Sunday, July 26, 2015

When Beltway Media Is Out of the Loop

There is something tangible to the "what the hell happened" response of the mainstream media this week, all involving the combined fascination and fear the media elites have with Teh Trumpster.

After the Republican leaders and most of the Washington DC power circles attacked Trump for going after one of their beloved own - Senator McCain - the prognosticators and experts and talking heads were crowing that Trump had finally gone too far, had insulted a hero POW, was likely to lose supporters from the vast number of Vietnam War vets and other vets who leaned Republicans.

Instead, Trump's polling numbers have stayed well in the 20 percentile - give or take a few points - and remains in a clear lead among the Republican primary candidates.  We're all - guilty party here alongside the Beltway media elites - talking Trump (even as we're all in the need for bathing in holy water once we walk away from the blog writing).

The media probably couldn't understand why, although I kinda figured Trump wasn't going to get hurt at all by going after McCain.  Because he wasn't so much going after John McCain the Vietnam Navy pilot, he was going after John McCain the Media Darling.

Look, back in the day before the Republican Party got to be too insane even for me, I backed McCain, I liked him as a candidate in 2000 mostly because he wasn't Dubya (by that time my ire for the Bush clan due to Jeb was greater than anything else) and partly because he showed bipartisan efforts as a Senator.  Problem with him now is, I swear McCain gets invited to Sunday talk shows every week.  He's become a go-to interview subject for the mainstay political roundtables to where he's over-saturated the market.  They - the media elite - hang on his every word even when he's not the real guy they ought to be interviewing on that given topic.  They act like he really won the Presidency in 2008 or something.  It's gotten annoying, even to a former fanboy like me who will on occasion forgive McCain for the sad-but-unavoidable pandering he did to win the GOP nomination back then (I do, in fact, absolve him of making the horrific move of picking Palin for the Veep spot: he wanted someone the party wouldn't take, so he went either out of spite or frustration for a complete unknown whose governing record wasn't deep enough to reveal how much of a loon she was.  I blame a poor vetting system and a party obsessed with image over competency...).  Anyhoo.

THAT is the guy - the Interview All-Hours-Of-The-Day McCain - Trump was really targeting: Trump was pointing out how McCain's reputation was vastly inflated all because of his years in a POW camp.  And most of the Trump fanbase knew that.  A good amount of the Republican voting base knew that: it may surprise the media elites to know that McCain is not all that popular to the Tea Party and Far Right crowds.

It's amazing how an entire profession - media people, whose backgrounds are supposed to be in journalism and are supposed to handle information and data on a regular basis - can be so clueless, out-of-touch, and misinformed about a lot of things about their own nation, their own audiences.

I'm amazed but not surprised.  I've known for over a decade that the higher-end of the media power structure - the national media, the cable and nightly newspeople - have been disconnected from the general public ever since the Lewinsky scandal.  How the talking heads were all predicting doom for Bill Clinton, that he had to resign for having betrayed everyone (mostly themselves), the moral indignity of it all (swoon)...  Only to find a majority of Americans still liked Slick Willie, that they backed him during the Republicans' failed effort to impeach, and that all of their outrage had been mocked or ignored.

The disconnect is still there, and it's gotten worse.  Per David Atkins at Washington Monthly:

The interesting question is why there is such a disconnect between the establishment pundit class and average American voters.  ...The professional political class lives in same socially rarefied air as America’s business...elites, culturally and economically separated by a widening gulf of inequality and disconnection that prevents them from grasping at an emotional, fundamental level the challenges faced by normal families...

The low-end journalists, the ones working local markets and on papers and magazines (the ones not yet dying out) may still earn within the real middle-class range (between 40k to 70k yearly) and may well remain connected to the real world.  However, once you get to the cable channel level, the nightly news level, the talking head level, those are people pulling down the seven-figure incomes and book deals of the upper classes.  Even the ones still "thinking" themselves as liberals/left-leaning are going to find themselves unable to fathom what a family living under $10 an hour has to do to survive.

The professional political class tends to believe that there is a mythical American “centrist/moderate” voter who loves John McCain and Joe Lieberman because they are serious, respectable moderates who “get things done...”
Note: we don't.

...The fact that the centrist voter is largely a myth doesn’t dawn on them, because they spend more time misreading poll results than they do actually talking to average voters. (Hint: lumping progressive and conservative voters who call themselves “independent” together into a single voting bloc and then marveling at their seemingly moderate collective policy choices isn’t terribly smart statistical analysis.) In a Washington DC where John McCain is a permanent fixture of the talk show circuit, McCain is the “maverick” and bellwether of serious opinion. In the real world, John McCain is just another extremist Republican to Democrats, and a despised Establishmentarian to the Republican base.

The media elites don't grok that McCain might not get all the fans agiggling because they meet with him so often and interact with his circle of friends to where they are blind to how others outside that circle would view him.  Epistemic closure at its simplest.

And by the by, moderate voters DO exist, we just don't sit there going Ooh and Ahh at everything you all say on the cable shows and Sunday morning gush-fests.

In the elite pundit world, voters are fairly happy with American society generally but unhappy with Washington specifically because of an “extremist” environment where no one cooperates to pass respectable centrist legislation. But in the real world, voters understand that the middle class is coming apart at the seams—which leads more knowledgeable left-leaning voters to support economic populist approaches to reduce inequality and hold corporations accountable, and that leads less educated, more racist and reactionary conservative voters to try to restrict immigration from allowing others to take “their” jobs...

To the media elites, those views both Left and Right are considered 'extremes' mostly because they can't see themselves being on the wrong side of income inequality (it's not their fault they're rich, after all) that's driving those views in the first place.  It's far easier to sit in their hermetically-sealed studios sharing coffee and jokes with "experts" like themselves and joke that it's all "Washington's fault" without realizing their part of that Washington culture - hi, Morning Joe! - making it a mess.

Easier for them to sit on the sidelines wondering where all the good times under Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill went than it is to empathize with the growing evidence that the United States has fallen apart and needs serious reforms and fixes - to our tax codes, to our highway budgets, to our immigration system, to our drug war and incarceration policies, to our racial conflicts and growing body count - that just can't be bothered with because they would involve messy disagreements among their own.

I said it before: it's not that we need term limits on our elected leaders, we need term limits on the Talking Heads dominating the cable news shows.  We need to slap some journalistic sense - and journalistic ethical standards - into these vapid chatterers, and remind them there's a real world outside the Green Rooms.

1 comment:

Sid Schwab said...

Well said.