Symptoms of Journalism

I’ve always liked Paul Krugman, despite the fact that he’s notably to my Right. And I even agree with most of this column. But then some weird logic creeps into his thinking:

“Now I’m seeing suggestions that Trumpism is driven by concerns about political gridlock. No, it isn’t. It isn’t even mainly about “economic anxiety.” Trump support in the primaries was strongly correlated with racial resentment: We’re looking at a movement of white men angry that they no longer dominate American society the way they used to.…In the end, bad reporting probably won’t change the election’s outcome, because the truth is that those angry white men are right about their declining role.…Still, the public has a right to be properly informed.” 

Two things leap out. First, the disingenuous, if not delusional, contrast between economic anxiety and racial resentment. It’s glaringly obvious that the two are one and the same, which is why Trump’s campaign has ridden their unity to the nomination. In fact, the media’s incapacity to name this intimacy between class antagonism and racism is a far, far bigger problem than false equivalence or centrification.

Second, one is left wondering why the public has a right to be properly informed if political coverage makes no difference in elections. Why worry about distortions if the voters know who and what they want? Conversely, why would distortion be in the media’s interest if voters ignore or reject it? Here Krugman falls into the trap that results from several longstanding misconceptions about journalism’s role in democracy, mistaken assumptions that perennially throw up pseudo-puzzles which, in turn, have organized entire fields of academic inquiry. In this sense, Krugman’s question-begging is merely an apt symptom of the problem. Still, it’s odd that he doesn’t catch himself making mutually exclusive claims like these.

So who “hates democracy” more, those who point to electoral outcomes such as this one as examples of how “the people get it wrong,” or those who claim that the people are being duped by the media, the parties, ideology, capitalism, neoliberalism, etc. etc.? Either the people are themselves stupid and mean, or they are deluded into self-destruction. But in the latter case, the solution is to trust the people!

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