Monika Bauerlein, CEO of Mother Jones, thinks President Donald Trump’s apparent madness has method in it. (Why Does the Press Keep Helping Trump?” by Monika Bauerlein, Mother Jones, Jan/Feb 2018 pg. 5.) She accuses him of spinning the truth each day, not to influence, but to confuse and blind journalists, making them unable to function as arbiters of “commonly understood facts.” (Ibid p 5.) When journalists lose that “common fact base, it’s easy to start unraveling the other threads that hold democracy together,” she complains. (Ibid pg. 5.)
Understandably, when representatives of the media wrap themselves in patriotism I take note. I, too, believe in a free press. But I don’t forget that its goal, just like Monsanto’s, is profit. If the media hangs upon Donald Trump’s every action and every tweet, it does so because the tempest he creates attracts eyeballs and, therefore, advertisers. After all, the media’s time honored mantra is, If the story bleeds, it leads. Why blame Donald Trump for employing their principle against them?
In sum, if Donald Trump uses the media, they use him, as well. That symbiotic combat sometimes appears to me as little more than a snake swallowing its tail.
While I honor the legion of journalists who have been maimed or lost their lives to bring the public a story, I question that the media is the sole guardian of truth. Other watchdogs exist, like the Pew Research Center, for example. Besides, the file on journalists who have invented facts or colored them to the point of obfuscation is thick. Some have lost their jobs because of the error in their ways. Some have been reassigned to different desks. Others work to hold their audience, not with falsehoods, but with theatrics and careful word choices.
Rachel Maddow, MSNBC commentator, falls into the last category. She is apt to reach Shakespearean decibels whenever she has little to report — choosing to entertain her followers with gestures and skeptical tones like any actor upon the stage. I am no follower, I admit. I prefer “more matter with less art.” (Hamlet, Act II, scene ii)
Still, as a student of language, I admire Maddow’s use of fudge words. These she liberally applies when she wishes to raise suspicion but lacks evidence. A favorite phrase is “seeming to suggest,” a degree more watery and fudgier than “suggests,” alone. The latter is a statement of fact. The former is an implication. No truth, as far as I know, lies in seeming.
Before I’d rush to crown the media with patriot laurels, I’d need to know where profit lies, for that, as I’ve already said, is the endgame. Without such knowledge, I am capable of being gulled. To truly earn the high ground, a reporter must convince me that neither an editor’s demands, audience ratings or personal ambitions are involved.
Alas, where money flows, impure motives sometimes follows. Which is why, like the Prince of Denmark, I share a jaundice view of human nature – journalists’ included: “Use every man after his dessert, and who will scape a whipping?” (Hamlet, Act II, scene ii.)