these parameters, but in the Man of All Season’s sense, I still don’t think it’s a good idea to alter the ‘normal’ practices of the media just to get at the Devil. Especially if we really believe in Democracy and the aggregate wisdom of the crowd. And if we believe that Trump being Trump *should* be alienating enough to enough of the electorate on its own.
    b) But if that does fail, if letting the string play out doesn’t work – I’ve said this before, a Trump victory would require a serious reassessment of all aspects of modern elected represented governance – to the extent of possibly (metaphorically) nuking the whole thing; i.e. doing a Ctrl Alt Del on the current Constitution.

    3) As I said, Trump should be self-refuting on his own, as Owen Ellickson’s superb twitter feed demonstrates, but for some reason, he’s not.
    a) or rather he’s not self-refuting enough to keep him under 40% – but he *has* been self-refuting enough to keep him under 50%.
    b) nonetheless, the sudden need to ‘fact-check’ him now is asking for a quagmire as other’s have said above. A frequent problem is that he says stuff that is again either self refuting or a piss poor way of marketing the message or both, but, cast another way, is something that even Democrats can and do say. Witness the meta-narrative about how ‘the system is rigged’ – something Senators Sanders and Warren have made major or minor parts of their brand.
    Another example – take Trump’s speech regarding “black communities are in the worse shape ever”. Putting aside ‘true or false’, it’s terribly worded, with some combo of condescension and racism baked into both text and subtext.

    *but*, you give a speech that says something like “Black America is in crisis” and point to the long standing and stubbornly persistent racial disparities in income, net worth, educational attainment, life expectancy, and being *victims* of crime – well, that’s a speech Clinton could give.

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  18. There’s an ambiguity in the OP that I want to mention. Tod’s footnote offers a very precise and exacting definition of “journalism.” I’m fine with that definition. But the OP itself criticizes the media, which as we know is not all or even mostly “journalism” in the sense he is using the word. It’s other things, primarily entertainment but also partisan rallies, tribal love fests, and perchance still other things.

    What’s left to criticize, then? Are we to criticize entertainers for being entertainers? Or criticize entertainers for trying to pass themselves off as journalists?* Or people with the professional title of “journalist” who fall short of the definition? My uncertainty about the answers to those questions is where I see the OP’s ambiguity. That ambiguity is not fatal to Tod’s point, but it makes his point harder for me to discern.

    To be clear, I don’t dispute the need for more journalism as defined by Tod’s footnote. And that even though like Tod (and others here), I have doubts whether it would move or would have moved the needle enough to sufficiently degrade Trump’s popularity.

    *As I recall, I once criticized Jon Stewart’s presentation of the news and Tod offered the view that Stewart is entertainment and not journalism and therefore not a fair object of the type of criticism I was offering at the time. That’s ironic given Tod’s definition of “journalist.” Whatever criticism I had about Stewart’s shtick, I can’t dispute that he used actual facts when lampooning people.

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    • I don’t dispute the need for more journalism as defined by Tod’s footnote. And that even though like Tod (and others here), I have doubts whether it would move or would have moved the needle enough to sufficiently degrade Trump’s popularity.

      Same here. Personally, I think there HAS been plenty of good journalism re: Trump. Big exposes, deep investigations, that sorta thing. He’s even consistently called out for his incoherence (“you’ve promised that you have a plan to defeat ISIS.” “Yes, I have a plan.” “ANd it relies in installing new generals who you’ll work with to come up with a plan, is that correct?” “Yes. Right now I don’t have a plan.”) and small lies and minor corruptions (like using charitable organization donations to pay his business debts). The thing people (eg., Tod, apparently) simply can’t get their minds around is that “the facts” simply don’t matter right now (and that’s a trend, it seems to me), especially to Trump supporters. They’re making their electoral decisions from a different, less idealizedly rational, place.

