Recently at Quadrant Online, Tony Thomas took a long, hard look at The Conversation, where academics pad the ledgers of their published thoughts with what is, in all too many cases, unmitigated piffle. It is a pity Tony did not wait a few more weeks because, had he done so, his argument would have been rendered iron-tight by the latest contribution to the taxpayer-supported vanity press of Brian McNair, professor of journalism, media and communication at the Queensland University of Technology. McNair’s insight – achieved, one suspects, by squatting over a mirror and seeing nothing but the familiar — casts Donald Trump as Hitler2.0 while imagining the Western world accelerating down the scree slope of a “slide into fascism.”
Know first that, while McNair shapes the young minds of those who aspire to newsroom careers, he is not a journalist by training. Rather, he is a sociologist (’nuff said?) who deconstructs journalism. If you have ever noticed the inane punctuation, asinine logic, misleading headlines and abuse of language that litter the pages of diseased and dying newspapers, the disinclination of those atop the ivory tower to teach basic craft skills might just have something to do with it. In this regard, if no other, McNair’s column is a treasure, well worth a close examination.
Below, his lump-sized dollops of his extrusion in italics, each paragraph followed by commentary of the sort a dyspeptic subeditor might have given a first-year cadet.
As the results of the 2016 election came in, the mainstream media in America and around the world demonstrated their inability to cope with the challenge of a president Trump within the conventional paradigms of journalistic objectivity, balance and fairness. Or, rather, to cope without normalising the most conspicuously overt racism, sexism, and proto-fascism ever seen in a serious candidate for president.
“As the results” … make that singular; there is only one result. There were many “returns” from the various states and territories, but only one result – in this case, Mr Trump.
“conventional paradigms” … use this vile jargon again and you’ll be fetching Chinese food for the back bench all next year. Meanwhile, read Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.
“the most conspicuously overt” … look up “tautology” in the dictionary. “Overt” means “conspicuous”.
“sexism, and proto-fascism ever seen in a serious candidate for president” … allowing that your description of Trump’s views is accurate, which it isn’t, you must never have heard of the Know Nothing Party?
As street protests broke out in Portland, Oregon in the days after the election, for example, BBC World noted the police definition of the events as a “riot”, in response to what it coyly described as “some racist remarks” made by Donald Trump during his campaign.
You need a comma after “Oregon”. You most definitely do not need a comma after “a riot”.
And about that “riot”, which you intimate should not be describe thus, presumably because you agree with the rioters. So what should it have been called — a disturbance? an upswelling of genuine grievance? politics by other means? Incidentally, I’ve found two BBC reports on the fracas, neither of which makes mention of “some racist remarks”. If you have a source for those words, please nominate it.
And since you’re citing the BBC, why have you neglected to mention that the Portland protesters, per the local police department’s description, were “carrying bats and arming themselves with stones. Objects were thrown at the police, who responded with pepper spray and rubber baton rounds”?
Watch the video at either of the BBC links above and see masked protesters flinging bottles at the thin blue line. As you mention your fear of “proto-fascism” in the very first paragraph, wouldn’t it be accurate to describe this window-smashing mob as the real and genuine “proto-Brown Shirts”? Yes, but probably not. You seem to think rioting in a good cause is not rioting at all.
A man whose comments were denounced even by his own party chief Paul Ryan as “textbook racism”, and whose references to “grabbing pussy”, “a nasty woman”, “Miss House Keeping” and other indicators of unabashed misogyny horrified millions in the US across the party spectrum, was now president.
Congratulations, you got something right, sort of! Paul Ryan did describe Trump’s comment – not “comments” – as “textbook racism”, but you should have mentioned that the then-candidate was quite specifically addressing Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was presiding over the Trump University case. Also worth mentioning, which you didn’t, is that former judge, White House counsel and attorney-general Alberto Gonzalez wrote in the Washington Post that Trump had good cause to question the judge’s sympathies and motivation:
…when he [Curiel] certified the class-action lawsuit against Trump, Curiel appointed the Robbins Geller law firm to represent plaintiffs. Robbins Geller has paid $675,000 in speaking fees since 2009 to Trump’s likely opponent, Hillary Clinton, and to her husband, former president Bill Clinton. Curiel appointed the firm in the case before Trump entered the presidential race, but again, it might not be unreasonable for a defendant in Trump’s position to wonder who Curiel favors in the presidential election. These circumstances, while not necessarily conclusive, at least raise a legitimate question to be considered.
