The Banality Of Evil Access Journalism

A tweet from a talented, but maybe Stockholmed, journalist favorite of Mr. Trump:

This reporter is old enough and smart enough to know and understand exactly what Rudy and Trump are, but still evinces this blithe acceptance bullshit?

Please stop, yer killing me. With every passing day, the initial criticisms as to the lameness of Haberman, Baker and Schmidt’s on and off duality of record “interview” of Trump look smarter. Greg Sargent was early with this:

President Trump’s extended, rambling new interview with the New York Times provides perhaps the clearest picture yet of his conviction that he is above the law — a conviction, crucially, that appears to be deeply felt on an instinctual level — and of his total lack of any clear conception of the basic obligations to the public he assumed upon taking office.

There are numerous worrisome moments in this interview, from his incoherence on the health-care debate (“preexisting conditions are a tough deal”) to his odd asides about history (Napoleon “didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death”).

But, frankly, the entire tenor and credulity of the interviewers – and the interview – as a whole is simply beyond belief. NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen hit on the latter in a very cogent tweetstorm, as to the interview itself.

But I have to ask the same questions about the journalists conducting this interview. There were a lot of knee jerk defenses, mostly by other journalists, of the manner in which the interview was conducted sans followup questions and factual corrections of Trump’s blatant and rampant absurdity and lying, early on Twitter. The thin skinned “interviewers” of course blanched and professed how much they were just “doing their job”.

At what point does it become journalists’ “job” to stand up for truth, have the guts to speak it to power actually during their access, and not just in seeking it? But, hey, maybe these NYT journalists can deflect it all by comparing the current American crisis to the not even close to analogous bogosity from 20 years ago in the Clinton era. You know, the same misdirection horse manure their access point Donald Trump relentlessly tries to foster.

The United States is not dealing with the same paradigm of politics it was even as recently as seven months ago. Both the citizen public, and the press that supposedly serves them, need to understand the fundamental change and adapt. The presumption of normality still being afforded Trump and his Administration is a disservice to both the people and their democracy. It is, in this critical living breathing moment, the banality of evil.

33 replies
  1. Desider says:

    I wonder if it ever occurred to these journalists to write out their strategy before starting the interview?
    After Trump disposed of 16 Republican opponents, you’d think someone would figure out his ravings are akin to Volgon Poetry, simply will-destroying (to live). And yet over and over again, the same meandering nonsense is accepted as if he were a real person speaking actual understandable sentences.
    Maybe he’s The Mule in the Foundation Trilogy – too laughable to be believed until it’s too late.
    In any case, about 0.04% of reporters covering politics have earned their pay these last 2 years.

  2. Petey says:

    This is a very weird post, bmaz.


    Without taking a position whether you are correct or not about how Haberman, Baker and Schmidt conducted the interview, it’s worth noting that both sources you cite to support your argument do not support your argument.


    Both the Greg Sargent article and the Jay Rosen tweets do not share your criticism of how the reporters conducted the interview.

  3. bloopie2 says:

    “At what point does it become journalists’ “job” to stand up for truth, have the guts to speak it to power actually during their access, and not just in seeking it?” Excuse me if this is nothing new (I have not read other journalists’ critiques), but I’ll say this: First, what’s the point of telling Trump to his face that you believe he is lying? He sees that position every day in the media, and decries it as “fake”. He’s not going to respond, “Oh, yeah, you’re right, I was fibbing there. Me bad!” Rather, he might simply cut off the interview and we’d be left with a less egregious record. Second, it’s like cross examination, no? Let him keep lying on the record, over and over; let him keep spilling his mouth until he’s really done himself in. You can always go back after him later (in the after the fact reporting).

  4. MaDarby says:

    Emptywheel is fast becoming quite the laughing stock. Please tell us more about the Russians.

    Who should we listen to these people or Imperialist sycophants?

    Better get together with Rachael and find that fake document that fooled you.

    The more that comes out the more pathetic you look.

    Support the Empire against the evil godless Russians serve the Church of America the Redeemer.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    EW is fast becoming the target of trolls.

    Jay Rosen and bmaz are on the same page.  The interview would qualify as a psych exam, with the interviewee not obtaining a score that would allow him to walk home alone.

