The media is underestimating Donald Trump — again
The American mainstream news media continues to send expeditions out into the hinterlands of Trumplandia. Along this journey anthropological dispatches are written from bowling alleys, diners, gun ranges, flea markets, swap meets, supermarkets, churches, car shows, baseball games, rallies, trailer parks, and other special sites where the denizens of Trumplandia gather. The American mainstream news media is on a quest of sorts to find some type of Rosetta Stone or Holy Grail that will grant them access to secret knowledge about the ways of the cult of Donald Trump.
The mainstream news media has a problem: They will never be successful in their quest. Why? Because they are asking the wrong questions. Moreover, even if they found the correct answer, they would likely reject it because it is not what they were looking for.
The Washington Post recently sent its reporters on another expedition to Trumplandia. Here is what they “discovered” this time:
“I and a lot of other Republicans who were supportive of President Trump are becoming less and less supportive,” Jaster said. “Not because I’m a ‘Never Trumper.’ I just don’t believe Trump is the best person to move this party forward.”
That distinction is reshaping the Republican base as the 2024 presidential primary kicks off. The MAGA vs. RINO dichotomy that defined the GOP for much of the last eight years is increasingly obsolete. In its place, a new dynamic emerged from interviews with more than 150 Trump supporters across five pivotal electoral states. In between Republicans who remain firmly committed or opposed to the former president, there’s now a broad range of Trump supporters who, however much they still like him, aren’t sure they want him as the party’s next nominee.
The foremost reason is electability. Even Republicans who said they still supported Trump and believed his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen acknowledged doubts on whether he could defeat President Biden or another Democrat in 2024. …
In most interviews, fatigue with Trump was not a break with Trumpist politics. While these voters expressed interest in someone less divisive, they showed little appetite for more moderate policies or messaging — a combination many saw possible with DeSantis.
Echoing the Washington Post, Politico has this new reporting on Trump and his relationship with the Republican Party:
Rep. Thomas Massie was so eager for Donald Trump’s endorsement in a contested primary three years ago that he ran TV ads targeted at the then-president in Florida to win his support.
Today, Massie is all but shunning Trump and his comeback campaign. In fact, the Kentucky Republican attended a retreat last weekend for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“Ron DeSantis is the best governor there ever was,” he said when asked if he planned to endorse in the 2024 presidential primary.
The Kentucky Republican is far from the only one-time Trump ally who’s staying away from the former president, despite his lead in every major poll so far. Some are looking more seriously at his would-be rivals like DeSantis or Gov. Nikki Haley. Others are intentionally staying on the sidelines but privately hoping he stumbles. That sentiment is deepening throughout the Republican Party — but no segment of the party illustrates the shift as vividly as the House GOP, whose members almost universally backed Trump in both previous races. …
The widespread hesitancy would not be notable in another era — or if a former president was not already in the race. But in this instance, the lack of public support is perhaps the clearest sign yet that members feel Trump’s support is no longer a prerequisite for political survival. Trump’s vengeance is now barely registering as a threat, after years as one of the most dominant forces in politics.
“I’m the last person that would worry about that,” Massie said of possible retribution for not supporting Trump. “It backfires. You can’t attack too many of your own party.”
Of course, the presidential primaries don’t begin for a year, and the field has yet to fully take shape.
In interviews with nearly 20 House Republicans, many cited the uncertainty in the field as reason to keep quiet for now.
The Washington Post and Politico reinforce the conclusions reached by other leading publications, pollsters, and mainstream politics watchers about the current state of Trump and his 2024 prospects. In this consensus narrative, Trump’s base of support is supposedly weakening and there is infighting within the Republican Party about who will be the 2024 presidential candidate and the overall direction of the party and “conservative” movement. Trump fatigue is real.
Trump’s personality and charisma as compared to likely rival Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is also an important factor. To that point, former Republican consultant Rick Wilson told the Guardian last year:
“I know that the Republicans who right now are acting very bold and the donors who are acting very frisky — as Trump starts winning primaries, they will bend the knee, they will break, they will fall, they will all come back into line. …
“Right now they’re all talking so much shit: ‘I’m not going to get with Trump. I’m going to be with the hot new number, DeSantis.’ When DeSantis gets his ass handed to him, when he gets his clock cleaned in a debate or forum or just by Trump grinding away at him, eating him alive mentally for weeks on end, and suddenly Donald Trump’s numbers start posting up again, all the conservative thinkers who are right now like, ‘We will never vote for Trump again, we have integrity!’ will find themselves some excuse. ‘Well, you know, we don’t like Trump’s tweets, but otherwise it’s pure communism!’