Oh, and one other thing: After Ryan’s “textbook racism” remark, he warned that President Hillary Clinton would be a disaster. That would have been worth mentioning as well.
For the BBC, henceforth, criticism of even the most outlandish and offensive remarks – when judged by the standards of recent decades – would be severely muted, if not excluded. Suddenly, rather can call a spade a spade in coverage of Trump’s hate-mongering campaign, his ascendancy to office had legitimised those views, and the process of normalisation had begun.
You’re clairvoyant, apparently. The BBC will mute, possibly exclude, criticism of President Trump? Really? You must listen to a different BBC. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it is very difficult to make out your meaning, given the convoluted logic and elevation of personal opinion to “fact”.
Also, grammar: it should be “ascent” not “ascendancy” and “the process of normalisation” should be a simple “normalisation” (minus the misplaced comma preceding that phrase.)
The mainstream media have largely followed suit in this approach to Trump’s victory, bestowing a new respectability on what before election day had been generally reported as absurdly offensive statements and policies. One can without too much imagination foresee Ku Klux Klan chief David Duke becoming an expert commentator on CNN or MSNBC (or at least on Fox News).
There must have been an intoxicating air in the faculty lounge today. David Duke as a commentator on hard-left MSNBC or limpid-left CNN! Seriously, this is the sort of hyperbolic speculation one expects from a jabbering ninny or, alternately, an individual so accustomed to lecturing those disinclined to speak back for fear of poor grades and ostracism that unchallenged idiocy sports a crown and sceptre.
In News Corp outlets all over the world, from Sky News and The Australian here to Fox in the US, commentators and pundits were to the fore in constructing legitimacy around his policies, insofar as anyone really knows what they are.
This just plain wrong, blatantly and irredeemably so. Yes, yes, we all know that Rupert Murdoch is the byword for evil incarnate wherever left-thinking sorts control the common room and put each other on the payroll, but the Dirty Digger’s organs here, there and everywhere mostly opposed Trump. Let me give you a few examples, both foreign and domestic:
For background, here’s Michael Wolff detailing the dilemma Trump posed for News Corp, its founder, his heirs and assorted employees.
Here’s Fox News blonde Megyn Kelly at war with Trump. True, fellow Foxer Sean Hannity was an ardent Trump booster, but doesn’t their intramural discord speak of a plurality of views on Rupert’s cable network? Isn’t that what journalism solons should be advocating? Not all of them, apparently.
Here in Australia, The Australian’s Greg Sheridan loathed Trump almost as much as those protesters in Portland, albeit with fewer flying bottles. It was much the same with stablemate Paul Kelly, who hated Trump and still does.
As no mention of Murdoch’s dark imps would be complete without reference to Andrew Bolt, here is what he had to say about Trump in October.
This descent into normalisation of the hitherto unacceptable, occasioned by Trump’s democratically endowed seizure of political power as of November 8, is very similar to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis in 1930s Germany. Hitler’s ascent, and all that came from it, was a product of free choices made in ballot boxes …
Really? Unless your pen is prompted by a masochistic yen for its owner’s public humiliation, do try to be more careful. Words have meanings and this clause – “democratically endowed seizure of political power” — is stupidity on stilts. If he was “democratically endowed”, then he didn’t “seize” power, he was awarded it. I know you would like to punch Trump on the nose, but that is no reason to beat up the language in his stead.
