There’s a difference between bad news and bad reporting. We’re seeing a lot of both these days, as each Trump Cabinet choice hurls us deeper into dystopia.
For example: How do you describe a man who propagates white supremacy, misogyny and antisemitism? If you’re the New York Times, you call him a “provocateur.” If you’re the AP, you say his hire is evidence of Trump’s “brash, outsider instincts.”
Stephen Bannon, the Trump campaign chief executive and recently named “Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor” for the Trump White House, has declared of Breitbart, the website he still heads, “We’re the platform for the alt-right”—that being, by Breitbart’s own description, a coalition of advocates of “scientific race differences” with those who “believe that some degree of separation between peoples is necessary for a culture to be preserved” and online traffickers in racist and antisemitic stereotypes and harassment, along with a significant admixture of pro-Hitler neo-Nazis.
Under Bannon, Breitbart ran the story “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage” (7/1/15) in the wake of the Charleston church killing of nine black people by a guy who said he wanted to start a race war. The site ran stories calling Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew” (5/15/16), suggesting the response to online harassment of women is for women to “log off” and let men enjoy the internet (7/5/16), and lots of stories along the lines of “Anti-White Racism: the Hate That Dare Not Speak Its Name” (4/26/16).
But if you’re the Washington Post, you describe him as a guy who “relishes combativeness” and “has openly attacked congressional leadership”!
Ubiquitous media constructions that are variants of the idea that Bannon “has been accused” of “having ties” to hateful extremists linguistically insulate him, and raise the question of whether some in media could ever identify anyone as an actual misogynist white-supremacist antisemite.
The Washington Post‘s Alexandra Petri (11/15/16) called out congressmembers on this point, mocking their position:
Just because something attracts antisemites and racists doesn’t mean that it, itself, is either of those things. It doesn’t mean that it supports their views. Who knows why anyone is attracted to anything? Weird coincidences happen all the time.
But with lines like, “You say, ‘potato enthusiastically supported by the Ku Klux Klan’s David Duke’; I say, ‘controversial potato,’” it’s clear her critique applies to some of her colleagues as well.