Posted by Curt on 31 January, 2019 at 2:03 pm. 1 comment.


Two interesting characteristics of journalism’s recent decline are apparent in the wake of last week’s dramatic layoffs at BuzzFeed, Gannett, Yahoo, AOL and the Huffington Post. The first is the industry’s commitment to propagandizing for social justice politics in thousands of cheap, disposable clickbait articles. The other, in ostensibly serious reporting, is the extent to which reporters and editors allow freelance influence operators and media manipulators to craft meta-narratives using their bylines and media outlets.

When both of these potent temptations collide—often in stories about Donald Trump and his associates that fit into a pre-set narrative of “collusion,” corruption, “treason,” and perfidy—the resulting media products are nearly always so histrionic as to undermine the potential for serious reportage about America’s political scene. What’s left is essentially stage-managed conspiracy-mongering delivered in a self-righteous, venomous, and vindictive style.

Last week, thanks to a new lawsuit, we learned the backstory for yet another cynical media operation involving a prominent Republican, and a campaign of email hacking and destruction the American media was only happy to abet. Former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy filed a complaint in Washington alleging that three Americans working for the tiny but remarkably wealthy terror-funding Emirate of Qatar had conspired to silence one of that country’s most prominent critics by hacking his emails and distributing their contents to the media in an effort to destroy his reputation and his ability to oppose Qatar’s continued sponsorship of Islamist groups.

The lawsuit alleges that lobbyists for Qatar Nick Muzin and Joey Allaham, together with Greg Howard of the prominent public relations shop Mercury Public Affairs, organized and distributed confidential information in Broidy’s emails to journalists at The New York Times, McClatchy, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.

These outlets then pounded the Republican using the stolen documents, eager to take advantage of the former Republican National Committee official’s relationship to the president. Broidy’s support for Trump provided a news-hook used not only to generate coverage in the mainstream press, but to villainize Broidy to the media’s partisan readers, damaging his reputation.

What American Media Has Become

While Broidy’s lawsuit is a story about crooked American lobbyists for Qatari interests, the fascinating details also give an important insight into the operations of today’s media in full flight, including astounding levels of partisanship and bias that contribute to the collapse of honest journalism as an industry.

Even as the danger of cyber-espionage is now a fact of life, it nevertheless remains illegal. Media outlets were once more circumspect about the ethics of splashing the purloined contents of hacked documents on their front pages. They were once uncomfortable with using leaks from unscrupulous information operators and media fixers. How the media got there is a story worth exploring.

Over the last week, as more and more journalists face unemployment, media partisans have sought to blame corporate consolidation and the changes brought to the industry by the crisis of cratering advertising revenue. Of course, there’s a strong element of self-serving denial in this analysis. It’s far easier to blame the usual capitalist bugaboo than to face the prospect that, for too many years, news consumers thought their product was partisan rubbish.

At Tablet, Lee Smith has written persuasively about the toll the economics of the changing media landscape has taken on the content produced by today’s journalists, rather than just the number of reporters or editors, fact-checkers, or expense accounts an outlet can boast about having. As media companies have found their resources shrink, they found it more profitable to jettison some of the work from highly paid, more experienced reporters and editors in favor of increasingly ideological woke clickbait generated from young staffers, listicles, and fulsome explorations of things like the “internet culture” beat. The importance of agitating for political priorities and enforcing new cultural standards blinded many in the industry to the reality of their failing business model.

To the extent that many in the media industry noticed their dropping readership and the growing hostility of many Americans to their political hectoring, the media began to view dissenting customers as literal counter-revolutionaries to be pushed from civic life. “The last mass trials were a great success,” Greta Garbo’s Ninotchka intoned, with dramatic, Soviet earnestness in Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 film. “There are going to be fewer, but better Russians.” So it goes with the dwindling number of the media’s consumers.

Leveraging the Media’s Weaknesses

Obama National Security Council Communications Director Ben Rhodes was among the first to harness this new media landscape, taking advantage of the sudden dearth of hardened, jaded, and knowledgeable reporters covering his beat, national security. He told New York Times Magazine, “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”

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