    Worse than the chaotic view into a chaotic mind this interview offered is that the interviewers simply listened with deference, which this president has long since proven he does not merit.  They did not push or pull.  That’s not journalism, it’s stenography.

    Journalism involves questioning and poking, following up and challenging inconsistency, even inchoherence.  Journalism provides context for understanding the interviewee’s comments, his speech, his apparent train of thought or, in this president, the lack of it.  It provides follow up from others contesting the interviewee’s assertions.

    Journalism is not about providing a silent stage for the interviewee to fill.  That’s advertising.

    • bloopie2 says:

      “Journalism involves questioning and poking, following up and challenging inconsistency, even incoherence”.  You really think Trump would have allowed that?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Trump being abusive when faced with competent journalists’ questions would itself be a story.  Just as competent journalists ought to boycott a “press conference” at the WH whose host prohibits cameras and recorders.  Otherwise, quit being a journalist and apply to join Scaramucci’s staff.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Corporate journalism – content placement – is about never alienating the customer whose content the media is placing. But that’s Orwellian journalism of the kind Fox has sold for years.

    Today’s topic is the blind vote on something related to health care that McConnell is forcing on the Senate, that is, its Republican members. That’s as much responsible legislating – tearing millions away from barely affordable medical insurance and replacing it with nada – as this interview was responsible journalism.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Now a Gooper congresscritter is blaming senatorial “women” for all the problems in passing the Republicans’ Health Care Denial Bill.  “If they were men, he would challenge them [Republican women senators] to a duel.”

    I guess Blake Farenthold, representative from Texas, obviously, and a lawyer who makes Alberto Gonzales look like Louis Brandeis, hasn’t heard how well that worked out for Alexander Hamilton.  Or that the practice has been illegal for 150 years.  Or that his remark is supremely sexist, even by Texas standards. Or that it’s nonsense and misdirection, hiding a bill that would deny health care coverage from tens of millions and inevitably kill many of them.

    • harpie says:

      Truly despicable people.

      Trump told 40,000 boy scouts at the Jamboree this evening that “Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price “better get” the votes to begin debate on health care legislation Tuesday.” [Price was on stage with him.]

      Not only despicable, but bizarre.


      • harpie says:

        Bizarre and scary:
        Dan Zak‏Verified account @MrDanZak  

        Trump tells the Boy Scouts he’s going to kill Obamacare; Boy Scouts respond with chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”


        • infowhizard says:

          From what I read about the Boy Scouts Jamboree speech….talk about weird…and scary.

    • central texas says:

      That pusillanimous little turd would run shrieking from the first one of those women who so much as spit in his direction.  He is terminally full of his own story so long as he is safely away from anyone he is attacking.  I’m surprised that his 90 year old mother hasn’t strangled him.  She has more intelligence and bravery in her fingernail parings than he will ever have in his life.

  8. JG says:

    I agree with BMAZ. Jake Tapper asks harsher questions. Show some sign of life NYT. I also hate that we get fed the long story about how he hates the NYT, but begrudgingly respects Haberman because of how much clout she holds as a no BS arbiter.

    America needs real reporters now, and it has to be a united front. Trump BS streams, like water, to the easiest exit from a sitting, stinking well.

    We need access to his highness because he instructed the press secretary to reduce briefings to an impossible minimum. And they don’t even press him on that! If I was another news agency I would be pissed at the scabs.

    Maybe she used to be a reporter, now she is truly just typing answers. They have to ask the hard questions, if only about access. On that ghe would have to answer. So no, you can’t just explain away everthing with the admitted truth that he would not offer a mea culpa.

    He is using them as his public blogging/memoirist agency. They owe it to their trade to stick up for their trade.

    • infowhizard says:

      Read the interview transcript this article linked to….very difficult to follow where Trump was going with his chatter. And hard to read. That was definitely NOT journalism at its finest.

