The culture wars have fundamentally changed, not because Donald Trump won but because Hillary Clinton lost and lost to Trump. This proved what we on the Right had long hoped: politically correct shaming tactics would lose their power.
PC shame worked for so long it seemed unbeatable. I certainly thought it so. Leftists brought out everything this round, including maneuvering the Republican primaries for Trump’s win because they’d have ever so many options for PC shaming against him in the general. Clinton’s campaign and its many famous and moneyed allies pulled off the pinnacle of PC maneuvering. Yet this time it failed.
America’s culture warriors have not fully absorbed this failure yet. On the Right we always thought this day would come, but it took so long and had so many false starts that I think we now miss its arrival. We react defensively to the shame tactics out of habit. (See, for example, the Meryl Streep at the Golden Globes affair.)
Defensiveness Is Pointless
While I empathize with the frustration and feel the urge to call out the PC tactics for what they are, as a practical matter reacting defensively is pointless now. Any defenses we offer will be overshadowed by whatever President Trump does. Either he will prove the slanders true or he won’t, and given the stories the Left is dishing out, they are giving him wide boundaries for bad behavior. (See for example, BuzzFeed and the dossier and Slate and Dylann Roof.)
Plus, PC shaming works when targets feel “isolated, demoralized, and fearful of opposing the left’s agenda.” After this election, who feels fearful of opposing the Left? Yes, constitutional conservatives might feel isolated and demoralized, but not about opposing the Left. That’ll be the easy part of the next four years.
Why interfere while the opposition is in the process of destroying itself? As the probable quote from Napoleon goes, “In that case, let us wait twenty minutes; when the enemy is making a false movement we must take good care not to interrupt him.”
As for the Left, they have learned little from this election. They are still dishing out the shame tweets, posts, celebrity commercials, and speeches, unaware in their hysteria that only their choir is listening anymore. They think ignorance and credibility is everyone else’s problem and have been reviving reporting habits from their “fake but accurate” phase back during the George W. Bush administration. (Recall for example, the origin of that phrase: the fake Texas Air National Guard memo.)
Reporters Finally Admit They’re Not Really Reporters
The days after the election saw many calls by journalists, publishers, and others to rethink how they did journalism. But Fredrik DeBoer noticed the turn back a few days after the election:
You know for a brief moment there, on Wednesday, I thought that there was a chance that we’d see change where it’s needed, from the Democrats and from the liberal media that drives so much of Democrat messaging and strategy. I am holding on to the deluded hope that Lucy will let Charlie Brown kick that football and the Democrats will evolve past celebrity endorsement limousine liberalism and putting their trust in Ada, the Algorithm That Couldn’t Do Math. My hope that the media might look at itself and ask why it couldn’t rouse the public with all its oppo on Trump didn’t last a week.
There’s been a wave of Twitter threads and essays saying that liberals and the media should have to change nothing, that it’s the rural enclaves of the country that have to get acquainted with the politics and cultural values of the urban coasts.
That wave of Twitter threads and essays shifting blame away from journalists continued. When it receded, it left advice columns and manifestos about how “journalists” can better influence the news. Skim two to a dozen of those pieces, and there isn’t much on journalist fundamentals, such as investigation and reporting. The profession honestly thinks it has been doing journalism all this time, and simply did not adapt a messaging strategy quickly enough for the Internet age.
Ben Rhodes was right: media is full of reporters who “know nothing” and do not care to learn. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is taking a U.S. listening tour, but the over-vaunted Fourth Estate is sharpening its propaganda techniques.
Unfortunately for them, few others are going to play along with the propaganda this time. After this election’s choice of the lesser evil and their many misses, public trust in mainstream journalism has collapsed. Trump voters already did not trust the media. They found alternative sources for information, even if some of them aren’t pleased with how those alternatives developed. A substantial chunk of Clinton voters are livid that they were manipulated or lied to.
An undetermined, but probably large portion of the public is actively looking for real journalism. That’s the game changer.
The Journalism Gap Is a Major Opportunity
It is no secret that mainstream media shuns Right writers, and thus their ideas. A token conservative here or there and quarantined in the opinion section is all mainstream media powers have tolerated. This has far-reaching consequences.
