What will the mainstream American media do when Joe Biden is officially sworn in as president? For those on the right, like Fox and Newsmax, there are few questions. Biden can be quite Barack Obama’s foil, and righties have new progressives to vilify, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. The scenario is already written: radical socialism takes hold of America, and only god-fearing Republicans stand between you and violent anarchy.
To other cable TV networks, Donald Trump was the hard drug they couldn’t stop. In the Obama years, CNN and MSNBC were also in contention, far behind Fox News in the ratings war. CNN, a 24-hour news network that could not survive without a daily crisis, seemed Hit rock bottom circa 2014, displaying disastrously low ratings. Then, in 2015, Jeff Zucker, the chairman of CNN, would broadcast live uninterruptedly Donald Trump’s rallies, fueling the candidate’s rise in a crowded Republican primary. Zucker knew a good story when he saw one.
In 2017, MSNBC, unable to muster much audience during Obama’s presidency, became a place where every Trumpian outrage and plot could be parroted and expanded to maximalist proportions. The odds have skyrocketed. Rachel Maddow has become one of television’s biggest stars, rivaling the reach of any Fox host. CNN also made its fortune through liberal angst and rage, brandishing the Resistance.
For traditional liberal outlets – both those who openly identify this way and those who maintain the claim of neutrality – the future is less clear. For four years, America’s biggest media organizations universally profited from Trump. The New York Times and the Washington post, which received a remarkable increase in subscriptions from besieged readers, almost all democrats who turned to them for news of the potential downfall of Trump, also renamed for the Resistance. From Russiagate and impeachment to Trump’s off-balance tweets, content was never lacking – the show was still going on. The To post even devised a grandiose new motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”. Small liberal outlets like the New Yorker, new York magazine, Vox, and the Daily beast walked a similar path.
Many media organizations played an aggressive and necessary watchdog role during the Trump years. The failed access-journalism model, in which journalists let yourself be co-opted by powerful actors for mostly meaningless scoops, lost favor in the Trump years, as more journalists and readers recognized that he couldn’t function with a White House that offered so little ‘reliable information. Trump has revived reports of gossip-steeped palace intrigue, with so many staff in and out, but that hasn’t caused the mainstream media to abandon their accusatory stance, at least towards Trump himself. Mark Halperin’s reporting model has been rightly discredited.
But a new problem now arises: Can these many media organizations, so closely linked to the anti-Trump resistance project, leave behind their role as Democratic Party activists and Biden apologists? As Branko Marcetic wrote in Jacobin in October, the collective decision to delete entirely the New York Postis dubious, but barely fabricated, reporting Hunter Biden’s business connections in Ukraine and applauding the censorship efforts of Facebook and Twitter – the latter social media giant, in an unprecedented move, locked down the To postmain account and the temporarily blocked sharing of the story – could be a harbinger of what’s to come. The To postS story should not have been promoted without criticism, but most media have failed in their first duty to the public: to report and find out what is true and what is false. Instead of trying to verify the facts of the story and then decide to dismiss it all as hogwash, the media organizations covered up the story without even a superficial attempt to explain what was revealed in the first place. and optionally. of it might be relevant to the public.
Still traumatized in 2016, when members of the Democratic Party attributed Trump’s victory to Wikileaks posting hacked emails from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, the media was determined not to be seen. as aiding and encouraging a candidate they saw as a threat to democracy itself. Once Trump was seen as a fascist, it didn’t matter that Trump was a historically weak president who accomplished relatively little beyond judicial appointments, as Corey Robin did. convincingly argued – all the reporting which could be perceived as detrimental to its rivals were regarded by the democratic readership as the greatest transgressions.
But as long as Trump was president, at least none of this hampered the practice of executive accountability journalism.
And now? There is a real danger of tipping into a new normal, in which liberal-leaning newspapers and websites do not publish as aggressive reports on the White House Biden as they did on his predecessors. Aaron Rupar, a prominent Vox editor-in-chief, recently fired an investigation report in the lucrative private-sector careers of Biden’s wealthy foreign policy team. âBlinken participated in the company. Horror â, Rupar tweeted, referring to Biden’s choice for Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Apparently, for some journalists, starting a high value-added consulting firm with clients in the defense industry, Silicon Valley and various hedge funds while also being a partner in a private equity firm can now be equated to the simple act of âparticipating in societyâ, as if it were an inevitable part of everyday life. Had a Trump cabinet pick had a similar past, it is unlikely that Rupar would have been so jaded. The danger is that in the post-Trump era, Democratic corruption will be seen as acceptable because it is not Republican corruption.
Those on Biden’s pace should remember that the machinery of the US government can be very destructive without Trump calling the shots. If they don’t, democracy may indeed die in darkness.