The New York Times is trying to figure out how to avoid getting FoxNewsed by the Alt-Media:
The last year has turned the United States into a country of information addicts who compulsively check the television, the smartphone and the good old-fashioned newspaper with a burning question: What fresh twist could our national election drama and its executive producer, Donald J. Trump, possibly have in store for us now?
No doubt about it: Campaign 2016 has been a smash hit.
And to the news media have gone the spoils. With Mr. Trump providing must-see TV theatrics, cable news has drawn record audiences. Newspapers have reached online readership highs that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
On Wednesday comes the reckoning.
The election news bubble that’s about to pop has blocked from plain view the expanding financial sinkhole at the center of the paper-and-ink branch of the news industry, which has recently seen a print advertising plunge that was “much more precipitous, to be honest with you, than anybody expected a year or so ago,” as The Wall Street Journal editor in chief Gerard Baker told me on Friday.
Papers including The Journal, The New York Times, The Guardian, the Gannett publications and others have responded with plans to reorganize, shed staff, kill off whole sections, or all of the above.
Taken together, it means another rapid depletion in the nation’s ranks of traditionally trained journalists whose main mission is to root out corruption, hold the powerful accountable and sort fact from fiction for voters.
It couldn’t be happening at a worse moment in American public life. The internet-borne forces that are eating away at print advertising are enabling a host of faux-journalistic players to pollute the democracy with dangerously fake news items.
In the last couple of weeks, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets have exposed millions of Americans to false stories asserting that: the Clinton campaign’s pollster, Joel Benenson, wrote a secret memo detailing plans to “salvage” Hillary Clinton’s candidacy by launching a radiological attack to halt voting (merrily shared on Twitter by Roger Stone, an informal adviser to the Trump campaign); the Clinton campaign senior strategist John Podesta practiced an occult ritual involving various bodily fluids; Mrs. Clinton is paying public pollsters to skew results (shared on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr.); there is a trail of supposedly suspicious deaths of myriad Clinton foes (which The Times’s Frank Bruni heard repeated in a hotel lobby in Ohio).
As Mike Cernovich, a Twitter star, alt-right news provocateur and promoter of Clinton health conspiracies, boasted in last week’s New Yorker, “Someone like me is perceived as the new Fourth Estate.” His content can live alongside that of The Times or The Boston Globe or The Washington Post on the Facebook newsfeed and be just as well read, if not more so. On Saturday he called on a President Trump to disband the White House press corps.
He may not have to. All you have to do is look at the effect of the Gannett cuts on its Washington staff, which Politico recently likened to a “blood bath.”
So, they’re going to win by cutting back on staff and lying about the competition. That sounds like a strategy for certain success!
The total ineptitude of the conservative movement can really only be understood by the ease with which the Alt-Right is competing with them despite a complete imbalance of resources, numbers, and awareness. But conservatives were always too interested in dialectic and making nice to ever have any hope of beating the mainstream media at its own game.
Can you imagine how the Alt-Right would have handled the Lewinsky scandal? Instead of huffing indignantly about “the dignity of the office” and attacking Republicans who also had affairs, there would have been a positive torrent of horrifically pornographic memes starring Bill Clinton. I’ll go so far as to suggest that if the Alt-Right had been around then, Bill Clinton would have been forced to resign.
Back in mid-October, the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency was considered outlandish by the mainstream media. Virtually every major polling organization had predicted that Hillary Clinton would emerge victorious in nothing short of a landslide of epic proportions, condemning Trump’s campaign to a fate as an embarrassing political footnote.
Also in mid-October, author Mike Cernovich and editor Vox Day published the audaciously-titled MAGA Mindset: Making YOU and America Great Again. A book that alternates between political prognostication and self-help reaffirmation, MAGA Mindset confidently describes the rumbling sociocultural landscape that helped form the framework for Trump’s eventual victory.
One does not need to read tea leaves to predict how such a bold move could have spelled disaster for Cernovich’s career; while he had already established himself as a powerful social media bellwether for the New Right movement, authoring a pro-Trump manifesto on the eve of his defeat would forever arm his mainstream media nemeses with concrete evidence of Cernovich’s analytical myopia.
It is this intrepidness on behalf of Cernovich and Day – the MAGA mindset, as it were – that imbues the book’s premise with an indelible potency.
In a self-effacing origin story of sorts, Cernovich calls himself a “dumb hick from flyover country” who “should not have amounted to much.” Now, though, he has become famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) as the founder of website Danger & Play and as an outspoken Twitter user who coined hashtags #HillarysHealth, #HidingHillary, et al. With 166,000 followers and counting, Cernovich estimates that his account receives over 100 million impressions monthly.
The juxtaposition of these two mentions of Cernovich illustrate the fundamental problem the mainstream media is facing. They have to cover him. He’s too big to ignore. But they can’t resist the urge to attack, marginalize, and belittle, thereby completely missing everything about why people are paying attention to him in the first place.
Consider how many stories they’ve done about Hillary Clinton’s unexpected defeat and why the pollsters got it wrong. And yet, even when they begrudingly mentioned an individual who was predicting the precise opposite of everything they expected at the time, they only portrayed him as “promoter of Clinton health conspiracies”, not someone who had been predicting a Trump victory since 2015.
That is why they are destined to be the irrelevant news, until they finally disappear altogether. They either don’t know, or simply don’t care, what people are actually interested in reading about. Worse, they act as if we can’t tell what they’re doing. Notice how Cernovich “boasts” when he is simply telling a reporter the facts, whereas when John Scalzi blatantly lied to a New York Times reporter about his site traffic, he was “affable” and “comfortable with the business of promotion” and “adept at generating buzz.”
Do they really think we don’t notice?