Fox News and the Right blogosphere came into being because of this shunning, and the Right blogosphere evolved into Right online media. That is, the shunning produced not only the mainstream media bubble, but eventually the Right media bubble as well. Then, to keep their respective audiences clicking and listening, those bubble moguls resorted to the old Yellow Journalism: sensational titles on top of stories with more regard for seduction and subscriptions than for facts, research, investigation, or consequences.
One of the distinctive features of modern yellow journalism is hate-click baiting. Leftists would dish out some PC shame and Right writers would mock them for it, hoping for the cross links. Hate clicks for everybody! Who cares if most readers aren’t even reading past the titles! Stats are up, and ad dollars are keeping the lights on.
While each side’s cheerleaders might love the practice, many readers loathe it. They hate clicking on an article that has little to do with the title. They want to actually understand the issues, the history, the theories. They want more than snarky pieces about why a writer is right. Worse, those confident pieces often turn the coverage itself into the news—as if every story needs a Deep Throat angle.
While the public was generally content with the two bubbles, it was difficult to gain traction outside of either. After the recent election, however, news consumers who once liked having their opinions confirmed and who tolerated some of the hate-click excesses have recognized that they need to read more deeply, and not about the drama among press outlets. They have noticed the journalism gap. And we’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.
Since news consumers have other jobs, they don’t want to have to do the research themselves. Thus, there is a growing market for real journalism, yet most of the legacy media is refusing to provide it.
Don’t Wait for an Invitation
Legacy media could actually fill the journalism gap rather quickly by hiring Right, not just an opinion page token here and there, but reporters, editors, designers, etc. Legacy media still has the larger audiences because they were not born, as Right media was, as a reaction to lacking perspective. Having other perspectives in the news room would push them to old journalism standards and quickly revive their organization.
Alas, this is not happening. I started drafting this article days after the election as a guide to some of the newsrooms with the most bubble-bursting potential, but within a week the potential was lost. Every entry read like “an open letter to my lefty buddies.” Small sparks of interest in Right writers turned cold. In just two months, the Left and Right bubbles have grown more distinct, and further apart. And the journalism gap remains.
Capitalism, however, abhors a market vacuum. Somebody will start providing real journalism. A handful of writers, concentrated on Medium interestingly enough, are already experimenting. But if more of the Right doesn’t join the effort, then we would have blown a bigger opportunity than the Libertarians did in the last election. We don’t need to wait for an invitation from big media anymore. That’s not where consumers are looking. We can simply fill the journalism gap and isolate the propagandists.
Let’s Start a Journalism Revival
A journalism revival isn’t that hard. Get back to basics: research and straight reporting, proper sourcing, editorial fact-checking, copy editing, accurate headlining.
Going back to basics is not just nostalgia for an older, better time and way. We need real journalism. While I count myself among those who breathed a deep sigh of relief when the reality hit that Hillary Clinton would never be president, we still have a demagogue moving into the White House. Many of his supporters tried to persuade reluctant Republicans to his side by claiming that Congress and pundits would keep him in line. Constitutional conservatives know this must be done; expansive executive power doesn’t become acceptable just because an executive order gets the policy right.
But who can keep President Trump in constitutional line? News media has hit rock bottom on credibility and kept digging. Congress looks wobbly. If he fails on the economy—and one of the underreported truths of this election was “It’s the economy, stupid”—then we need constitutional constraints on executive back in practice before President Oprah Winfrey is sworn in. We don’t have the luxury to indulge our PC defense habit or traffic spike tactics.
A final plea of persuasion, for those of you seeking a little more justice for journalists’ failures: think of this as freezing them out. Make them feel voiceless, as we felt in the past decades.
Billy Ray Valentine: [watches Louis clean his shotgun] You know, you can’t just go around and shoot people in the kneecaps with a double-barreled shotgun ’cause you’re pissed at ’em.
Louis Winthorpe III: Why not?
Billy Ray Valentine: ‘Cause it’s called assault with a deadly weapon, you get 20 years for that shit.
Louis Winthorpe III: Listen, do you have any better ideas?
Billy Ray Valentine: Yeah. You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.
Coleman: You have to admit, sir, you didn’t like it yourself a bit.
For the modern yellow journalists who thrive on clicks — take away their clicks. Ignore them. As I recall, we didn’t like it ourselves a bit.