“It’s all bullshit, it’s all a fucking game, and that game is going to play out in a way that does not result in the outcome that the donor class thinks they’re going to get.”
In addition, horserace predictions and attempts to handicap the 2024 presidential election are very premature. Donald Trump has not even begun to focus his attacks on potential rivals or campaign in earnest. Given the potential legal troubles swirling around Trump he may not even be in the race next year, instead preferring to play the spoiler or kingmaker – or better yet a berserker.
One should not overlook, and by doing so underestimate, Trump’s potential popularity and competitiveness in the 2024 presidential race — even after his political crime spree. Trump received more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. Republican voters are so hostile to Biden and any potential Democratic presidential candidate that they will overwhelmingly support Trump again no matter what.
Donald Trump is not a man, he is an idea.
Trump’s followers are deeply compelled to Trumpism and what he represents, the freedom and permission to break norms, engage in history-breaking revolutionarily destructive projects, and openly hate. They want more of it all, not less.
As seen with the Washington Post’s recent story about Trumplandia, and the mainstream news media more generally, their biggest failing in the quest for truth about Donald Trump and this era is very much a function of training, habit and how that institution and its members conceptualize politics and society. The truth is that Trumpism, with or without Trump, – the latter is perhaps even more preferable if the poison can be delivered by someone more “appealing” and well-coiffed like a Ron DeSantis.
The American mainstream news media’s approaches to writing and reporting and truth-telling are obsolescent in a time of ascendant fascism and a democracy crisis. Horserace journalism, inside the beltway access journalism, bothsidesism, and “objectivity” and “fairness” are inadequate to the task and at this point, seven years into the Age of Trump, willfully so.
The news media can send as many expeditions out into Trumplandia as they want (or talk to Republican Party insiders) but they will never find the answers they are looking for – or more importantly what the American people really need to know.
Thus, the great incompatibility and incongruence: Fascism, and the battle to defeat it, is first and foremost a struggle over ideas and emotions. Fascism, fake right-wing populism, and other forms of authoritarianism are a force that gives its followers meaning. The tools and techniques of normal politics as practiced by the mainstream news media are insufficient to the challenge.
For example, in his book “On Tyranny”, historian Timothy Snyder says the following about the rise of Nazism and the role of emotions, reason, and the charismatic personality of the demagogue:
One of his former students implored him to “abandon yourself to your feelings, and you must always focus on the Fuhrer’s greatness, rather than on the discomfort you are feeling at present”. Twelve years later, after all the atrocities, and at the end of a war that Germany had clearly lost, an amputated solider told (Victor) Klemperer (a literary scholar of Jewish origins) that Hitler “has never lied yet. I believe in Hitler.” The final mode is misplaced faith. It involves the sort of self-deifying claims the president made when he said, “I alone can solve it” or “I am your voice”. When faith descends from heaven to earth in this way, no room remains for the small truth of our individual discernment and experience.
What terrified Klemperer was the way that this transition seemed permanent. Once truth had become oracular rather than factual evidence was irrelevant”.
In their book “Moving Beyond Fear” Charles Derber and Yale Magrass offer these insights:
Hitler’s success in winning power helps demonstrate one of the Right’s great strengths: its explicit and powerful use of emotion, which has often historically triumphed over the Left’s appeal to rationality. Hitler didn’t entirely reject reason – a few could respond to it – but relied on emotion to win the masses:
I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.
In the introduction to his new book Insurrections, social critic Henry Girioux highlights the role of cultural pathologies in the rise of Trumpism, neofascism, and the larger culture of cruelty:
The destruction of democracy and its institutions will result from the increasing attack on ethical standards, the undermining of truth, and a mass consciousness that supports violence as a central weapon for social change. Accelerating this breakdown of democracy is the disabling of memory, the mass production of ignorance, and the weakening of the collective imagination. …
While the mainstream media have failed to see the signs, authoritarianism’s historical political, racial, and cultural dynamics have become more visible, taking on a seditious and coarsening reality as they have emerged in boldly rhetorical, increasingly violent, and terrifying forms. …
Trump’s attack on the foundations of democratic rule received enormous legitimation from his base and political party, and it was deeply rooted in a culture that normalized violence as a political tool while becoming increasingly cruel, frighteningly intolerant, and unabashedly disdainful of democracy. Even more disturbing is how Trump’s lies, racism, and attacks on his enemies attracted a broad swath of individuals of different ages and occupations, living in different parts of the country.
