10 Most Egregious Examples of Lazy Media Coverage of the Election Season
The 2016 election season is roughly half over, but already certain tried-and-true trends have emerged in coverage. Generating original content is hard; generating it over and over over the course of an ever-elongated election season is near impossible. With that in mind, here are 10 of the laziest takes of this election season.
10. “Marco Rubio Is About to Turn the Corner”
This was an evergreen favorite of pundits who just couldn’t get over how great the Florida senator looked on paper and how terribly he was faring in the primaries. Ross Douthat of the New York Times was the most frequent peddler of the “Rubio’s just about to breakout” take, writing a number of them before moving onto the sequel: the “Why isn’t Rubio winning?!” piece.
- “[My Preferred Candidate] Won the Debate”
A necessary requirement for punditry is to have some opinion on who “won” major debates—despite there being no objective way to analyze such a question—and to disseminate this opinion as just a guy callin’ balls and strikes. With rare exceptions, who one thinks “won” a debate happens to dovetail nicely with whom one wanted to win a debate. As I wrote back in October:
Pundits are ostensibly supposed to judge whether or not a candidate said what “the voters” want to hear. But what ends up happening, invariably, is they end up judging whether or not the candidate said what they think voters wanted to hear. This, after all, is why pundits exist, to act as a clergy class charged with interpreting people’s own inscrutable opinions for them.
No law of nature requires anyone to “call” a debate in anyone’s favor. It’s an exercise too fraught with personal bias and horserace blinders to be of any real use to anyone.
- “Why [Biden/Bloomberg/Random General] Should Run”
The Reasonable Center media needs a Reasonable Center candidate to placate some vaguely dissatisfied Reasonable Center that the current candidates aren’t addressing. Somehow exceedingly centrist Hillary Clinton is too “polarizing,” while Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders (often facilely lumped together) are too nutty and extreme.
First was the non-stop “mulling” of Joe Biden, whom TV news gave more airtime to in 2015 than Sanders and Cruz combined, despite never actually running. Then it was perennial tease Michael Bloomberg (trial-ballooned by Sanders-hating Jon Chait during Clinton’s February slump) whose uncalled for campaign involved a strategy of hiring “gig economy” workers to promote his McKinsey & Company-style candidacy. Then some GOP “elites” wanted Gen. David Petraeus, which would have been rich, considering he committed a security breach far greater and far wider than what’s being alleged against Clinton, the GOP’s favorite target.
The disinterested pundit class was searching for a pro-corporate, pro-gay marriage avatar who was a bit more liked than Clinton, despite the fact that Clinton was liked well enough to garner more votes than anyone in either party’s primary.
- <Serious Person Voice> “Donald Trump Isn’t Funny Anymore”
The “Trump isn’t funny anymore” take was designed to give banal and obvious critiques of Trump the appearance of something new and urgent. The angle presupposed that a man who race-baited five innocent black kids for 25 years was ever funny to begin with.
- The Tone Police
Because the central elements of Bernie Sanders’ platform poll very well, criticism of his candidacy tend to focus less on substance and turn into meta-critiques. Generally the argument goes, “I like Sanders, but his tone is wrong/mean/nasty,” and some nebulous constituency of people (though not necessarily the author) will be put off by it. Such criticisms are almost impossible to disprove, since they rely on perception rather than anything falsifiable.
During the Washington Post’s now-infamous 16-negative-stories-against-Sanders streak, four of them were tone-based critiques:
- What Bernie Sanders Still Doesn’t Get About Arguing With Hillary Clinton
- Bernie Sanders Says White People Don’t Know What It’s Like to Live in a ‘Ghetto.’ About That
- ‘Excuse Me!’: Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Know How to Talk About Black People
- ‘Excuse Me, I’m Talking’: Bernie Sanders Shuts Down Hillary Clinton, Repeatedly
Sanders wasn’t the only one tone-policed. Hillary Clinton was the subject of several sexist tweets for “yelling” at a rally, which is sort of what people do at rallies. Unless they’re women; then they’re supposed to gingerly whisper.
- “[Outrageous Statement X] Will Sink the Trump Campaign”
The only thing more consistent this election season than Trump’s lead in the polls has been pundits calling his demise. It was practically a weekly affair:
- July 2015: “Donald Trump’s Immigration Remarks Were Beginning of His End
- July 2015: Donald Trump Disparaged John McCain’s Military Service. Is This the End of His Run?
- August 2015: GOP Debate Marks Beginning of the End for Trump
- September 2015: The Beginning of Trump’s End?
- October 2015: Is This the Beginning of the End for Trump?
