CNN Loves a Circus

I’m spending this week experimenting with different possible forms of output for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please share your thoughts in comments, or at froomkin@whitehousewatch.com.

CNN logoIt’s not uncommon for political debate moderators to be critiqued the morning after.

But I’ve never seen anything like the reaction to CNN’s performance on Tuesday night.

A whole bunch of things are going on here.

Yes, the questions were idiotic, largely based on Republican talking points, and designed purely to inflict damage. Yes, the format was a total disaster, with moderators constantly cutting off responses. And yes, there was an aggressive but entirely unacknowledged shilling for a centrist agenda.

But it’s more than that. It’s about CNN, and journalism, and what qualifies as political debate today, and, ultimately, the debasement of the single most important political medium in the world to a point where it creates, sustains, and protects the kind of vacuous, violent, circus atmosphere in which people like Donald Trump thrive and democracy suffers.

Read moreCNN Loves a Circus

Jonathan Weisman, Deputy Washington Editor for the New York Times, Reveals His Own Toxic Political Geography

I’m spending this week experimenting with different possible forms of output for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please share your thoughts in comments, or at froomkin@whitehousewatch.com.

When Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor for the New York Times, posted a tweet in the early hours of Wednesday morning scoffing at the notion that heavily-minority urban areas in the Midwest are part of the Midwest, he unwittingly revealed his own internal political geography — and that of his professional home.

The response — including from highly respected journalistic colleagues — has been thunderous, probing, distressed, and astute.

It comes, of course, in the context of the Times playing an outsized role in the political journalism community’s relationship to Trump. It is arguably the chief target of his attacks against a free press. It has roused itself to undertake outstanding investigations into his fraudulence as a person, a businessman, a candidate and a president. But it has also proven itself too timid and too addicted to access to be as critical and confrontational — in the defense of truth, pluralism, and fair play — as its role demands.

Read moreJonathan Weisman, Deputy Washington Editor for the New York Times, Reveals His Own Toxic Political Geography

Biased or Lazy? New York Times Traffics in False Dichotomies About Democrats

conflicting "one way" signs

I’m spending this week experimenting with different possible forms of output for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please share your thoughts in comments, or at froomkin@whitehousewatch.com.

The news article leading the New York Times website Tuesday morning is an astonishingly dishonest take on the Democratic presidential race, rife with false dichotomies, and planting its thumb heavily on the scale in favor of Joe Biden.

Under the headline Ahead of Debates, Pennsylvania Democrats Lean More Pragmatic Than Progressive, 25-year Timesman Trip Gabriel describes his visit to Bucks County, Pa., “a swing town in a swing county in a swing state,” and casts Democrats there as “wrestling with the old tug of whether to follow their heart or their head in picking a candidate.”

He declares that “For the moment, the head seemed to be winning.”

But the progressive vs. pragmatic, head vs. heart dichotomy is an insidious one. You are presuming an awful lot when you call something “pragmatic”; you are presuming that it will be effective — indeed more effective than the alternative. It literally means “dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.”

That’s not a word to be bandied about casually.

Similarly, you are presuming an awful lot when you say the “head” wants one thing and the “heart” wants another. You are saying that the “head” is pursuing the logical answer, and the “heart” is just being emotional.

Read moreBiased or Lazy? New York Times Traffics in False Dichotomies About Democrats

Three new broadsides against American political journalism

One of the main reasons I am planning to launch a project constructively critiquing American political journalism is that I have been struck by how many super-smart people out there have super-useful things to say about what’s wrong with our political coverage — and how it could be better. (I’m testing possible formats for the project’s blog this week; let me know what you think.)

Here are three cases in point — just from the last couple days.

Emily Bell is a leading thinker on the intersection of technology and journalism. She’s a professor at the Columbia Journalism School and founding director of its Tow Center for Digital Journalism, is former editor-in-chief of the Guardian websites and remains a Guardian columnist. In a seminal lecture in 2017, she looked back on the 2016 U.S. election and concluded that “the information ecosystem has grown in ways that work against the interests of civic society and good journalism.”

In her Guardian column on Sunday, she reflected on lessons the UK media could learn from American reporting on Trump – now that the UK has its own version in the form of Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Read moreThree new broadsides against American political journalism

How does it feel to be called subhuman by the president of the United States? Reporters don’t ask.

Baltimore skyline
Baltimore skyline

I’m spending this week experimenting with different possible forms of output for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. Please share your thoughts in comments, or at froomkin@whitehousewatch.com.

You know who I want to hear from? Ordinary Baltimoreans.

(Not more Trump supporters.)

Read moreHow does it feel to be called subhuman by the president of the United States? Reporters don’t ask.

Good news and bad news about media coverage of Trump’s racist rants

I’m spending this week experimenting with different possible forms of output for a new project I’m pursuing that involves a daily critique of American political journalism. The first lesson from today is that I’m going to have to wake up a lot earlier if I want to be done by noon ET, which seems like an important goal. The second is that there is so much to write about every single day (and maybe more on Mondays.) Should I cram everything into one column? Create individual items? More to come later. Please share your thoughts in comments, or at froomkin@whitehousewatch.com.

Rep. Elijah Cummings chairing the House Oversight Committee
Rep. Elijah Cummings chairing the House Oversight Committee
Journalists in our major newsrooms are getting closer – but not nearly close enough — to adequately contextualizing Trump’s racism in their news reports.

It’s a sign of progress that they are no longer reflexively relegating discussion of the implications of his racist comments to “critics”. But they are still being way too euphemistic — so when Trump says something that almost anyone would reasonably call racist, it’s still more often called “racially inflammatory,” or part of an “overt racial debate.”

Another good step is that reporters are increasingly calling out Trump’s 2020 political strategy for what it is: a blatant attempt to sow division and energize an angry white populace.

But they’re not raising the obvious moral dimensions. They’re not sufficiently citing Trump’s long history of racist statements and actions to make the case that this is a fundamental element of his character. They give too much credence to denials that Trump is being racist. And they’re not capturing how abnormal – how radical – it is that neither he nor his administration are even paying lip service to pluralism, in either words or action.

Read moreGood news and bad news about media coverage of Trump’s racist rants