The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

The Delusions of Michael Tomasky

Posted on | September 19, 2023 | Comments Off on The Delusions of Michael Tomasky

How can anyone be so out of touch with reality as to believe that Joe Biden is a victim of Republican bias in the media?

It’s often asked in my circles: Why isn’t Joe Biden getting more credit for his accomplishments? As with anything, there’s no single reason. Inflation is a factor. His age is as well. Ditto the fact that people aren’t quite yet seeing the infrastructure improvements or the lower prescription drug costs.
There is no one reason. But there is one overwhelming factor in play: the media. Or rather, the two medias. It’s very important that people understand this: We reside in a media environment that promotes — whether it intends to or not — right-wing authoritarian spectacle. At the same time, as a culture, it’s consistently obsessed with who “won the day,” while placing far less value on the fact that the civic and democratic health of the country is nurtured through practices such as deliberation, compromise, and sober governance. The result is bad for Joe Biden. But it’s potentially tragic for democracy. . . .

Let’s pause here to ask a couple of questions: First, what are the “accomplishments” for which Biden is not getting enough credit? And secondly, what “circles” does Michael Tomasky operate in, that he is “often asked” this question? Would we be correct to surmise that the number of Republican voters in Tomasky’s “circles” is at or near zero? Would it also be fair to guess that a lot of people in Tomasky’s “circles” work in academia or media, in such lucrative positions as to be more or less exempt from the economic and social problems that affect most Americans? The fact that Tomasky can toss out a sentence like “Inflation is a factor” — deserving no more than four words in a 2,500 column — is highly suggestive here. Then there is his citation of what he seems to consider two exemplary “accomplishments” of Biden’s tenure, “infrastructure improvements” and “lower prescription drug costs.” Perhaps I’m a victim of the alleged media bias toward “right-wing authoritarian spectacle,” but I’m entirely unfamiliar with these “accomplishments” for which Tomasky says Biden deserves credit.

And isn’t this kind of a straw man anyway? Whatever Biden and Democrats did about prescription drug prices, were Republicans against it? Is the GOP in the pockets of the Big Pharma lobby in a way that Democrats are not? But because I am not currently taking any prescription drugs, I have no direct interest in this issue, and thus have no cause to say “Thank you, Joe Biden.” Maybe others who care more about this issue can enlighten me about the causes of their gratitude.

As for “infrastructure,” when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress, they used the word as an elastic label with no meaning beyond, “Whatever liberals want to spend federal money for.” Biden and Pelosi and Schumer talked a lot about “roads and bridges,” the basic meaning of public infrastructure, but the $1.2 trillion bill contained just $110 billion (less than 10% of the total) to “fund roads, bridges, and other projects that most Americans would consider infrastructure.” It was crammed full of stuff that has nothing to do with such basic infrastructure, including billions of dollars in funding for electric vehicles and a $66 billion giveaway to Amtrak. When was the last time you rode an Amtrak train? If you can’t remember, then you’re probably not part of Michael Tomasky’s “circles,” in which liberals are mystified at the public ingratitude for the blessings of Biden’s infrastructure bill. Now, back to Tomasky’s column and the “right-wing authoritarian spectacle” problem:

Mainstream media audiences and newsrooms have shrunk. Consider: In 1990, newspapers reached 63 million readers; in 2020, that number was 24 million. In 2006, newspapers employed about 75,000 people. In 2020, that figure was 31,000. The right-wing media, meanwhile, has grown and grown: Fox, One America, Newsmax, talk radio, Sinclair and all its local TV and radio news operations, and much more.
So the right-wing media today is, I’d argue, at least equal in size to the mainstream media. But here’s the more important point. The right-wing media has more power to set the news agenda than the mainstream media. It’s vital to understand this fact, and why it’s so.
The success of the right-wing media is by and large due to the way they speak in lockstep, with one voice, and the way they push one very partisan agenda. They promote Republicans and conservatives, and they say nothing good ever about Democrats or liberals (exception: people who go off the reservation and willingly foul the Democratic-liberal nest, like Joe Manchin or some liberal academic or talking head who turns right, like Glenn Greenwald). Their guiding ethos is not journalistic but political: to advance one party and creed and work their readers and viewers into a constant state of agitation about the other party and creed. And in a time when the Republican Party project has little to do with policy and everything to do with fomenting culture war, no matter how trivial, the right-wing Wurlitzer is adept at ginning up a good two-minute hate against something that got tweeted or what Mr. Potato Head is wearing that week—and here, the mainstream media, chasing engagement like a child fields for candy, follows the right down into these rabbit holes.
The mainstream media, in contrast, do not speak with one very partisan voice; they speak in many voices — critically, including many non-polemical ones. Their guiding ethos is not political but journalistic. Sure, they’re “liberal,” in two senses. First, their editorial pages typically endorse Democrats. And second, they are culturally liberal, because they are mostly based in big cities and their staffs include lots of LGBTQ people, for example, and precious few evangelical Christians.
But even with all that, the mainstream media do not serve a transparent political agenda in the way the right-media do. When The New York Times or CNN or MSNBC gets a scoop about serious corruption in the Biden administration, they pursue the lead and, if verified, report it. If Fox got such a scoop about Donald Trump … well, it’s conceivable that there’s someone left there who wants to do real journalism and who might pursue it. I wish that person luck, though, in getting it on the air. And even if Fox were forced to report it, they’d quickly find ways to rebut it. . . .

Well, you can read the whole thing, if you need any more reason to shake your head in wonder that anyone could actually believe this stuff.

For the past 20 years or so, I’ve marveled at how obsessed liberals are with “right-wing media.” David Brock collected many millions of dollars to fund Media Matters specifically because, after Republican victories in the 2000 and 2002 election, liberals became convinced that Fox News and conservative talk radio had tilted the media landscape to the right. Speaking of a “transparent political agenda,” what was the goal of Brock’s project other than to smear and demonize anyone associated with “right-wing media,” in an effort to silence these voices? And there have been times, particularly when Tucker Carlson was at Fox News, that you could turn on CNN or MSNBC and watch the talking heads ranting about what those Evil Fox People were doing, as if these complaints were “news.”

Because I’m pretty sure most of you didn’t follow the “read the whole thing” link, I’ll tell you that Tomasky concludes by urging that “in addition to telling the literal, factual truth,” the mainstream media must keep its focus on “the larger truth, that American democracy is under grave threat.” By which he means of course, REPUBLICANS MIGHT WIN THE NEXT ELECTION! This is the root cause of all the hysteria behind Tomasky’s complaints. In what he calls “my circles,” Tomasky is surrounded by fellow Democrats who think that democracy, per se, is entirely dependent on Democrats winning every election.

There is a word for people who believe such things. That word is crazy and, as I’m sure you know by now, Crazy People Are Dangerous.



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