- November 2015: Trump Bombs Terribly as ‘SNL’ Host—Is This the Beginning of the End?
- December 2015: The End Is Nigh for Donald Trump
- Jan 2016: The Beginning of the End of the Trump Campaign?
- Feb 2016: Iowa Is the Beginning of the End for Donald Trump
- March 2016:This is the End of the Line for Trump
This trend is so embarrassing that pundits now call attention to how wrong prior predictions have been when making current predictions of his demise with self-aware headlines like “This Time It Really Is the End of Trump. Really.” But is it? Really?
- The Bernie Bro Think Piece
Because what Sanders’ idiot online fans think requires dozens of articles and weeks of debate.
As I’ve written before, there is certainly a cohort of intense Sanders partisans online—some of whom are definitely bro-ish. But the “Bernie Bro” think piece has completely spiraled out of control. As Slate’s Amanda Hess noted in February, “What began as a necessary critique of leftist sexism has been replaced by a pair of straw men waving their arms in the wind.”
What at first meant “hostile online white male Sanders supporters” quickly morphed to “online Sanders supporters” to “any carbon-based organism I disagree with regardless of age, race, sex or demeanor.” Everyone from Sanders himself to women to the Pope has been called a Bernie Bro. One Vice article even asked if competitive gaming had created the phenomenon. The trope had reached peak absurdity, making parodies of the conceit indistinguishable from the conceit itself. We are all Bernie Bros, and yet—none of us are.
- “Why I Support (or Don’t) Candidate X”
One of the most popular—and traffic-generating—election takes, “Why I Support Candidate X” (like its even more popular variation, “Why I Can No Longer Support Candidate X”) is a one-off invitation into the political logic of one person: the facile electoral testimonial that presumes the significance one person’s solipsistic journey. While this may be newsworthy for a big-time endorsement (say a senator or popular celebrity), with your average political writer, one is compelled to ask: Who cares?
Sometimes these testimonials are also highly dubious. Like the half-dozen anonymous testimonials on Blue Nation Review —a site run by David Brock, who also happens to head the pro-Clinton SuperPAC American Bridge 21st Century. Or in the case of Chris Sosa, who said he was a “democratic socialist” who could “no longer support Sanders” in a widely shared article in Salon, despite mounds of evidence he had always been a Clinton supporter (and his unsocialist admiration for capitalist Bill Gates). In a recent Guardian post (4/12/16), Lucia Graves said she felt “betrayed” by Sanders (due to his tone, naturally), despite never having openly supported him.
- “Trump Is an Official US Enemy I Want a Newsy and Topical Excuse to Criticize”
As FAIR has previously noted, the Trump spectacle provides a perfect evergreen excuse for lazy writers to compare Trump to people they hate for entirely unrelated reasons. At last count, Trump is:
- Vladimir Putin
- Nicolas Maduro
- Fidel Castro
- An African Dictator
- Joseph Stalin
- Kim Jong-Il
- Kim Jong-Un
- A Chinese Communist Official
- L. Ron Hubbard
- Saddam Hussein
- Ayatollah Khomeini
- Hugo Chavez
Basically, Trump is whatever Official US Enemy the author feels like mocking. As I’ve also noted, Trump is never the leader of a US ally like Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt or King Salman of Saudi Arabia; strangely, Trump only resembles the rulers of nations the US government opposes.
- “Sanders Is Trump, Trump Is Sanders”
Because something something trade, something something angry white men.
Perhaps the laziest take of 2016, peddled mostly by centrist hacks looking to look “reasonable,” the Trump = Sanders takes basically write themselves.
- Daily Beast: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Are Delusional on Trade Policy
- NPR: 5 Ways Bernie Sanders And Donald Trump Are More Alike Than You Think
- Bustle: 5 Ways Bernie Sanders & Donald Trump Are More Similar Than You Think
- Atlantic: What Trump and Sanders Have in Common
- Huffington Post: How Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump’s Campaigns Are Similar
- Guardian: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Look Like Saviors to Voters Who Feel Left Out of the American Dream
Within a 24-hour period in March, four separate publications all ran basically the exact same take:
- Haaretz: The Angry White Men That Gave Trump and Sanders Their Victories
- CNN: Why Americans Are So Angry in 2016:The Rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Many Say, Is a Reflection of the Anger in America Today.
- Fortune: Why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Both Appeal to Angry, White Men
- Wall Street Journal: Angry White Males Propel Donald Trump—and Bernie Sanders
Media may have their reasons for wanting to tag Sanders and Trump as extreme, but taking one or two demographic points and spinning them into a chinscratcher is lazy social science that does no one, including “angry white men,” any favors.