In the end, the news media can send as many expeditions out into Trumplandia as they want (or talk to Republican Party insiders) and they will never find the answers they are looking for – or more importantly what the American people really need to know.
Trumpism and American neofascism are not new. They were born hundreds of years ago here in America with the genocide of First Nations people and the enslavement of Black people, crimes against humanity committed in the name of “democracy”, “freedom”, and “progress”. That story of deep rot and its present-day poisonous bloom is what the American mainstream news media should be pursuing and amplifying. But such truths are too dangerous, too scary, and will likely not generate enough clicks, ad revenue, and attention to propel the careers of the journalists and reporters who dare to say such things (and their editors as well) to great heights.
Instead, more expeditions to Trumplandia will be launched in earnest.
Media Keep Stifling the Covid Debate – WSJ – The Wall Street Journal
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Facebook users consume more fake news than users of Twitter, other social media sites: Study – CTV News
When it comes to election misinformation on social media, Facebook takes the cake, according to a new study which found heavy Facebook users were far more likely to consume fake news than Twitter or other social media sites.
The study, published earlier this month in the peer-reviewed journal Government Information Quarterly, found Facebook users read the most fake news about the 2020 U.S. presidential election and reported the most concern about votes not being counted properly.
They also found the biggest factor in whether a person reported being suspicious about the election results was their level of fake news consumption, not their method of casting their vote.
According to the study, a big part of the problem with relying on social media for news is that these sites have algorithms designed to keep you scrolling and engaged, meaning that they’re likely to keep serving you the same content you’re engaging with and make it harder to climb out of a disinformation hole once you are in it.
“What we saw in this study is that if you aren’t careful, the bias that you bring into your news consumption can be absolutely confirmed and supported if you are in a place like Facebook where the algorithms feed into that,” Robert Crossler, study co-author and an associate professor in the WSU Carson College of Business, said in a press release.
Those who got their news about the 2020 election primarily by navigating directly on a news website were less likely to consume fake news, the study found, and were more likely to believe that the election had unfolded the way it did.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s win in 2020 was accompanied with unproven allegations pushed by former U.S. President Donald Trump that the election had been stolen from him and that many votes for him had gone uncounted. Allegations of voter fraud with mail-in ballots and with Dominion voting machines were spread after the election, but none of these claims stood up in court, and few legal experts supported this position.
However, the lack of factual support didn’t stop the story from spreading widely on social media.
It’s not new that Facebook and other social media sites can be drivers of disinformation and fake news, but it’s trickier to measure how consuming fake news affects a person’s perception of reality.
In order to get a better understanding of this, the Washington State University-led study designed three surveys relating to how political alignment, fake news consumption and voting method each individually impacted a person’s perception of the election.
In the study, “fake news” was defined as articles and sites spreading disinformation that was provably incorrect, not articles or sites with information perceived to be false from a partisan standpoint.
The first two surveys were given to different groups of voters prior to the election, both containing hypothetical scenarios for participants to react to.
The first posited a scenario where the participant would either be voting in-person, through the mail or online. Once the participant had read the scenario of their voting method, they were asked questions about how concerned they were about votes being counted properly, and how much news they got from various news organizations.
The second survey gave the scenario of all voters needing to use mail-in ballots that would be counted either by a government official, a neutral party or by a voting machine. They were then asked again about their concerns regarding votes being counted and their news sources.
The third survey was presented to a group of actual voters after the election. Participants filled out what their voting method had been, and then answered the same questions presented in the previous two surveys. They then reported what percentage of their news they got from direct navigation, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites.
Researchers were surprised to find the voting method — whether people voted by mail or in-person — had no measurable impact on how likely participants were to be worried about votes not being counted properly.
Instead, the more a person reported receiving their news from social media, particularly Facebook, the more likely they were to be heavily concerned about votes not being counted.
