Like you, I’ve been reading a lot of post-mortems on the election. One question that never gets answered, or even asked: why weren’t any of these post-mortems made after the conventions or after the three Clinton-Trump debates?
It’s not like journalists didn’t have the air time, or the available pixel space online. I think we can all agree that the talking heads on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News had a little extra time to kill. Why didn’t we hear, then, that Hillary Clinton was ignoring the white working class? That she’s trapped by political correctness?
I’m not saying that Hillary is trapped or ignoring anyone, but you know the post-mortems certainly are, like this one, that aggregates a lot of the other ones, from David Roberts at Vox. Roberts points out that Clinton’s policies would have helped the white working-class. But as he also points out, they, and everyone else, never heard that. Instead he offers some fascinating word clouds that tell you what people did hear about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. And again, I have the same question: WHY THE FUDGE didn’t he tell us about these word clouds in July during the conventions, or September or October during the debates, when they had our full attention?
The one thing I hate more than Monday-morning quarterbacking is Monday-morning quarterbacking that doesn’t recognize itself as such. Hey geniuses, where were you when it was time to thrill us with your acumen?
Sports fans will understand the next metaphor. Let’s say your home team is on national TV (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox) playing some nationally beloved team like the New York Yankees or the Dallas Cowboys or whatever. You’re watching, and you notice that the announcers talk and talk and talk about the nationally beloved team at the expense of your team. They’ll say something like “ouch, that hurts” when the beloved team suffers an injury…and sometimes remember to quickly follow it up with, “…uh, if you’re rooting for the Yankees” to throw off accusations of bias.
Basically, the leftist media treated Hillary Clinton like the Yankees. Which turned out to be as wise as the Yankee hat she once put on. In sports, upsets happen, but they don’t throw millions of people off their health care. We saw the look on the TNT announcers faces in June after they guaranteed a Golden State Warriors NBA Finals win when the team went up 3-1. And that has been the look of the leftist press in the wake of Trump’s victory.
Sure. But this level of regret hasn’t for one minute included the conventions and the main debates. Anyone remember how we were told that ratings for the first Trump-Clinton debate would be Super Bowl-like? And it turns out they were: 84 million people watched it! But the NFL press (yes, that’s a thing) has spent more time referring back to February’s Carolina-Denver Super Bowl than the political press has spent referring back to the debates.
Today the media is now telling us all these things Hillary did wrong and Trump did right, when it could have said the exact same things during the week of July 18-21 (GOP convention), July 25-28 (Dem convention), September 26 (first debate), October 9 (second debate), or October 19 (third debate). Instead, all we heard then was how much Trump was screwing up, and how Hillary was getting everything right.
Don’t get it twisted: yes, the media has blamed itself in the wake of the election. Absolutely. But this is inevitably cast in general terms, like the media should have focused more on issues, or taken Trump more seriously, or investigated certain claims more, or not devoted as much time to emails, or whatever. Never, and I mean not at all, do these mea culpas extend to the conventions and debates. How do I know this? I googled. I googled “what the media got wrong.” You can do it too! Then I clicked the first twenty links and I F5ed looking for the words “convention” and “debate.” Not a whisper about the events from July, September, and October. Here are some of the links that pop up:
Back when the conventions and debates happened, the media made a big deal, a very big deal, about how much those five events mattered. And they were right: 84 million people! Now you’re not hearing a whisper about those events. WTF?
How’s this for a metaphor: your abusive, drunk-driving, car-crashing husband comes back to you after a month in prison. He says “I know I screwed up, I know, I know. But now it’ll be different. I am so sorry.” You say, “What exactly are you sorry for?” He says, “All of it.” You say, “All of what?” He says, “You know, everything.” You say, “No, specifically.” He says, “Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.”
You’d want him to mention the abuse, wouldn’t you? The drunk driving? The car crashing? In this case, the media is really, really sorry, but not actually sorry enough to mention its biggest failures.
Maybe the media is less like an abusive husband and more like your tween who was REALLY into One Direction four months ago. Like Would Not Shut Up About Them, kinda like the media in July re: the conventions.
“Merry Christmas, my tween! Here’s a One Direction shirt.”
“Uh, I’m not wearing that thing.”
“But you said you were really into…”
“No I didn’t.”
“But in July, you were all about…”
“No I wasn’t.”
Here’s what the post-mortems could be saying: “Hillary should have more directly pitched her appeals to white working class people. But then, we in the media could have mentioned her failure to do that back at the two conventions and three Trump-Clinton debates. Because we didn’t bring it up then, Hillary didn’t feel prodded to address it. Oops, our bad.”
Here is where I will admit that Chuck Todd did briefly say that he thought the conventions and debates would matter more. Here is where I will also admit that in an elliptical way, people have now said that maybe Hillary shouldn’t have surrounded herself with rich celebrities (like the ones at her convention). I have yet to see anyone make the next logical leap, that hiring Scott Baio is the key to success. But hey, it wouldn’t make less sense than they’re making now.
And yet, it’s even worse. Mea culpa time is over (that’s what Roberts’ article is partly about) because the media has, somewhat justifiably, moved on to Trump’s transitions. Right. Fair. But because the media just threw the conventions and debates down the memory hole, the press is telling Americans to do the same. By omission, journalists are telling us those events don’t really matter. And so, when the media shows up in four years with smiles and microphones and absolutely no sign of any lessons learned from four years before, the media tells us that it’s all a game, it’s all a Boorstin-like pseudo-event, and we may as well choose the most entertaining candidate.
God help us all.