« Stage report: Romeo and Juliet (Hartford Stage) | Main | Book Report: The Year of the Fat Knight »

Neither rare nor well-done.

So. Presidential election, two open primaries, lots of craziness and unprecedented stuff on both sides. It’s, um. Interesting. This is my eight cycle as a voter, I believe—I voted for Mike Dukakis in 1988, for Bill Clinton twice, for Al Gore and John Kerry, for Our Only President twice, and they are all different, they are all exceptions, they were all taking place in utterly new circumstances. But this one may be even more different than the others. We’re not new to the internet era any more; we have a candidate who was the star of a television show that gathered twenty-eight million viewers; we have (probably) the first woman to be the nominee of a major party; we have a substantial candidate with dozens of delegates who isn’t registered with his Party. Who the hell knows what’s going on.

I’m going to pick on Jonathan Bernstein for a minute, though. In today’s note (Trump’s Rambling Gets a Pass Again) he writes that the media in general haven’t really made enough of Donald Trump’s policy incoherence and ignorance. I understand his frustration. I remember him making a comment after one of the 2000 debates, when he said that pundits didn’t really have a vocabulary for talking about the kind of mistakes George W. Bush was making—they could easily talk about Al Gore’s shortcomings in the debate, but when the Governor of Texas appeared to be unaware of his own policy platform, they didn’t have any way to talk about it. I bought it at the time, but then, at the time (a) he wasn’t a pundit himself, and (2) there really weren’t all that many pundits. A few dozen, perhaps, commenting on politics and election. Reporters, yes, there were probably a lot more reporters in those days. But pundits, commentators and analysts, bloggers and tweeters and podcasters, all that sort of thing, well, it seemed likely enough that you could say something coherent about the group of them.

Well, things are different now.

Mr. Bernstein has written, several times, that the word establishment makes everybody stupider. I think that’s a valuable insight: when you read about an establishment or anti-establishment candidate, or the value of establishment support, or establishment money… well, and the odds that the writer knows what precisely what he means by the word are quite long, and the odds that you as a reader correctly infer what the writer intends are even longer. Looking back on my use of the word in this cycle, I have to admit that he’s right. I was stupider for using the word, and you, Gentle Reader, were stupider for reading it. I apologize for that.

But if that is true about the word establishment, it has to be a million times more true about the word media. What is Mr. Bernstein talking about, when he says that the media should call out Mr. Trump for his policy incoherence? News articles on the front page of printed newspapers? The networks’ nightly news half-hours? The 24-hour cable news channels? Sunday morning interview and round table shows? The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight? SNL skits? Blogs? His own blog? I have no idea what he means, and I don’t think he does, either.

And while I’m calling out Mr. Bernstein (who is, bye-the-bye, an excellent commentator on American politics, and if you are interested in that sort of thing, you should be reading his stuff, not mine) I should make it clear that it is not just on the topic of Mr. Trump that the words the media make everybody stupider. Frequently I see complaints that the media are not reporting on the Bernie Sanders campaign, the size and fervency of the rallies or the fund-raising or whatnot. I have no idea what those complaints are about, because I have no idea what media the complainers refer to. The New York Times? They report on Bernie Sanders quite often, including those topics. The networks’ nightly news? I don’t believe that the complainers watch those broadcasts enough to know what they do or don’t cover; I certainly don’t. The pundits? The comics? The talk show hosts? Possibly they listen to enough NPR to really have a sense of how many minutes that particular network devotes to each candidate, but if so, then who cares? It’s not like NPR, if they chose to violate some extensive news-organization cover-up devoted to pulling the wool over the eyes of potential socialists, would really change the cultural landscape.

In some seriousness, though, complaints about NPR would be moderately legitimate. Complaints about CNN, fine. Complaints about any one show make a lot of sense, whether it’s a radio news show or a comedy webcast. Complaints about a handful of similar shows, sure, particularly if there’s some actual numbers involved of what time they have spent on what. Complaints about a particular journalist, go get ’em. Ideally fact-based, sure. But complaints about the media are not going to communicate anything useful to anybody.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.