Trump and the Media Dialectic

When journalists want to appear intelligent, they'll attach the term "postmodern president" to Donald Trump.  Their reasoning goes that because Trump so often exaggerates and embellishes basic facts to reflect favorably upon himself, he has no moral compass for truth.  "Is President Trump a Stealth Postmodernist or Just a Liar?" asks New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall.  Jeet Heer of The New Republic calls the denizen of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue "America's first postmodern president."  David Ernst of The Federalist points out that Trump, without knowing it, turns "postmodernism against itself."

Reading these hand-wringing accounts of Trump's assault on ontological truth is pretty entertaining, given that they come from the jittery hands of discomfited journalists.  Trump, who has an instinctual knack for spinning good, bad, and neutral news all to his benefit, beguiles reporters because he's figured out their trick: they care more about being arbiters of reality than reality itself.

The media, particularly in the Trump era, care more about dialectics than fact-finding.  The platonic ideal of unbiased, truth-seeking journalism is, at worst, a myth, a marketing tool used to sell papers.

Our journalists aren't journalists; our reporters don't report.  What they do is engage in Hegelian conversations to establish good and bad, heroes and villains.  This narrative-crafting is used to smear lawmakers they oppose and bolster those whom they support.

The dialectic was on full display when the New York Times purposefully reported that the State Department paid $52,000 on drapes for the residence of the ambassador to the United Nations.  The story was marketed in such a way that it implied that Nikki Haley, the current ambassador under President Trump, ordered the payment.  The original headline read, "Nikki Haley's View of New York is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701."  The image featured on the article was one of Haley looking cold and aloof.

The author of the report, some bug named Gardiner Harris, admits that Haley never paid for the luxurious curtains (they were ordered during the Obama administration).  But the impression given by the headline and featured image was that she did – a detail the NYT made no effort to correct while promoting the report over social media.  And since most news is digested by Facebook-users and Twitter scamps reading headlines only, the image of a hypocritically profligate Trump State Department stuck.

A long correction note came after, but the damage was already done.  In Hegelian terms, the process goes as follows: Haley spends lavishly on drapery is the thesis; Haley did no such thing is the antithesis; the notion left of the Trump administration still being composed of spendthrifts is the synthesis.

"Drapegate" demonstrates how little facts matter in reporting.  If the narrative is strong enough, and if the dialectic remains consistent, no number of errors will break perception.  "If it rings true, it is true," said journalist Michael Wolff when met with criticism about anecdotes and conjectures he included in his negative portrayal of the Trump White House, Fire and Fury.  Wolff's book was a bestseller despite many of its fabulist accounts.  Readers didn't much care that his reporting was unsubstantiated and, in some cases, clearly made up.  Wolff painted a portrait of a bumbling administration that was already hung in the minds of the president's disparagers.  He provided the thesis of an incompetent, mercurial commander-in-chief; the antithesis came in the form of questions raised about its authenticity; the synthesis is Wolff's unproven assertions being made into a television series that will further perpetuate his cooked up account.

To get a sense of what direction the dialectic is going for any political occurrence, you need only consult Twitter, journalism's own fan fiction message board.  It is on the blue check-marked digital diary that reporters let their imaginations run wild by testing messaging, floating ideas, and launching narratives in real time.

On Twitter, where 280 characters are viewed as the optimal limit of human expression, the dialectic is established.  New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who just easily swatted away a far-left primary opponent, ridiculed this dynamic upon victory.  While boasting of his victory over a highly publicized challenger, Cuomo declared his win a "wave," citing the exceptionally large number of votes he received.  His dominance, he asserted, was the real wave "on the numbers – not on some Twittersphere dialogue where I tweet you, you tweet me, and between the two of us we think we have a wave."

Silly Andy.  Surely, he knows he shouldn't antagonize the narrative gods and their own Mount Olympus.  That's the president's job, after all, and he's the only one who has been effective at it.

As of this writing, the Twitter scribes are at it again, trying to scuttle the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.  A woman has come forward alleging she was sexually assaulted by the circuit judge in high school.  There is no evidence to corroborate her claim, and 65 women have testified on behalf of Kavanaugh's gentlemanly character.  Journalists are taking the allegations seriously, despite California senator Dianne Feinstein making them public just before the confirmation vote, even though she was informed about them back in July.

The thesis is established: Trump's Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted a woman; the antithesis is the dearth of evidence backing up the accuser; the synthesis will be a permanent black mark that follows Kavanaugh around, even after he reaches the high court.

The Hegelian farce of our journalism continues.  "News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read," wrote Evelyn Waugh.  The only way to dispel false narratives is to care, and to think as well as read.  Discernment is the best weapon against the dialectic.

