The disingenuous whimperings of Nicholas Kristof

Bigfoot New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has a problem with President Trump, complaining that "We're Journalists, Mr. Trump, Not the Enemy."

Kristof was upset about Trump's Phoenix rally speech, which targeted the mainstream media so exclusively there was nothing else for the reporters on the ground to cover.

Sigh. If only President Trump denounced neo-Nazis as passionately and sincerely as he castigates journalists.

What could be an easier task than distancing oneself from Nazis or violent white supremacists? Yet Trump manages to make it infinitely complicated – and then get [sic] distracted by self-pity and excoriate reporters for committing journalism. The key strain of his sulfurous speech in Phoenix on Tuesday was an extended attack on "dishonest" reporters (including at "the failing New York Times").

Notice that Kristof repeats the very Nazi canards that so incensed Trump to lay into the media in the first place, claiming that Trump never sufficiently spoke out against Nazis when, in fact, the entire gist of Trump's diatribe against them was a point-by-point rundown of the entire sequence of events in the wake of Charlottesville and how President Trump most certainly did denounce the Nazis even as the press declined to report it.  Kristof repeats the canards as if the speech went in one ear and out the other.  He must think he's being clever, perpetrating the canard while getting a new lick in at Trump.

After that, Kristof objects to the press being manhandled by Trump, putting on the colors of good probity-based journalism, and saying that basically, all reporters are inclined to ply their trade in that mode.  He pays lip service to the recent allegations against the media and their dishonest practices, in a remarkably light "yes but" concession:

Look, we in journalism deserve to have our feet held to the fire. We make mistakes all the time, and too often we are superficial, sensationalist, unfair, defensive or diverted by shiny objects. Critics are right that we in the national media are often out of touch with working-class America, and distressingly often, we are lap dogs instead of watchdogs.

Yet for all our failings, journalism remains an indispensable constraint on power. Trump has systematically tried to delegitimize the institutions that hold him accountable – courts, prosecutors, investigators, the media – and that's the context for his vilification of all them, for we collectively provide monitoring that outrages him.

He's got that right about lapdogs, following the Obama presidency.  JournoList, anyone?  As for "indispensible constraint on power," he would have us forget that he and his press cohorts are the power.  They're barely media anymore; they are just cogs in the political operative power machine, doing their part and getting dog treats (and handsome rewards) from the political establishment in exchange.

Sharyl Attkisson, in her new book, The Smear: How Shady Political Operatives and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote, has a far more nuanced view about the real problems challenging decent journalism.

Adding to distrust of the media are stark changes in how the news has come to operate. Policies that once firewalled news from opinion, that resisted interference from political and advertising interests – voop! Evaporated. Relationships and practices regarded as the most egregious breaches of ethics a few years back are now commonly accepted. Now, intermingling is not only tolerated, it's encouraged.

She names names of the most prominent players of this game:

Politico, Infowars, The Huffington Post, Breitbart, Salon, Vox, The Right Scoop, Mother Jones, Rolling Stone, Wired, Daily Kos, the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, The Hill, Buzzfeed, and Mediaite are some of the media entities known to peddle clickable concoctions of legitimate news and sometimes good journalism alongside partisan opinions, vicious agendas, misinformation, mischaracterization, and smears against other journalists. It blurs together until there is virtually no meaningful distinction between credible reporting and propaganda.

Attkisson argues that smear artists have become the name of the game in the Beltway world of Kristof:

In my thirty-five years as a journalists, I've encountered countless operatives who are pros at peddling smears. They don't say that's who they are or what they do. They pose as advocates, watchdogs, tipsters, and public relations agents. They work at global law firms, PR companies, crisis management groups, non-profits, think tanks, blogs and strategic communications firms, They send me research, ask to have coffee, press a business card into my palm, whisper into my ear, invite me into their fold, and point me to "sources." They use tried-and-true propaganda techniques to attempt to persuade reporters like me to further their narratives. In fact, if they're really good, they convince us it's all our idea: we're expert journalists whose connections and skills have gotten us an exclusive story!

The sad fact is, journalism is barely journalism anymore, as JournoList operatives are rewarded instead of shunned, journalists get caught handing in their copy to political operatives for vetting instead of to their editors, and journalists have become Democratic operatives with bylines, as Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has put it.  Why shouldn't they be criticized for being non-journalists, or journalists in name only?  Kristof is part of this Washington power game and doesn't even see it, or perhaps wouldn't want us to know how much he sees it because he's part of it.

It brings up why Trump lashed out against the press as he did: he went after these so-called journalists because they were all in league against him and had built a firewall to keep anything he had to say about it out of the news.  Trump lured them over to Arizona, let them set up their TV cameras, and then laid out the problem with them, addressing virtually nothing else.  That forced them to report on their own transgressions because there was nothing else to report -- and they had to file something.

For Kristof to try to shift the narrative back to Trump-is-a-Nazi shows just how hard this task Trump has taken on is going to be.  For now, all we can say is that Kristof should spare us the concoction that what he is defending has any resemblance to real journalism.

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