As to your Hitler jibe, good heavens! What history books are you reading to believe that a democratic election in which one candidate beat the other is anything similar to the convoluted machinations that saw the Austrian Corporal installed first as Germany’s chancellor and then president? Just to acquaint you with the facts, Hitler never achieved a majority in any election. Unlike Trump, he did not win the chancellorship at the ballot box, as has Trump the presidency, but via negotiations that formed a coalition.
Your fellow Conversationalist, John Jewell of Cardiff University, offers a few worthwhile pointers when tempted to cite Hitler as the soulmate of those held in personal disdain. Basically, only the biggest dills make no effort to avoid violating Godwin’s Law.
… and of free media coverage which moved to the extreme right with the ruling party.
“free media” wasn’t quite so free as you seem to imagine. Take the Editorial Law of 1933, for example, whose restraints on free speech are excerpted here
But please, whatever else you do, don’t leave it on your computer screen, lest fellow academics catch a glimpse and decide that Hitler had a few good ideas after all – ideas like Section Fourteen, for example, which is reproduced below.
Section 18C Fourteen
Editors are especially obligated to keep out of the newspapers anything which:
a. is misleading to the public by mixing selfish interests with community interests;
b. tends to weaken the strength of the German Reich, in foreign relations or domestically; the sense of community of the German people; German defense capability, culture, or the economy; or offends the religious sentiments of others;
c. offends the honour and dignity of Germany;
d. illegally offends the honour or the well-being of another, hurts his reputation, or ridicules or disparages him;
e. is immoral for other reasons.
Then, as now, a demagogic populist exploited perceptions of victimhood and “anti-elitism”, targeting ethnic and religious minorities as “the enemy”. No-one forced national socialism on the German people, or on their media, nor on the many Western media such as the Daily Mail in England that spoke out in his favour.
You would say that, wouldn’t you.
Finally, after skipping with Hitler through a thicket of incoherence and tossing in a reference, apropos of nothing particularly relevant, to Northcliffe’s Daily Mail , you reach your climax, which is that the press abandon its existing, vestigial pretense of impartial analysis for ardent advocacy of the anti-Trump cause. Here it, your conclusion, in all its disgrace and arrogance:
Post-November 8, the mainstream media have shown their inability to engage with the enormity of what is happening in Western and global politics within conventional paradigms of objectivity. Left to them, the slide into fascism will simply become another news story, another “he said, she said” performance of balance, legitimised by the fact that this is what democracy has delivered. No matter that in the 1930s the same obeisance led to the Holocaust.
This tendency is not the fault of the mainstream media, nor of their journalists, who are simply applying the professional codes and practices with which they have been raised. But they will need to do better.
For those in the media who wish to stem a slide into democratically legitimised fascism in the next four years – and similar processes are now unfolding in Europe, Australia and elsewhere – it is time to rethink the appropriate response of “objective” journalism to the post-factual politics of extreme subjectivity.
It is, perhaps, too much to expect a modern journalism academic to be up on his Orwell, but this observation from the introduction to Animal Farm would seem highly relevant when considering what you assert is journalists’ obligation not to report on Trump but to assail him:
The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular — however foolish, even — entitled to a hearing? Put it in that form and nearly any English intellectual will feel that he ought to say “Yes.” But give it a concrete shape, and ask, “How about an attack on Stalin? Is that entitled to a hearing?” and the answer more often than not will be “No.” In that case the current orthodoxy happens to be challenged, and so the principle of free speech lapses.
If one loves democracy, the argument runs, one must crush its enemies by no matter what means. And who are its enemies? It always appears that they are not only those who attack it openly and consciously, but those who ‘objectively’ endanger it by spreading mistaken doctrines. In other words, defending democracy involves destroying all independence of thought. These people don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you.
If that advice is unpalatable, if you find it morally offensive to be confronted by the notion that journalism should confine opinion to the editorial pages, no matter how righteous advocates presume their favoured causes to be, then here is some advice that is closer to home. You wrote it, actually, and it stands as sound advice for any and all visitors to The Conversation. In your case that last sentence has a definite ring of truth
Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online. Once, years ago, he was proud to be a journalist.