Jim Rutenberg, media columnist for the New York Times is as far from that trio as anyone, and so I shall try to lend a hand to him.
He had a terrible year last year. He kept giving the media advice on how to stop Donald Trump. They kept taking that advice. Trump kept winning.
Now Rutenberg continues to give bad advice.
My suggestion is that he stop giving advice and instead review just what he has done.
The day after Trump clinched the Republican nomination, Rutenberg headlined his column, "The Republican Horse Race Is Over, and Journalism Lost."
I think I spotted the problem.
Rutenberg thinks journalism should affect the outcome, instead of merely reporting it. That is because his background is political writing.
Had he spent more time as a sportswriter, he would know how absurd that notion is.
I am sure that Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer did not blame himself for the Indians losing the World Series in extra innings.
Sportswriters by and large play it straight. The rest of the staff? Sadly, not so much.
In that May 5 piece, Rutenberg wrote:
You can continue to blame all the wrong calls this year on new challenges in telephone polling when so many Americans — especially the young — do not have landlines and are therefore hard to track down. Or you can blame the unpredictability of an angry and politically peripatetic electorate.
But in the end, you have to point the finger at national political journalism, which has too often lost sight of its primary directives in this election season: to help readers and viewers make sense of the presidential chaos; to reduce the confusion, not add to it; to resist the urge to put ratings, clicks and ad sales above the imperative of getting it right.And yet, his column is exactly that: click-baiting.
The New York Times media columnist focused on three events in 2016: Trump, Roger Ailes leaving Fox News, and Megyn Kelly. He had eight columns on Ailes. Zero on Hillary Clinton alone.
She was an afterthought, paired with Trump six times as a subject of a column.
Trump was featured 20 times in columns from May 5 forward. One of Rutenberg's themes was the media paid too much attention to Trump -- a point Rutenberg made over and over again.
Rutenberg hit the mother lode of clickbait when the Drudge Report linked his August 7 column, "Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism."
Rutenberg's argument was Trump is Hitler and the media must stop him.
From the column:
If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?
Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, non-opinion journalist I've ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.He rationalized turning journalism into a blatant propaganda machine for Clinton:
It may not always seem fair to Mr. Trump or his supporters. But journalism shouldn’t measure itself against any one campaign’s definition of fairness. It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.So the journalists threw out their textbooks, and now six months later, they are wondering where their credibility went.
On Thursday, Rutenberg wrote:
As Trump Berates News Media, a New Strategy Is Needed to Cover Him
Well, that sure escalated quickly.
“That” was Donald J. Trump’s inaugural news conference as a duly elected United States president-to-be, in which he called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage,” dismissed CNN as “fake news” and more or less told the whole lot of reporters at Trump Tower to stuff it when it comes to his unreleased tax returns because everyday Americans don’t care and, anyway, “I won.”
There were two big lessons in the Wednesday morning melee.
1. Mr. Trump remains a master media manipulator who used his first news briefing since July to expertly delegitimize the news media and make it the story rather than the chaotic swirl of ethical questions that engulf his transition.
2. The news media remains an unwitting accomplice in its own diminishment as it fails to get a handle on how to cover this new and wholly unprecedented president.He needs a third lesson: Don't lie. CNN did. CNN no longer is in the press pool.
New strategies did not serve journalism well in 2016, as journalists sacrificed their credibility at the altar of Podesta but still failed to elect Hillary.
How about dropping the assumption that nearly 63 million Americans are mouth-breathing, uneducated bigots who fell for a conman?
How about looking inside and asking just what did all those moon-eyed reporters like Andrea Mitchell see in Hillary Clinton that made them sacrifice their reputations like that?
How about going back to January 20, 2009, when most Republicans gave Barack Obama their support as he took his oath of office?
How about this strategy? Report the news on a straight-forward manner after verifying facts and giving the other side ample opportunity to reply, CNN did neither in its hysterical Russian pee story and exposed its bias and incompetence.
The cure for journalists is to return to practicing journalism. Ditch the narrative in favor of answering the Six Questions. Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?
The problem with journalism is it so rare in America. We no longer have a free press. We have one beholden to the Democratic Party.
Americans see that now and accordingly discount what reporters report. The power of the press has eroded. It failed to elect a president in 2016.
Please read "Trump the Press," in which I skewer media experts who wrongly predicted Trump would lose the Republican nomination. "Trump the Press" is available as a paperback, and on Kindle.
It covers the nomination process only. The general election will be covered in a sequel.
For an autographed copy, email me at DonSurber@GMail.com
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