When journalists want to appear intelligent, they'll attach the term "postmodern president" to Donald Trump.  Their reasoning goes that because Trump so often exaggerates and embellishes basic facts to reflect favorably upon himself, he has no moral compass for truth.  "Is President Trump a Stealth Postmodernist or Just a Liar?" asks New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall.  Jeet Heer of The New Republic calls the denizen of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue "America's first postmodern president."  David Ernst of The Federalist points out that Trump, without knowing it, turns "postmodernism against itself."

Reading these hand-wringing accounts of Trump's assault on ontological truth is pretty entertaining, given that they come from the jittery hands of discomfited journalists.  Trump, who has an instinctual knack for spinning good, bad, and neutral news all to his benefit, beguiles reporters because he's figured out their trick: they care more about being arbiters of reality than reality itself.

The media, particularly in the Trump era, care more about dialectics than fact-finding.  The platonic ideal of unbiased, truth-seeking journalism is, at worst, a myth, a marketing tool used to sell papers.

Our journalists aren't journalists; our reporters don't report.  What they do is engage in Hegelian conversations to establish good and bad, heroes and villains.  This narrative-crafting is used to smear lawmakers they oppose and bolster those whom they support.

The dialectic was on full display when the New York Times purposefully reported that the State Department paid $52,000 on drapes for the residence of the ambassador to the United Nations.  The story was marketed in such a way that it implied that Nikki Haley, the current ambassador under President Trump, ordered the payment.  The original headline read, "Nikki Haley's View of New York is Priceless. Her Curtains? $52,701."  The image featured on the article was one of Haley looking cold and aloof.

The author of the report, some bug named Gardiner Harris, admits that Haley never paid for the luxurious curtains (they were ordered during the Obama administration).  But the impression given by the headline and featured image was that she did – a detail the NYT made no effort to correct while promoting the report over social media.  And since most news is digested by Facebook-users and Twitter scamps reading headlines only, the image of a hypocritically profligate Trump State Department stuck.

A long correction note came after, but the damage was already done.  In Hegelian terms, the process goes as follows: Haley spends lavishly on drapery is the thesis; Haley did no such thing is the antithesis; the notion left of the Trump administration still being composed of spendthrifts is the synthesis.

"Drapegate" demonstrates how little facts matter in reporting.  If the narrative is strong enough, and if the dialectic remains consistent, no number of errors will break perception.  "If it rings true, it is true," said journalist Michael Wolff when met with criticism about anecdotes and conjectures he included in his negative portrayal of the Trump White House, Fire and Fury.  Wolff's book was a bestseller despite many of its fabulist accounts.  Readers didn't much care that his reporting was unsubstantiated and, in some cases, clearly made up.  Wolff painted a portrait of a bumbling administration that was already hung in the minds of the president's disparagers.  He provided the thesis of an incompetent, mercurial commander-in-chief; the antithesis came in the form of questions raised about its authenticity; the synthesis is Wolff's unproven assertions being made into a television series that will further perpetuate his cooked up account.

To get a sense of what direction the dialectic is going for any political occurrence, you need only consult Twitter, journalism's own fan fiction message board.  It is on the blue check-marked digital diary that reporters let their imaginations run wild by testing messaging, floating ideas, and launching narratives in real time.

On Twitter, where 280 characters are viewed as the optimal limit of human expression, the dialectic is established.  New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who just easily swatted away a far-left primary opponent, ridiculed this dynamic upon victory.  While boasting of his victory over a highly publicized challenger, Cuomo declared his win a "wave," citing the exceptionally large number of votes he received.  His dominance, he asserted, was the real wave "on the numbers – not on some Twittersphere dialogue where I tweet you, you tweet me, and between the two of us we think we have a wave."

Silly Andy.  Surely, he knows he shouldn't antagonize the narrative gods and their own Mount Olympus.  That's the president's job, after all, and he's the only one who has been effective at it.

As of this writing, the Twitter scribes are at it again, trying to scuttle the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.  A woman has come forward alleging she was sexually assaulted by the circuit judge in high school.  There is no evidence to corroborate her claim, and 65 women have testified on behalf of Kavanaugh's gentlemanly character.  Journalists are taking the allegations seriously, despite California senator Dianne Feinstein making them public just before the confirmation vote, even though she was informed about them back in July.

The thesis is established: Trump's Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted a woman; the antithesis is the dearth of evidence backing up the accuser; the synthesis will be a permanent black mark that follows Kavanaugh around, even after he reaches the high court.

The Hegelian farce of our journalism continues.  "News is what a chap who doesn't care much about anything wants to read," wrote Evelyn Waugh.  The only way to dispel false narratives is to care, and to think as well as read.  Discernment is the best weapon against the dialectic.