If anyone has perfected the art of navel gazing, it would have to be the American news media–though strangely enough, they never seem to find any belly-button lint. Maybe its because they’re too obsessed with their opinion of their own importance. Or maybe it’s because they’re still mourning the election of Donald Trump as president, a tragedy they worked so hard to prevent and yet failed so spectacularly. That Trump succeeded Barack Obama, their hero and light giver, only poured jalapeño juice into the wound. There hasn’t been a defeat that profound since the Alpha Betas got whipped by Lambda Lambda Lambda in Revenge of the Nerds.
Still, the media find a way to soldier on. Therapy–in the form of CNN round tables–certainly helps, and host Brian Stelter (not to be confused with that guy from the Stray Cats) did his best to provide it on his program Reliable Sources the other day. Our eagle-eyed friends at the Daily Wire spotted this gem from New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet in the thrilling conversation that ensued:
I think the reason he goes after us, to be frank, is I have to say, I think there’s an effort by this administration to minimize the press. I think that their goal is just evident, is to make it so there’s a handful of independent institutions whose job it is, and we’re among them, to critique the president, to hold the president accountable. The judiciary is in the same batch.
I think if you look at the pattern of the president’s tweets, they’re designed to minimize the institutions who are charged with holding him accountable. I think that’s dangerous.
Now, I like to rag on the media as much as the next guy–but there is a grain of truth to what Baquet said here: Trump really is trying to minimize the press. In both his prolific tweetery and his WWE-style news conferences, he’s made no bones that he considers certain factions of the media to be hostile purveyors of #FakeNews. He’s also loath to miss any opportunity to make them howl like werewolves in a cheesy 80s horror flick, like they did after CNN, Politico and a couple of other news outlets got barred from Sean Spicer’s press gaggle last week. So yeah, I think Trump is trying to minimize the press too. More than that, he’s pretty good at it.
What Baquet fails to note, however, is how the media have been minimizing themselves for a long, long time. There’s ample evidence of systemic bias in reporting, so there’s no need to rehash all of that here; suffice it to say, the Obama years were not kind to the media’s reputation–mostly because the media were being overly kind to Obama. Trump’s complaining about #FakeNews wouldn’t have nearly the bite that it does if the media didn’t deserve it–and that’s the truly dangerous part. Like George W. Bush said today, for democracy to work we need a free and independent press. Unfortunately, while we do have a free press, we don’t have an independent one. It’s a problem that people like Baquet need to acknowledge before they can begin to solve it.
As to the judiciary, that too is a problem. As an institution, it’s supposed to hold the other branches of government to account, making sure that they abide by the rules of the Constitution. However, as we’ve seen with many recent court decisions, judges routinely substitute their own policy preferences for the law in order to reach their desired outcome. For example, in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court magically changed the language of the Obamacare mandate penalty to turn it into a tax. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, meanwhile, took it upon itself to rescind the president’s authority to restrict immigration from certain countries–something it has absolutely no authority to do. Like the media, the judiciary has politicized itself, and in doing so has also minimized itself. All of that happened way before Donald Trump came along.
In an ideal world, neither of these things would be happening–and in an ideal world, I’d be the first one criticizing the president for bashing the media and the courts. Democracy is a fragile thing, and requires respect for its fundamental institutions in order to thrive. In this dustup, however, everybody is acting as if Donald Trump is the troublemaker for calling out the corruption in those institutions. If anything, he’s actually providing a service in this regard. How are we supposed to fix these problems if everybody pretends they don’t exist? Or is pretending they don’t exist merely a way for the Washington establishment to maintain the status quo?
That’s a question I’d like to ask someone like Dean Baquet.