Media

Your Turn: How the Media Blew the Big Story About GOP Extremism

Donald Trump reflects the “extremist” values Republicans have been cultivating for decades, while the mainstream media intentionally looked away. Readers weigh in with their perspectives below.  

Your Turn: How the Media Blew the Big Story About the GOP

California governor Ronald Reagan speaks to journalist John Chancellor (L) on the floor of the Republican National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida, August 1968. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

While the media and establishment Republicans like to paint Donald Trump as a colorful outlier, he is actually the fulfillment of everything the GOP has been saying and doing for decades, writes Neal Gabler in his recent media column, “Blowing the Biggest Political Story of the Last Fifty Years.”

To take on extremism, Gabler writes, would reveal not only the Republicans’ deficiencies, both of its elected officials and its rank and file, but the deficiencies of the entire American political system.

Gabler sees Trump’s popularity as the unmasking of how the Grand Old Party devolved from a “business-centered, small town, white Protestant set of beliefs” into a party associated with “bigotry, intellectual dishonesty, ignorance, warmongering, intractability and cruelty against the vulnerable and powerless.”

The mainstream media “chose not to tell” the story over the past 50 years, as the party lurched “not just rightward, but extremist-ward,” particularly after Ronald Reagan became president. If the news media had done its job, Gabler contends, we would have seen headlines that accurately reflected what was happening, such as these: “Republicans Oppose Civil Rights”; “Republicans Demonize Homosexuals and Deny Them Rights”; or “Republicans Work to Defeat Expansion of Health Insurance.”

The mainstream news media would probably defend themselves by saying they don’t take sides, Gabler says, and that partisanship is for outlets like Fox News and MSNBC. But accurate reporting, of course, requires taking sides when one side is “spouting falsehoods” or speaking in dog whistles. So why didn’t the media take on the the story happening before our eyes? “To take on extremism,” Gabler writes, “would reveal not only the Republicans’ deficiencies, both of its elected officials and its rank and file, but the deficiencies of the entire American political system.”

Over 2,000 people wrote in with comments – some lightly edited below – on Twitter, BillMoyers.com and Facebook, where over 18,000 people shared his article.

The end of the FCC Fairness Doctrine led to a ‘tolerance of extremism, whitewashing of falsehoods, promotion of propaganda and lies.’

— Lucius on BillMoyers.com

A number of people wrote in agreement with Gabler but added that the “extremist-ward” shift began well before Reagan.  Facebook follower, Timothy Brinduse,  says: “McCarthyism, the John Birch Society, brought to you by the Koch Brothers’ father, Fred [whose son Charles was an active member of the controversial right-wing group during its campaigns against the civil rights movement in the 1960s], as well as Nixon’s Southern Strategy [in which GOP candidates gained political support in the South by appealing to racism against blacks] — the roots of this bitter fruit run deep.”

To which Daniel Smith responded: “AND the brainwashing influence of right-wing propaganda radio and TV in all of this loony mindset taking over Republicans minds.‬” That was the most popular comment on the BillMoyers.com Facebook page.

The lack of coverage, many wrote in to say, is all about the corporatization and consolidation of the media and the end of the FCC Fairness Doctrine under Ronald Reagan in 1987. That, according to Lucius, has led to the “tolerance of extremism, whitewashing of falsehoods, promotion of propaganda and lies.” Corporate elites are not interested in educating the public “so news has become infotainment.”

And the Democrats?

Christie Bowdle suggests that Gabler write this same article from the perspective of the Democratic Party. “There is no way it still holds the same values and integrity that was around when FDR was president. The bottom line is America itself has changed. Not necessarily for the good.”

There is no way [the Democratic Party] still holds the same values and integrity that was around when FDR was president. The bottom line is America itself has changed. Not necessarily for the good.

— Christie on BillMoyers.com

Someone identifying as SecularHumanist199 replied to Bowdle, writing that it is “a false equivalency” to say that the Democratic Party has devolved to the extent that the Republicans Party has.

“Yes, they did try to block things done by Bush, but based on real policy differences and not just because of who he was, unlike Republicans who have tried to block everything President Obama has proposed even if it was something with which they agreed in the past.” [Editor’s note: According to recent academic research, both parties have moved away from the center in recent decades, but Republicans in the Senate and especially the House have drifted away from the center far more rapidly than Democrats.]

Ponta Vedra agrees that the GOP has moved further rightward. She writes that the GOP establishment has been “carefully cultivating an atmosphere of fear, paranoia, and outright loathing so they could use that atmosphere to manipulate the public. Enter Donald Trump, who simply walks right up — excuse me, he just coasted down an escalator — grabbed it, and walked off with it.”

But Vedra also thinks Gabler misses the point that Trump is “not really even an outlier, he’s an outsider” and she believes that the real reason the GOP establishment is distancing itself from Trump is not because of his outrageousness, but because he owes them nothing. “He has no reason to do what they want or put their players into positions of power. That’s why they oppose him: because he’s not under their control.”

Sam disagrees, he says, the Republican establishment really does “hate Trump.” He is “exactly the ridiculous caricature of Republicans that Democrats have been pretending Republicans are for years.” One of the reason the left is giving him “tons of free press” is because “they love having someone like him with an R next to his name.”

All Together Now

I have never understood why false advertising is illegal but false news is legal. It has been so dangerous.

— Ruth on Facebook

As for our citizenry, Sylvie Walker asks that we all recognize the forces that have conspired to make both sides feel abandoned. “Fear, debt and insecurity will make everyone go into overdrive attempting to right an unbalanced boat. The left must reach out and protect the folks suffering on the right. The right must reign in the vitriol and recognize the suffering on the left.”

Indeed there were a lot of comments against the “lies,” “propaganda” and “bias” of reporting on both the right and left, and few, if any, mainstream news outlets came away unscathed.

But no matter what your position, Ruth Riegelhaupt-Herzig ‪makes an interesting point, when she writes: “I have never understood why false advertising is illegal but false news is legal. It has been so dangerous. The fear-mongering, hateful, false news combined with the obstructionist Congress has created a hate-filled population ripe for someone like Trump to take over.”

And Judi Hoefling‪ hopes to someday get to the truth via “a live fact checker” on a device or a screen. [Editor’s note: Fact-checking sites include: Factcheck.org, Politifact and the NY Times Fact Checks of the 2016 Election]

Referring presumably to the late-night satirical news programs, Catherine Thiemwrites “our comedians are the only truth tellers out there these days.”

The trouble is, when it comes to real news, we’re not laughing — and we suspect no one else is either.

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Karin Kamp

Karin Kamp is a multimedia journalist and producer. She has produced content for BillMoyers.com, NOW on PBS and WNYC public radio and worked as a reporter for Swiss Radio International. She also helped launch The Story Exchange, a site dedicated to women's entrepreneurship.