Laura Slattery: Media record is stained but it is Trump who is appalling

Beware of the normalisation of fascism in the name of ‘balance’ or business

US president-elect Donald Trump has named Stephen Bannon, above, as his chief strategist and senior counsellor. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

US president-elect Donald Trump has named Stephen Bannon, above, as his chief strategist and senior counsellor. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

 

Donald Trump has been elected the next President of the United States of America, which must almost make up for the pain of The Apprentice losing at the Emmys.

How many times was that again? Eight times. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Still though. President.

Although this horrific outcome is partly the fault of parts of the media, I can’t say I’m enthusiastic about rehashing the many whys.

People closer to both Washington and the Rust Belt have been raking through this already.

But Trump seems happy to sustain the topic – finding the time at the weekend to rant inaccurately about the New York Times – and this is a media column, so let’s rattle through some of the main points like masochists.

There are three broad accusations: Firstly, the media exhibited bias towards Hillary Clinton, most notably through false equivalence of both candidates’ “flaws”.

The reasons for this range from deeply ingrained sexism to more general “Clintipathy” to a well-meaning journalistic desire to thoroughly investigate, and be seen to thoroughly investigate, the private email server story.

Fascist

Secondly, the media is charged with not foreseeing the election of a fascist candidate, a faith in humanity described pejoratively as “a failure of imagination”, and because it never saw this coming, it was merrily complicit in promoting Trump as a showbiz turn. He was good for business, at least in the short term.

Little is expected of Fox News, but CNN – whose president Jeff Zucker takes the credit for hiring Trump for The Apprentice while at NBC – has been fingered for descending into that reality-blurring land of network news where party insiders are presented as independent analysts. That’s entertainment!

Podcast: The rise of Breitbart news

The third accusation is that the media had the audacity to recognise Trump and some of his closest allies as fascist in the first place – it must surely be wrong because 27 per cent of the eligible electorate voted for him, and 27 per cent of the electorate can’t have voted for a fascist. No way has that ever happened before.

No eagle eyes are required to spot that “the media” is referred to in the preceding paragraphs as if it is homogeneous. It is not.

Death threats

Unlike certain television networks, newspaper publishers did not create Trump and they did not support him. Of the top 100 circulation newspapers, only two endorsed him, while 57 endorsed Clinton, including traditionally Republican Arizona Republic, which identified her as a competent centrist and Trump as phony, reckless and unqualified.

Its staff received death threats.

The appalling question now is not whether these newspapers were somehow “out of touch”, but whether they can afford – as businesses – to maintain the integrity they do have. The crawl to the winner’s side, if it happens, will be slow and craven.

So far, the documented rise in hate crimes doesn’t appear to have allayed an alarming “normalisation” project, on both sides of the Atlantic.

We are told by Enda Kenny that homophobic US vice president-elect Mike Pence, a man who defunded vital healthcare services used by women, enjoyed many holidays in Ireland as a child.

I, too, enjoyed many holidays in Ireland as a child. It was before I realised the world contained men such as Pence and that it was possible for human beings to be illegal.

Live in a bubble

Meanwhile, Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart executive chairman appointed chief strategist to Trump’s White House, has been awarded the dangerously euphemistic shorthand “conservative firebrand” by Reuters and the BBC.

White male commentators who use “liberal” as an insult and live in a bubble all of their own, where racism and misogyny are mere conspiracies against them, are queueing up to explain why it is wrong to be angry and afraid and dismayed.

People are told that to feel this way is “political correctness”, “taking the high moral ground” and – the new one – “virtue signalling” (all apparently bad things).

Anger and fear and dismay couldn’t possibly be an expression of their empathy or (because not everyone in the world is a white man) a reflection of their instinct for survival.

If I defend the human rights of women, I am hardly taking the high moral ground, am I?

First and foremost, I do so because I don’t want my only choice in life to be staying home, baking cookies and having teas – those things Hillary failed to do.

A few words about Facebook and the dissemination of fake news: What a mess. But it does at least look like some soul searching is going on at Mark Zuckerberg’s house, however much he protests Facebook’s influence.

Let’s finish by offering a cheap rule-of-thumb.

When media companies feel obliged to deny their influence, it’s because they have some. Those with none will talk up theirs.

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