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      • Btw, when I say “the thing people can’t get their minds around…”, I’m most definitely including myself in that group. Something is happening here, this election, and it’s so crazy on so many levels I’m not sure anyone knows (yet!) exactly what the hell it is. But whatever it is, I disagree that it can be accounted for simplistically by appealing to ignorance, or bad journalism, or racism.

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        • Paradigm change.

          Back when I wrote this piece I was starting to put my finger on it (and it holds up well, if I do say so myself) but what finally put it all together for me was Ross Douthat this last week, in his Clinton’s Samantha Bee Problem piece:

          First, within the liberal tent, they have dramatically raised expectations for just how far left our politics can move, while insulating many liberals from the harsh realities of political disagreement in a sprawling, 300-plus million person republic. Among millennials, especially, there’s a growing constituency for whom right-wing ideas are so alien or triggering, left-wing orthodoxy so pervasive and unquestioned, that supporting a candidate like Hillary Clinton looks like a needless form of compromise.

          Thus Clinton’s peculiar predicament. She has moved further left than any modern Democratic nominee, and absorbed the newer left’s Manichaean view of the culture war sufficiently that she finds herself dismissing almost a quarter of the electorate as “irredeemable” before her donors. Yet she still finds herself battling an insurgency on her left flank, and somewhat desperately pitching millennials on her ideological bona fides.

          At the same time, outside the liberal tent, the feeling of being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance is turning voting Republican into an act of cultural rebellion — which may be one reason the Obama years, so good for liberalism in the culture, have seen sharp G.O.P. gains at every level of the country’s government.

          Now, I tend to think of Ross as a bit of a pearl clutcher, but he is spot on here. The left has won the cultural battle, but at the same time the country has dramatically moved rightward in political positioning, governorships, state houses, the house and Senate, etc. And in winning that cultural battle they have lost the moral truth of institutions such as the legacy media. Right now, trust in the media is at an all time low. In other words, all those op-eds and long form pieces about Trump are basically preaching to the converted. The people who ostensibly “need” to hear this have tuned the messenger out. I do think they instinctively saw in Trump how the media did not know what to do with him and it gave him power over them (the media).

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          • I find you, and Ross, quite spot on on Hillary, but hasn’t the mirror problem been plaguing the Republicans for quite some time, in which the far right base, or elites, or whatever the Club for Growth or the Conservative Values Voters are, keeps pulling otherwise pragmatically populists into claiming more and more extreme positions?

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              • It depends who “them” is

                Individual thems have profited of it, because in our polarized and gerrymandered nation almost no Congresional district and very few state side offices are in play. Thereal election is the primary, and the “engaged base” has the power to select the candidate.

                General them, not so much. Demographically, more people vote Democrat than Republican for the House or the Senate (or President)

                Another general themin trouble can be seen in the inability of the GOP House leadership to control its caucus. The Freedom Caucus is imposing itself way beyond their numbers by its ability to block any substantial action, even if they don’t have the votes to carry the day themselves. The Leadership’s decision to not look for Democratic votes to kick the Freedom Caucus out is also due to their individual fear of being out primaried on the right.

                Tl/dr the tactic is very successful for the individuals involved, and quite dangerous for the GOP as a group.

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          • The left didn’t win the culture war. War was always a stupid metaphor for the cultural changes we have gone through. Many aspects of the culture have moved leftwards but you can’t win cultures. Culture is far to diverse and has far to many moving parts to be simply defined in win/lose terms. To many people, to many groups to win or lose. Liberal cultural dominance is pretty silly. Yes i know how people have talked about that, but many people live only partially aware of all sorts of what we call culture. If you dont’ listen to RW pearl clutchers then i’ll be people don’t even know they are being cultural dominated.

            The right cultures warriors are out of touch and self isolating. That is true. Somehow though when the left “wins” it still ends up being bad for the left.

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            • I think it’s fair to say that the most recent big shift (prior to whatever results from this election cycle) was a leftward shift: gay marriage. That particular political battle swung very hard and very fast from “contested” circa 2010 to “progressives winning” circa 2012 and thence to “progressive victory” in 2015. Any subsequent fighting on that front is an uphill battle on the conservative faction’s part, trying to roll back or attenuate that victory, and the major participants have mostly moved on to a different issue (trans* rights, especially things like gender neutral bathrooms).

