Broken to the Saddle of Cable News

I wrote awhile ago that “In the Age of Trump it is customary for the media to regularly load a few shells of triple-aught buckshot and summarily shoot itself in the face.” Earlier this week CNN apparently decided to do me one better and shoot itself in the testicles with a Merkava tank. It is not every day that one of the most popular news outlets on the planet blackmails a nobody Internet troll for the high crime of mocking that same news outlet, but apparently now it’s at least some days, which is more days than I ever thought possible.

In retrospect this might not have been very surprising. We are at a bizarre and deeply consequential moment in our national’s political history, one in which the head of the executive branch of the federal government and most of the nation’s major media entities are both locked in a toxic and self-destructive loop of codependency. Donald Trump, Kevin Williamson argues, is a “junkie running dry,” a fellow who craves the adulation and respect of a media and a journalist class that despises him; the media, on the other hand,  is filled with people who picture themselves as combinations of Spider-Man and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, folks who believe they are at once both butt-kicking superheroes and persecuted intellectual minorities. There is no other way to understand and explain what CNN did: they performed rather admirable and impressive journalism, but as part of a blackmail scheme directed at a middle-aged nobody Reddit slob whose singular transgression was making a silly anti-CNN professional wrestling gif. Who on Earth does such a thing? Oh, right, Andrew Kaczynski does.

From time to time I have disagreements with members of the still-vociferous “NeverTrump” wing of the conservative movement as to which is of more pressing concern: Donald Trump, or the media? One friend wrote that Trump represents a substantial “threat to the Constitution and to our national security.” I happen to agree with that. But after a decent bit of thought I also have come to believe that, in all likelihood, Trump will probably have one largely uneventful and inconsequential term, after which he’ll either lose to Elizabeth Warren or else be voted out of the primaries, run as a third rail candidate out of spite, and…lose to Elizabeth Warren.

But the media will still be here. And it is highly unlikely that, following the political declension of Donald Trump, they will surrender the effective and helpful new playbook they’ve developed, one in which constant, shrieking hysteria, wave after wave of fake news, and open and unapologetic threats directed at average citizens are the new norms. Trump we will almost certainly survive, at which point he will very likely fade into irrelevant ignominy and eventual anonymity in Mar-a-Lago’s executive dining room. The media—the powerful organizations who hunt down and publicly intimidate random gif-makers out of spite—are not going anywhere. Which do you think sounds more threatening, in the end?

It might be slightly worth it to have a combative and hysterical media if they were at least a little bit more, you know, smarter. But let’s not get greedy. New York Magazine‘s Jesse Singal believes he’s found an element of hypocrisy among the conservatives who are upset at CNN’s professional blackmail scheme:

I’m not sure, but I think, with the phrase “dragging dumb college students into the national spotlight,” Singal is referring to those of us who, I don’t know, do basic journalism on this type of stuff. Maybe I’m biased, but there seems to me to be quite a bit of difference between (a) reporting on aggressive and threatening student takeovers of college campuses, and (b) publicly blackmailing a fellow because he made a goofy Internet joke video about your news network. I mean, maybe I’m wrong? I don’t know. But it strikes me that if the media can’t, even in principle, tell the difference between these two things—actual journalism on the one hand, spiteful vendetta journalism on the other—then we are in even deeper trouble than any of us can imagine.

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