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Person of the year

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Thursday, December 08, 2016 08:30 am

Back in 1938, I bet the editors of Time magazine spent a lot of time explaining to their friends that, no, they really didn't like Adolph Hitler or support anything he did, but they just had to make him Man of the Year because he was the most consequential person on the planet. In hindsight the choice is obvious. When a single person is plunging the whole world into chaos, he has no competition for newsworthiness.And Donald Trump is the obvious choice for the magazine's Person of the Year honor this year, although I was semi-rooting for Transgender Bathroom Users. I wonder if the editors are agan busy 'splaining themselves? No, no, no, no, God no, we don't endorse the man. But he upended the political world, and he will soon be the leader of the free world. How could we not choose him?

Bet they are. You can tell from the article that it really pained them to have to do this. The sstory about the selection seethes with barely concealed contempt for Trump:

It’s hard to measure the scale of his disruption. This real estate baron and casino owner turned reality-TV star and provocateur—never a day spent in public office, never a debt owed to any interest besides his own—now surveys the smoking ruin of a vast political edifice that once housed parties, pundits, donors, pollsters, all those who did not see him coming or take him seriously. Out of this reckoning, Trump is poised to preside, for better or worse.

For those who believe this is all for the better, Trump’s victory represents a long-overdue rebuke to an entrenched and arrogant governing class; for those who see it as for the worse, the destruction extends to cherished norms of civility and discourse, a politics poisoned by vile streams of racism, sexism, nativism. To his believers, he delivers change—broad, deep, historic change, not modest measures doled out in Dixie cups; to his detractors, he inspires fear both for what he may do and what may be done in his name.

The revolution he stirred feels fully American, with its echoes of populists past, of Andrew Jackson and Huey Long and, at its most sinister, Joe McCarthy and Charles Coughlin. Trump’s assault on truth and logic, far from hurting him, made him stronger. His appeal—part hope, part snarl—dissolved party lines and dispatched the two reigning dynasties of U.S. politics. Yet his victory mirrors the ascent of nationalists across the world, from Britain to the Philippines, and taps forces far more powerful than one man’s message.

We can scarcely grasp what our generation has wrought by putting a supercomputer into all of our hands, all of the time. If you are reading this, whether on a page or a screen, there is a very good chance that you are caught up in a revolution that may have started with enticing gadgets but has now reshaped everything about how we live, love, work, play, shop, share—how our very hearts and minds encounter the world around us. Why would we have imagined that our national conversation would simply go on as before, same people, same promises, same patterns? Perhaps the President-elect will stop tweeting—but only because he will have found some other means to tell the story he wants to tell directly to the audience that wants to hear it.

On the other hand, the stuff they include about Hillary Clinton, who naturally came in second place for Person of the Year honors, is a lot more glowing. They barely mention her scandals or character flaws and talk a lot about that glass ceiling. Yes, that's right, being a woman seemed to be her chief qualification.

Even the subhead of the article is snarky — "president of the divided states of America." Think they would have had something like that if Clinton had won? Sort of dismsses not jus Trump but the half of the population who voted for him.

Oh, well. This kind of stuff matters a lot less than it used to. Trump was gracious about the honor but he didn't have to be. Something else he should be called this year is Tweeter of the Year. His use of social media is making the press less and less relevant. With a single 140-character tweet he can inflame public opinion around the world and command every front page and dominate every newscast.

Many on the right are enjoying this comeuppance of the press and some even call Trump's Twitter finds with the media a brilliant strategy:

Largely through social media, Trump is setting the terms of the debate. He’s playing the opposing side like a fiddle. The pundit and political class are unable to make their own arguments, and with every new story, they show how detached they are from normal Americans.

The most important aspect of Trump’s tweets, however, is the most subtle.  With every passing comment, Trump hints at the conversation that must be had to restore government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

By keeping his opponents off balance, Trump prompts his opponents to drive a wedge between themselves and the American people. And what better way is there to do this than to get the ruling class to make contrary arguments while looking smug, condescending, and opposing the common sentiment of the American people?

That may be overstating the case just a tad, but Trump has changed the rules of the game — or at least he is ignoring the current rules of the game. There is speculation now about who his press secretary might be, with Laura Ingraham seeming to be the top contender. I not sure it matters much who ends up getting the job, or even if he has a press secretary. Trump's relationship with the Washington Press Corps is going to be unlike anything we've seen before.

Trump is speaking tdirectly to the American people, but he is speaking without the filter that was provided by the press until now. A majority of people no longer trust that filter? Which is better, a flawed filter or no filter at all? And this isn't a conversation, just a series of soliloquies. A conversation would also require our side of the dialogue. How will we know Trump knows what we are saying?

The press, meanwhile, is still struggling to survive what was, for them, a disasterous election, not just because of how spectacularly wrong they were but because how their already bad reputation got een worse. The media's naked bias was more pronounced and more obvious that ever before. And even The Washingto Post now has to admit that press coverage of the election was overwhelmingly negative:

"His coverage was negative from the start [of the general election] and never came close to entering positive territory," writes Thomas E. Patterson, the Bradlee professor of government and the press at Harvard. "During his best weeks, the coverage ran 2-to-1 negative over positive. In his worst weeks, the ratio was more than 10-to-1. If there was a silver lining for Trump, it was that his two best weeks were the ones just preceding the November balloting."

[. . .]

Not only was Trump's press coverage uniformly negative, it was also more negative in tone than Hillary Clinton's. In the general election, 77 percent of the coverage of Trump was negative as compared with 64 percent of the Clinton coverage. (For the entire campaign — including the primary — Clinton had the more negative coverage — 62 percent to 56 percent.)

And note that, although they were more negative in covering Trump, they were also mre negative than positive about Clinton. The press was just negative, period. There is nothing wrong with negative reporting — it's how we learn some of the stuff about politicians we need to know. But, good lord, there has to be some balance. Trump and Clinton both had detailed, substantive proposals. But you'd never know that from the press coverage.

The press hasn't done its job, and increasing numbers of people no longer trust it and won't pay attention even if it does decide to do the job right. And the president iof the United States is going to go out of his way to annoy the press, which is likely to make members of the press more open about their partisanship and even less influential than they are no. I don't know how all this is going to play out, but it should be a hell of a ride.

 

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