Sunday, November 13, 2016

Travels with Trump - Pt 2

In my first installment I told how I bought an audio book of Donald Trump's Crippled America [now in paperback under the title Great Again:  How to Fix Our Crippled America] to keep me company on a long road trip from Columbus to Chattanooga to attend an academic conference.  Although I left home with a couple of audio books, I quickly grew dissatisfied with them.  I wanted to listen to something on current events, so in Cincinnati I pulled off I-71 long enough to visit a nearby Barnes & Noble book store.  I selected Trump's book faute de mieux--that's how we elitists say "for lack of anything better."  The store's pickings in the audio book section were laughably slim.

I paid for the audio book, took it out to my car, and propped it up on the dashboard so I could take a pic with my iPhone and upload it to Facebook for my friends to chuckle at.  Then I slipped in the first CD and got back on the interstate.  Trump read the book's preface himself.  Then voice actor Jerry Lowell took over.  Chapter 1 ("Winning Again") is the book's de facto introduction.  The first substantive chapter is devoted to "Our 'Unbiased' Political Media."  Lowell began reading it as I crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky.  

Trump has contempt for the media, a contempt derived, in considerable measure, from the ease with which found he could manipulate it.  "I don't mind being attacked," he writes:

I use the media the way the media uses me--to attract attention. Once I have the attention it's up to me to use it to my advantage.  I learned a long time ago that if you're not afraid to be outspoken, the media will write about you or beg you to come on to their shows.  If you do things a little differently, if you say outrageous things and fight back, they love you.  So sometimes I make outrageous comments and give them what they want--viewers and readers--in order to make a point.  I'm a businessman with a brand to sell.  When was the last time you saw a sign hanging outside a pizzeria claiming, "The fourth best pizza in the world"?!  But now I am using those talents, honed through years of tremendous success, to inspire people to think that our country can get better and be great again and that we can turn things around.  (Crippled America, 10-11)

In one of our many exchanges of late, my brother Scott told me that Trump's speeches at his rallies come across much differently than if you simply watch the media sound bites. That's actually true--and necessarily true--of most of what you seen in the media.  I say "necessarily" because any media outlet has to make very strong editorial decisions about what to quote (in the case of print media) or broadcast (in the case of television media).  You may disagree with their choices, but choose they must.  I won't get very much into the business of "liberal bias."  I think it exists, to some extent, although I do not think the extent is nearly as great as most conservatives believe.  To those who say that it is very great, I would respond that in most cases I doubt that they have done enough observation to make an assessment one way or the other.  In conversations with most "ordinary" conservatives--that is to say, not pundits but people simply going about their daily lives who happen to self-identify as politically conservative--I hear very little to suggest that they read or watch the print and video media tagged as liberal.  They pretty much take someone's word for it that these sources are so biased as to be fatally compromised.

Ironically the conservative response to this liberal bias has not been to create news organizations that are objective.  Faithful viewers of Fox News, for instance, know perfectly well that it isn't "fair and balanced."  It's more that they find it less aggravating than watching other outlets.  To be sure, it does offer hard news, and while in my opinion the hard news exhibits a conservative bias, it is tolerably so.  In the historical profession we've long since learned to be skeptical of complete objectivity.  We call it "that noble dream."  So I'm prepared to accept a degree of bias as a simple fact of life.

It's even more ironic that we collectively piss and moan about media bias when it has never been simpler to simply dispense with the media, period.  Media is the plural form of medium, and in the context of news it more or less means "the middle man."  The Internet frequently allows you to cut out the middle man--the journalist--and go directly to the source.  So rather than complain about the editorial choices that a news outlet makes, you can see for yourself.  If you have the time.  Which mostly you don't.  But occasionally you can dispense with that re-run of Happy Days and invest thirty minutes to watch an entire Trump rally.  (I selected this one partly because it took place in my home town of Columbus, but mostly because it is mercifully brief.  Most Trump rallies were far longer.)  Take a look for yourself. If you choose not to do that, I will report on it, through the lens of my own unavoidable bias, in a future post.

No comments: