For me, the biggest surprise is how surprised they all were.
Did the mainstream press really believe its own bullshit? Or were they just pretending to believe it?
Let’s call out The New York Times and The Washington Post by name. Not because they’re better or worse than any of the other pushers of supposedly reputable journalism, but because they, of all people, should know better.
They assured us that the midterms were about three things, and three only: inflation, gas prices, crime. Exactly the crap Republicans were peddling.
And when they weren’t obsessing on those, they always found time to point out Biden’s low approval numbers — as if those numbers weren’t juiced by fraudulent polling, and by relentless rightwing assaults on his “failed presidency.” There were endless stories about those feckless Democrats, always in disarray, who were never quite able to “work across the aisle” with stochastic terrorists openly plotting to kill them.
Democracy? Abortion? Climate? Guns? Sure, they told us, people think about that stuff, but those aren’t “kitchen table” issues. As if Republicans have given a single thought to a kitchen-table issue in half a century.
The press knew it was all bullshit, and they pushed it anyway. They needed the horse race, and to keep that horse race interesting they needed to pretend both sides were legitimate, that one side wasn’t holding a lit fuse to what’s left of democracy.
Of course, they were helped in their beliefs, both by the gamed “junk” polling of recent weeks, and by the bombastic braying of Republicans taking victory laps in advance of losing.
But were they so sealed in their Acela-corridor echo chamber that they couldn’t see the glaring evidence to the contrary, staring them right in the face? Evidence that refuted every narrative they were pushing? Evidence that was being routinely reported even in their own publications?
They’d all reported on the Kansas abortion referendum — last summer’s electoral primal scream from women outraged at the Dobbs decision — which dramatically foreshadowed everything that happened last week.
They’d reported on the record registration numbers, both for women and for Gen Z first-time voters, and they shared our amazement when those numbers obliterated records from previous years.
They’d reported on the surge in early voting, and the long lines of people waiting to do it, despite the cruel obstacles erected by red-state legislatures.
They’d even done a few stories on “candidate quality,” their euphemism for seditious idiots from out on the fringes, dangerously unfit to hold office.
So how, after all this solid reporting, did they add it all together and come up with a red wave? What was the editorial strategy that pushed them to simply ignore stories — even their own — that didn’t fit the desired narrative? Who decided what that narrative should be, anyway? Does that person still have a job?
For me, this cognitive dissonance was unsettling, because I was seeing a lot of the same material they were — minus the junk polls — and getting a very different picture.
I know I’m not alone. I saw plenty of cause for optimism in the run-up to Election Day, from people who were reading the same stuff I was. But such is the power of the mainstream press that they had us doubting the evidence of our own eyes.
Yet at the same time, we could see what they were doing. We could recognize the skewed headlines that signaled a deceptive slant to the articles. We didn’t even have to read the article to know where it was going, which was always to the classic horse race: feckless Democrats, underdog Republicans.
(For a really good sampling of those headlines, see this op-ed by Dana Milbank in the Post. Yes, that Post. Yes, I get the irony.)
Of course, they haven’t stopped. The post-mortems in the last week are just as disingenuous. The Times, in an article late last week, has Republicans wondering what went wrong, whether it was “…poor candidates, an overheated message or the electoral anchor that appeared to be dragging the GOP down, former President Donald J. Trump.”
While the answer was surely all three, the article once again sidesteps the biggest reason, the reason no member of the press will touch: that the whole GOP is unhinged, and you’d have to be unhinged yourself not to acknowledge it. This is not a drill. We need the press to take these unhinged people seriously.
It’s not that these news outlets don’t have columnists licensed to call out the craziness. It’s just that their daily reporting — the basic news we need as citizens — is letting us down. Even now they continue to cling to the “both sides” narrative, to the point where they risk the very democracy that keeps them in business.
Do they not know what happens to the press when democracy collapses? Do they really think when the fascists take over they can just seamlessly morph into some American version of Tass or RT? Sadly, a lot of them will.
The dust still hasn’t settled on this election. We may yet lose the House, though that seems a less dire outcome than it felt like a week ago.
But win or lose, I’m not alone in feeling deeply misled, and by no means for the first time, by news sources that we have no choice but to trust. Which makes it really alarming that they’re so untrustworthy.
The press has come up way short, and the country is much the worse for it. Trump was horrifyingly wrong to call it the “enemy of the people.” But it hasn’t been much of a friend lately, either.