Monday, April 30, 2018

Our Free Press Has a Big Accountability/Credibility Problem

This weekend was not a good look for journalism, I’m afraid.

The Fourth Estate spent maybe three consecutive news cycles with its proverbial panties in a wad over nothing, when it should have had them wadded up over something, which I’ll get to in a moment. 

Meanwhile, the ever-incisive and deliciously cutting Albert Burneko over at Deadspin has what I’m gonna go ahead and deem the ultimate, funniest, sickest third degree burn hot-take on the Sarah Sanders/White House Correspondents’ Dinner/Michelle Wolf non-imbroglio, and I give it my full-throated endorsement.

For what it’s worth (i.e., not much) here are my own three unoriginal takeaways:

1. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Looks Shouldn't Matter, But They Do.

This is perhaps the biggest flashpoint, so let’s focus on it for a second. Everyone walks on egg shells around mocking, complimenting, or otherwise acknowledging a professional woman’s physical appearance, ready to pounce upon even an anodyne remark about eye shadow. Why? Because a woman’s physical appearance is always at issue in a way a man’s never is in an analogous position. The patriarchy has made sure of that, and women gamely served the patriarchy’s bidding by spending all weekend on Twitter cannibalizing each other over the meaning of a “smoky eye.”

We’re supposed to be beyond this as society, but we’re not. If we’re being honest, we’d simply say that Sanders—divorced from personality and context—is a regular looking, conventionally attractive, even, average-sized American woman. And of course, the metric of what's “attractive” in the first place is subjective and established by a beauty industry with a huge profit motive. Full stop. Point is, the only reason we care about Sanders' appearance at all is because she’s not a man. Let’s not forget that. And let’s also not forget that this concern is total bullshit and a huge, irrelevant distraction from the garbage disgorged from Sanders’ dumpster fire of a mouth on the daily, which is where the press really failed to twist its panties up about the right stuff.

2. What Comes Out of Sanders’ Mouth is 100% Trash and the Press Fails to Meaningfully Reckon With That.

What comes out of Sanders’ mouth is a regular fusillade of atomic-grade lies on behalf of what is incontrovertibly the most corrupt, inept, mendacious, anti-democratic, constitutionally infirm, and morally and ethically bankrupt presidential administration kleptocracy in living memory.

And what has journalism done in response? Answer: basically nothing. 

As Burneko’s take in Deadspin points out (AGAIN: RECOMMENDED), a comic can’t “bully” a press secretary or the press. The inherent power differential baked into the structure of the relationship makes this impossible. The White House holds power, and the press holds it too. It's a journalist’s job to use the power of the free press to question the power of the government in service of the public interest—not to pander to a venal executive for “access” and clicks, and not to clutch pearls over jokes told by someone without institutional power. That’s not what the framers of the First Amendment had in mind.

3. Nothing a Comic Says Changes Any of This.

The snowflakery that the White House press corps showed when confronted with their own failures by a female comedian at an exclusive, star-studded dinner party tells you all you need to know about where the focus should be, and it’s not on Michelle Wolf. (Oh and by the way: Michelle Wolf isn’t black, a misperception that Black Twitter noted undoubtedly contributed to the vitriol hurled at her jokes).

Regardless, the White House Correspondents’ Association’s sniveling, obsequious, gratuitous apology for Wolf’s act shows that this organization cares more about access to Sarah Sanders’ daily fact-conflagrations than it does about exposing the anti-democratic intellectual violence she is doing to our constitutional democracy by holding them in the first place. It is, at least in part, the press’s total lack of accountability to the public and unwillingness to speak truth to power--accompanied by shameless self-pimping for access and clicks--that has brought the Great American Experiment to its breaking point.

And that, my friends, is no laughing matter.


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