Wednesday, March 21, 2018


I question whether this really is an unpopular opinion.

Nate Silver agrees:

Ross Douthat argues that Cambridge Analytica had less effect on the outcome than TV -- not because TV news obsessed over Clinton emails, but because television made Donald Trump seem larger than life:
... the media format that really made [Trump] president ... wasn’t Zuckerberg’s unreal kingdom; it wasn’t even the Twitter platform where Trump struts and frets and rages daily. It was that old pre-internet standby, broadcast and cable television, and especially TV news.

... Where did so many people originally get the idea that Trump was the right guy to fix our manifestly broken government? Not from Russian bots or targeted social media ad buys, but from a prime-time show that sold itself as real, and sold him as a business genius.... The core Trump demographic might just have been Republicans who watched “The Apprentice” ...

That was step one in the Trump hack of television media. Step two was the use of his celebrity to turn news channels into infomercials for his campaign....

Nothing that Cambridge Analytica did to help the Trump campaign target swing voters ... had anything remotely like the impact of this #alwaysTrump tsunami, which probably added up to more than $2 billion in effective advertising for his campaign during the primary season....

In 2016 [cable news] polarization didn’t just mean that Fox became steadily more pro-Trump as he dispatched his G.O.P. rivals; it also meant that a network like CNN, which thrives on Team Red vs. Team Blue conflict, felt compelled to turn airtime over to Trump surrogates like Jeffrey Lord and Corey Lewandowski and Kayleigh McEnany because their regular stable of conservative commentators (I was one of them) simply wasn’t pro-Trump enough.
But so much of this happened because it's what the audience wanted. The audience wanted it because -- despite the supposed dominance of the "liberal media" in our discourse -- much of America had fallen for conservative narratives and the right's long-developed view of what America really needs.

The right has been telling us for years that "career politicians" are evil and that we should have a government that's "run more like a business." Particularly in the Reagan era and its immediate aftermath, even a number of Democrats fell prey to this thinking. Businessmen are supposed to be tough and decisive; they're supposed to cut through red tape. I don't blame the producers of The Apprentice -- they thought they were just making an entertainment program. But they inadvertently made a lot of people believe Donald Trump should be America's CEO.

Wall-to-wall Trump coverage and mindless support of Trump by cable pundits were what conservatism had conditioned much of America to want because the conservative message for so many years has been "government is evil" and "Democrats and liberals are evil." No one expressed more contempt for the normal process of government than Trump, and no one bashed Democrats and liberals as vigorously as he did. That's what a large portion of the population wanted, and the media obliged.

America has also been told for years that Hillary Clinton is a terrible person -- corrupt, condescending, castrating, physically unappealing. That;'s a right-wing message, but it's also regularly heard from the non-conservative media as well. Much of America was ready to believe all that. The obsessive attacks on Clinton were what a large percentage of the public wanted -- what they had been primed to want. The media delivered.

I'm not prepared to apportion blame for the 2016 election result -- but whether new media or old media were to blame, the most potent messages were bad ones that America has believed for years. They all just came together in one election.

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