After the massacre in San Bernardino last December, the New York Times ran a pro-gun-control editorial on its front page, prompting my liberal Facebook friends to go nuts. Judging from their reaction, the side fighting for sane, or less insane, gun laws had just dropped the Big One. How could the NRA survive such an attack?
An editorial hadn’t run in that hallowed space since 1920.
I have to say though, I didn’t actually see the front page. I read the editorial on the Times’ website. In fact, I learned about this blessed development from a headline that popped up on my iPhone screen.
No one seemed to grasp the irony of celebrating and promoting this rare event on Facebook, which is probably where many of gun-control advocates found out about it. I can’t imagine anyone I know standing in their bathrobe and slippers on the driveway with the unwrapped Times in their hands, mouthing “Oh, my God!” Among the handful who ever see the Times’ actual front page, it’s usually when they glance down at the newsstand at Starbucks.
Progressives’ reaction on social media was like putting on your Google telepathy hat to tell a friend the latest Outlook email upgrade will have a profound impact on the way we communicate.
Nicholas Kristof’s Times column on Thursday, headlined “When a Crackpot Runs for President,” reminded me of the clamor that morning nine months ago. Kristof’s piece revealed a lack of understanding of today’s media landscape and a certain nostalgia, just like the notion the Times’ sets the national agenda with its front page.
His topic was whether journalists should be honest with their audiences about the danger Donald Trump poses to this country. He approached the question with great earnestness.
“I’m wary of grand conclusions about false equivalence from 30,000 feet. But at the grass roots of a campaign, I think we can do better at signaling that one side is a clown.
“There are crackpots who believe that the earth is flat, and they don’t deserve to be quoted without explaining that this is an, er, outlying view, and the same goes for a crackpot who has argued that climate change is a Chinese-made hoax, who has called for barring Muslims and who has said that he will build a border wall and that Mexico will pay for it.
“We owe it to our readers to signal when we’re writing about a crackpot. Even if he’s a presidential candidate. No, especially when he’s a presidential candidate.”
Now, just reflect for a moment on the hours of video you’ve watched over the last 14 months of Trump making outlandish, stupid, racist, misogynist, and sometimes dangerous statements. Off the top of my head: inviting the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s email, his eagerness to use nuclear weapons, his fondness for war, and his belief that many of our generals are know-nothings.
Progressives’ reaction (to the NYT’s front-page editorial) on social media was like putting on your Google telepathy hat to tell a friend the latest Outlook email upgrade will have a profound impact on the way we communicate.
Sorry, Kristof, but I’ve already concluded Trump is a threat to the United States. Whether a reporter flat-out calls him a whackjob in print or on air is of zero consequence to me. Most Hillary Clinton voters have already come to the same conclusion.
Donald Trump has taken us and the news media into virgin territory.
Kristof is a solid, card-carrying liberal, but he’d never have written the same kind of column about Mitt Romney or John McCain. And if he had, he would have been laughed off the Internet, his credibility smashed. His differences with Romney and McCain were within the band of acceptable politics. Trump’s politics are unacceptable.
Except to his supporters, whose fear of a secretive, corrupt Clinton administration overwhelms their misgivings about Trump. Wrongly. But, of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Which gets to my deeper problem with Kristof’s column. It’s nostalgic for the days when big dailies and big networks were more consequential — when they had real authority.
To be an authority, a major cross-section of the population (national, state, or local, depending on which news outlet you’re looking at) has to agree that 1) you’re thorough and know what you’re talking about, 2) have integrity, and 3) are an honest, nonpartisan arbiter of facts and the contexts that make sense of them.
Which newspapers and networks are you willing to say that about?
A Pew Research Center study on political polarization and news consumption gives a partial answer: not many. The 2014 report found that, among the consistent liberals surveyed, CNN was the top news source (15 percent of respondents), followed by NPR (13 percent), MSNBC (12 percent), and the New York Times (10 percent).
For conservatives? About 47 percent named Fox News as their No. 1 news source. They also distrusted far more news outlets than liberals.
Unless lefties start flocking to Fox News — no, no, never, never — the kind of authority that underpins Kristof’s piece is toast.
Postscript: One of SanAntoniomizer’s thousands of readers said she got the feeling that I’m nostalgic for the good old days when Big Media set the agenda. I am not — at all. Kristof? Definitely.