              This election cycle touches different issues, but to the extent that Trump’s supporters are or were part of the traditional social conservative faction*, they just dealt with a major cultural shift against their preferences.

              * This point could very reasonably be disputed. I’ve seen claims on both sides, but I don’t think I’ve seen much evidence. Or if I have, I’ve forgotten it.

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              • As a counterpoint, I think that Trump’s rise to Trumpism! is based on the fact that – ideologically! – he doesn’t actually give a rats ass about gay marriage.

                Personally speaking here, and I’m obviously not a high paid prognosticator or pundit, Trump’s appeal cuts across all the conventionally accepted political drivers. That’s why no one in the Convention can get a grip on what the hell is going on here.

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                • I definitely agree that gay marriage and similar social issues are absolutely not central to this election. In fact I don’t think they’ve been a driver at the presidential level since maybe 2004 (Prop 8 was national news, but I think its effect on the 2008 presidential election was mostly limited to California plus maybe Utah).

                  I’m not sure Trump actually cuts across political motivations, though. Here’s my picture of his supporters, based on their primary motivation:

                  -He’s definitely got the nativists locked down, and he did that without any outside influence pushing them to him.
                  -He has the portion of #neither that is Republican and unwilling to go to Johnson or stay home. These guys are voting tribal, but they’re voting for their pre-existing tribe, not any new one Trump is defining, so he doesn’t get any credit for it.
                  -He has #HillaryIsWorse. I think this group is slightly different from the one above, in that it includes people who don’t have any opinion on Trump. For the same reasons, though, I don’t think Trump gets credit here. (Nor would he get credit for a hypothetical #BernieIsWorse)
                  -He’s got a noteworthy number of non-nativist isolationists*. Here he gets credit for genuinely advocating isolationism during the election, whatever he might have said previously (I honestly don’t remember).
                  -He’s got a whole bunch of conservative Evangelical and Baptist voters. I’m pretty sure these guys are doing the same thing as the #HillaryIsWorse crowd above, voting on pre-existing tribal lines, but they’d be in the bag of any Republican nominee against any Democratic nominee.
                  -He’s got a bunch of people voting for him on his “outsider” brand. This is to his credit.
                  -He’s got a bunch of people voting against technocrats and low-energy politics generally. This is to his credit.
                  -He’s got another bunch of people voting against liberal arts students and politeness discourse. Again, to his credit.

                  I think that about captures it. That gives him nativists, many isolationists, anti-technocrats, and the anti-PC brigade. All of those are pretty widely acknowledged political factions, and I don’t think Trump has much appeal outside of them. The rest of his support comes from people who dislike his opponent(s).

                  What confuses people, I think, is (1) the size of Trump’s factions relative to the rest of the Republican base and (2) the number of people willing to vote against his particular opponent, even if they wouldn’t normally vote for Trump.

                  * What isolationists Trump doesn’t capture don’t trust him to actually keep an isolationist stance. Since non-nativist isolationists are usually intellectual types not likely to trust him, he doesn’t get very many of them, but this is despite his claimed policies, rather than because of them.

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                  • To modify this somewhat:

                    1) We are currently in the midst of a political transition. It’s been happening since at least the tail end of Obama’s first term, but didn’t have much of an effect on the 2012 presidential election because Obama is/was pretty popular (compared to other contemporary politicians) and the Republican elite still had control of their party.

                    2) Trump stands at the head of one faction of what used to be the GOP base, with a fair bit of support from other factions mostly for pragmatic/incidental reasons.* What he doesn’t have is a new coalition. That has yet to take shape.

                    * Had Clinton lost the Democratic primary, we’d be seeing essentially the same thing on that side. Clinton shakes out as more of a Romney-type candidate, though: her support is unenthusiastic but pretty well united.

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