Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Incredible Lightness of Minimalism

Minimalism in journalism that is. Let me explain with an example.

Chris Hayes had Paul Campos on his MSNBC show last night to discuss Campos article in New York "Hey Look: More Evidence That Broidy May Have Been Covering for Trump in That Playmate Affair".

Campos lays out more indications to support the theory that Playboy model Shera Bechard was likely paid off by Trump/Cohen $1.6 million (quarterly payments still in process) to cover up Trump's role in an affair and her consequent abortion. See When News Becomes Opinion and Opinion Becomes News.

On the MSNBC show, Campos explains the basis for the theory, but he was quickly interrupted by Hayes who cautioned, (I paraphrase) "Wait a second. Let's get this straight. This is all just your theory, right? Based on circumstantial evidence." Campos agreed, but pointed out that the version offered by team Trump - four days after the raid on Michael Cohen's apartment - was accepted and reported as fact by the news organizations selected for the leak of the story. At that point, Hayes ignored Campos' point about the role of the news media, thus becoming part of the story of the failure of the news media.

Here's where the problem of minimalism comes into play. If Trump got a Playboy model pregnant and paid for her silence (and presumably the abortion), this could be a really big deal for his support among the Christian right (evangelicals and Catholics). And certainly would have been a very big deal just prior to the 2016 election. For the traditional media, the fact that the Trump role, if true, is so inflammatory raises the bar of scrutiny, subjecting the theory to a "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. Which is fine, but ignores the fact that the theory of an affair with Trump, not Broidy, is more credible, more plausible, than the claim that Broidy is "David Dennison" in this isolated case. It's minimalism in the sense that Chris Hayes came to a hard stop on the story because the evidence was circumstantial, despite where the preponderance of the evidence leads.

In other words, for the traditional news folks, if you are going to accept a leak from Team Trump on its face and report it as news, ignoring the consistent history of lies and fabrications, maybe because it "embarasses" someone (Broidy) in this case, you need to acknowledge that this approach has its shortcomings.

The traditional news media continues to be easily manipulated by Team Trump. The traditional journalistic model treats every story involving politics as a "he said/she said" story:

Step 1: "He said." Trump, Giuliani, or another Trump associate makes a statement that is treated as true by NYT, CNN, et al until and unless proven false. The proof of falsehood is made subject to fact checking. But the goal of team Trump to distract from the heart of the matter (whatever it is in each situation) has already been achieved. Traditional journalists still have no idea how to deal with this.

What I am calling "minimalism" is a lack of imagination tied to an antiquated standard that says political news reporters are not responsible for finding and reporting the truth - reporters are responsible for reporting "maybe facts" - claims and statements that reporters are to accept as true in an almost "hands off" manner, until and unless "fact checking" establishes otherwise, or the "other side" refutes them in a debate based on reason, supported by facts. But what if that reliance on reason by "all sides" never comes? What if one "side" is happy with their truth supported by their claims?

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