NYU Journalism Professor has been alarmed by USA President Donald Trump – which is unlikely to surprise readers of this blog.
Professor Rosen is hardly more sanguine about the journalists who “cover” him. This is from a recent twitter thread you can find at at @jayrosen_nyu.
The most basic tool a critic has is not to complain or object, but to describe. Here is my latest attempt to describe what is going wrong in the press treatment of Donald Trump. I wrote it as a Twitter thread — a series of connected thoughts — on the occasion of his first 100 days.
The title is: “The everyday language of news distorts the reality of Trump.” For among my conclusions from watching press coverage of the first 100 days: Normal language will be used for what it is not in any way normal. Ready? Here goes…
On day 100 of Trump-in-power a thread about failed descriptors that keep the press from rendering the situation in its various extremes.
Forced to choose between inventing a language for a presidency without precedent and distorting the picture by relying on normal terms, the newswriters have frequently chosen inaccuracy by means of a received language, even though they know there’s nothing normal here.
With no details — and no evidence of planning or deliberation — calling a page of bullet points his tax “plan” misdescribes what he did.
It might seem harmlessly routine for PBS Newshour to announce a look back at Trump’s “foreign policy accomplishments and setbacks,” except there is no evidence that he HAS a foreign policy, and lots of evidence he does not.
The most you can say is: stuff happened, and he reacted.
It goes further. Even to say the president has views is a distortion. There are particles and waves but these do not amount to “positions.” Every report on his ‘flip-flopping’ suffers by the implication that he had some sort of position in the first place. Nope. He just said stuff.
Talk of “a steep learning curve” credits him with learning. Got any evidence of that? Reacting, yes… but learning?
My point is the press is running into trouble with basic description because the thing being described violates baseline expectations.
Now flip it around. Just as thoughtless use of normal terms distorts an extreme situation, using accurate terms may sound ‘too extreme.’ An example I’ve used: many things he does can only be explained via Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But that is off limits to newsrooms.
As Josh Marshall has written, “He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance.”
When extreme facts about a president cannot be rendered in news space without the speaker sounding extreme, the facts had better watch out. And it’s this dynamic that creates ‘normalization’ by news: an accurate account feels less believable because the reality is so whacked.
But all is not lost! Here, NBC’s Chuck Todd describes an extreme situation with Trump, but stays within the language of news. Watch the clip: it’s way better than you might think. pic.twitter.com/AeqaCv5kH2