This suggested to researchers that Facebook, more so than other social media sites, was elevating sources spreading these fears.
“I don’t think that Facebook is deliberately directing people towards fake news but something about how their algorithm is designed compared to other algorithms is actually moving people towards that type of content,” Stachofsky said. “It was surprising how hard it was to find the websites Facebook was directing people to when we looked for them in a web browser. The research shows that not all social media platforms are created equal when it comes to propagating intentionally misleading information.”
The study also found there was no age group more likely to read fake news, which is different from other studies, suggesting that there could be a higher proportion of younger adults consuming fake news than had been previously thought.
Authors noted that more research needs to be done to understand how disinformation spreads and how it can be combatted, particularly in a political climate where the partisan divide in the U.S. is increasing the distrust in mainstream media. They’re hoping that this study could spur social media sites to think more about how their algorithms impact their users.
“This supports the argument that people need to be encouraged to be information or news literate,” Crossler said. “Right now, we are talking about the elections, but there are a lot of other issues, such as the war in Ukraine, that directing people to misinformation is not only misleading but also potentially dangerous.”
2023 Media Layoff Tracker: Rough Year For Journalism Marked By Increasing Layoffs
Board members of the Texas Democracy Foundation reportedly voted to put the progressive Texas Observer on hiatus and lay off its 17-person staff following prolonged economic woes and shrinking readership, marking the latest in a brutal series of closures and layoffs rocking the media industry in 2023.
reportedly heard about the impending layoffs from a Texas Tribune article, writes a letter to the Foundation’s board asking them to reconsider the decision to close the paper and sets up an emergency GoFundMe page in a last ditch effort to find funding.The Texas Observer’s staff, who
cancels four podcasts—Invisibilia, Louder Than a Riot, Rough Translation and Everyone and Their Mom—and begins laying off 100 employees as part of a push to reduce a reported budget deficit of $30 million.NPR
tells Boston public radio.NPR affiliate New England Public Media announces it will lay off 17 employees—20% of its staff—by March 31 after facing “serious financial headwinds during the last three years,” New England Public Media management
lay off 34 people and close a printing press in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as part of Gannet’s efforts to reduce the number of operating presses and prioritize digital platforms.Sea Coast Media and Gannett, a media conglomerate with hundreds of papers and Sea Coast Media’s parent company,
told NPR.Three Alabama newspapers—The Birmingham News, The Huntsville Times and the Press-Register—become fully digital publications and reportedly lay off 100 people following a prolonged decrease in print paper circulation, Alabama Media Group President Tom Bates
reportedly became too expensive to produce amid a declining audience—an unspecified number of people are laid off.New York public radio station WNYC cancels radio show The Takeaway after 15 years on air after the show
reportedly told investors following compounding declines in profit.News Corp, which owns the Wall Street Journal and HarperCollins publishers, among others, expects to lay off 1,250 people across all businesses by the end of 2023, Chief Executive Robert Thomson
stops publishing its video game and kids sections, leaving 20 people unemployed a little over a month after publisher Fred Ryan foreshadowed layoffs in 2023—executive editor Sally Buzbee reportedly tells employees the layoffs were geared toward staying competitive and no more are scheduled.The Washington Post
reportedly tells staff.Vox Media, which owns The Verge, SB Nation and New York Magazine, lays off 133 people—7% of the media conglomerate’s staff— in anticipation of a declining economy, chief executive Jim Bankoff
reports, mere months after Fandom acquired the four outlets, among others, for $55 million.Entertainment company and fan platform Fandom lays off less than 50 people at affiliated GameSpot, Giant Bomb, Metacritic and TV Guide, Variety
according to publisher and chief executive Steven Saslow—an undisclosed number of people are laid off and severance packages depend on signing a non-disclosure agreement, the Oregonian reports.The Medford, Oregon-based Mail Tribune shuts down their digital publication after hiring difficulties and declining advertising sales,
lay off 75 employees as part of a broader corporate reorganization.NBC News and MSNBC
closes a printing press in Greece, New York, as part of an increased focus on online journalism, resulting in the layoffs of 108 people.Gannett
lays off 50 employees at an Indiana printing press to “adapt to industry conditions,” a spokesperson told the Indiana Star—the press remains open and the layoffs aren’t expected to affect newspaper employees.Gannett
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