Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Prospero's country: race and political journalism


The term “white privilege” has never been my favorite. It seems like teacher’s pet or something – some mild insult. It is a coinage that purifies a violent history of racism. But I have learned not to kick against the lingo du jour too hard. In the case of political reporting, it gives us a useful tool.

It is the contention of the polls that Trump is the favored candidate of the white majority in this country. How favored? I’d take Pew’s poll, done in August, as a benchmark, which puts the support at 54 percent.

It is through this mirror we must go in order to understand the peculiar liberal reporting about Trump. We have to remember that the media, while full of diversity hires, God bless em, is strongly moved by the white community. The Neiman lab recently studied seven surveys of newspapers, and reported:

“About three-quarters of newsroom employees are non-Hispanic white, compared with about two-thirds of all U.S. workers, according to a 2018 analysis from the Pew Research Center. About half of newsroom staff are white men, compared with about a third of the overall workforce. Newsroom diversity remains far below the goal the American Society of News Editors set in 1978 “of minority employment by the year 2000 equivalent to the percentage of minority persons within the national population.”


According to the Columbia Press Review, in the category of “newspaper leadership”, only 13% is non-white.

The political news, going all the way back to the mythical founding, is immersed, saturated with, redolent of, rolling in, drowned dead in, digested by, lock and stock, for better or worse, for richer or poorer white privilege on steroids. In the Trump era, this has led to any number of news phenom. My favorite is the “my parents have been driven crazy by Fox News” sub-genre. This has become one of the knickknacks of the Trump era, up there with the MAGA hat. And just as the Maga hat rarely sits on the head of a person of color, the my Trumpist parents meme is rarely if ever penned by a person of color.

This is where I think things get interesting. There’s a story in the NYT that disputes the mere “poll”results, showing that Biden is heavily favored in Pennsylvania, with one reporter’s experience that the Trumpists seem triumphant in his Pennsylvania.

“Polls show Mr. Biden leading by five to 13 points, but I grew up around here and am dubious. This place — the land of hoagies and Bradley Cooper and Rocky Balboa worship and Tina Fey’s “Cousin Karen” accent — has transmogrified into Trumplandia.”

In timehonored NYT fashion, in order to show that there is a lot of support for Trump in the Philadelphia suburbs, our intrepid reporter goes to a Trump store, selling Trump memorabilia, and interviews people there to get their view of things. This has been going  on since 2016 – white quasi liberal reporters going and interviewing white ‘working class’ people and asking them whether Trump isn’t icky, and whether the high school president shouldn’t be a candidate from the debate club with a high SAT score. Laughs abound.

“Isn’t she bothered by the president’s loud mouth and tetchy Twitter fingers? “There’s a shock factor, for sure,” Ms. Girard said, “but I think we know what to expect now.” She added, “He’s not a politician, and that’s why he works for us.”

What about his flirtation with white supremacists? “I’m sick of people coming to me and telling me I’m a racist because I’m Republican,” Ms. Girard said. “My son is half Puerto Rican. I don’t understand where that comes from.”

Granted, these women were voluntarily at the Trump Store, but there seemed to be nothing about the past four years that gave them pause.”


That is an intro clause for the books. Gee, volunteers at the Trump store, weirdly enough, are for Trump!


I don’t remember this kind of reporting about Bush. Was there ever a NYT reporter who interviewed a Bush supporter in 2004 and asked, well, what about Bush’s flippant negligence of intelligence about Al Qaeda that led directly to the WTC attack? Cause that kind of question wouldn’t be nice. We were all – that is, all us white people – in this together, in the Great Moderation!


White privilege has to be treated dialectically to be a tool of analysis. That means not treating “white” as a homogeneous term. In fact, the divide between a white minority that has adopted liberal social views while benefitting from the neoliberal era and a white majority that has kept its views from 1968 or 1972 and benefitted either enormously or not at all – that familiar far right coalition of the pissed off proles and the pissed off plutocrats – has upended political reporting. The earthquake of 2016 was exactly about this: the confidence of the white minority, which infuses the culture of the media, was shaken in two ways: first, the discovery of the white other in their midst, and second, the falsification of all the big data tech that they had confidently assembled to ‘predict’ the election.


First it was the Great Moderation, where we could predict downturns and let the private sphere deal with them with prods here and there, de-regulating merrily, betrayed us. And now our polling had gone awry!


Myself, I am going with the polls than with the reporter who finds, shockingly, that people working at a Trump store support Trump. OTOH, I am not invested in predicting the winners in an American election. I think other predictable events are much more important: the prediction, for instance, that the effects of climate change is going to be getting much much worse; the prediction that the American political system is helpless to nudge, budge or blow up the plutocratic grip on American society; the prediction that, for most people, college tuition loans and medical costs are going to contour lives more and more; the prediction that the hollowing out of American manufacturing, and the nationwide bet on the speculative economy in non-productive products, is going to produce ever more violence – these are predictions I’m going with vis a vis America.


Prospero’s country.





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