  9. GKJames says:

    It’s frustrating to witness journalists get the vapors in the vicinity of power. No one’s asking for knives to be out, but SOME curiosity about what the guy just said would lead to more revealing conversations. The current president says off-the-wall stuff and the interviewer acts as if what he/she just heard is the clearest, most rational uttered thought ever, while us ordinary mortals can neither agree nor disagree because we don’t even understand wtf he just said. This was especially exasperating during the campaign: “We’re gonna build a wall.” One would have thought that the most obvious follow-up would have been, “What do you mean? There already IS a wall.” Alas. It’s a dynamic that suggests the journalist’s self-centeredness rather than an effort to enlighten the audience.

  10. Evangelista says:

    I am not a journalist, but then, neither are most of the Op Ids we read over and over and again and again challenging and raving at and about persons in public positions they are supposed to be, or at least advertise themselves to be, reporting the statement expressions and expressed perspectives of.

    I do not read the statements of any of such “journalists” for information about any except the writing journalist him or her self. The reason: None of them listen to, observe or write report of anything except themselves and their own biases, bigotries, prejudices and perspectives.

    My idea of a good journalist is Jane Goodall. I am baffled that Jounalism Schools do not start first year students out, first thing, with serial showings of the films and video-tapes that have been made of Jane Goodall working as a reporter amongst chimpanzees.

    To be a reporter that is where to begin. Then learn to adapt the techniques Ms. Goodall so successfully employed, and employs, to equivalent situations. Learn to observe, listen, note and decipher meanings of the heard sounds and expressed expressions, gestures and posturings.

    Above all, as Ms. Goodall demonstrates, iterates, reiterates and instructs, stay on the side: Stay the hell out of the tribe. Do Not become involved. Do not attempt to instruct your subjects, or make them less monkey or more human. Do not project your own thoughts, desires,preferences or understandings onto the subjects of your reporting, or onto their actions. Do not enter among them and try to change them, influence them, improve them, argue with them or out “chat” them, or join them in their specific-to-specie behaviour.

    It would be a wonderful thing if modern journalism schools would start to teach Jane Goodall Method and produce some students able to practice Jane Goodall calibre reportage.

    Can you imagine it? Donald Trump allowed to chatter his chatter and state his perceptions and be what and how he is, with reporters accepting his presentation as his presentation, and then going to their desks to analyze the content they have received in its native context? We could read reporters’ reports and analyses, instead of reporters arguings and deprecatings and complainings of Trump not being their kind of monkey.

    We could have something to work with in drawing our own conclusions. We might have some real information, of a real and useful nature, to use in our developments of our own understandings of politicians and political situations. We could feel less Jane Goodalls, ourselves, collecting raw data about simian habits of news presenters, reporters and journalists, their interactions with and in their environments and their struggling and infighting to define and find their places in their tribal hierarchies and domination orders. We could learn more about the political lions and hyenas we are interested in; more than how those set the tribes to howling and chattering and jumping and posturing and throwing shit in every direction (which, the shit-throwing, very quickly becomes less than interesting and amusing).

    Just a few thoughts to give you a break from reading the news…

    • bmaz says:

      You are a run on piece of craptastic jerk idiocy. This blog used to be populated with commenters that were the best of the best. Now we have crap like you. You, Evangelista, are an insult to everything we stand for.

      One of the first, going back way more than  decade ago, was Mary. If you think your sorry ass thermite Johnny Come Lately bullshit works for ANYBODY that has actually been here with this blog over the years, you are sadly mistaken and can, seriously, fuck off.

      • bmaz says:

        Let the record reflect that “Evangelista” was the aggressor that waltzed into our Emptywheel blog and ran on with comments and talked shit with threats.



  11. harpie says:

    T. R. Ramachandran‏ @yottapoint [11/21/16] 


    Let’s discuss why you should NOT trust the @nytimes for political coverage of Dems / tweetstorm kanvz’d here: […] 6) More importantly, many liberals are unaware that the MOST DAMAGING false stories about Dems have historically started at MSM like NYT

    T. R. Ramachandran‏ @yottapoint [7/22/17] 

    I’ve said a few times that the New York Times political desk has been a key factor in the degradation of American democracy. […] False equivalence on Clinton & Trump and marginal investigative journalism on Trump in ’16 was a hallmark of NYT


  12. harpie says:

    I thought the Jay Rosen thread was a really smart take on Trump and The Press. These four threads [two in the previous comment] are also very insightful:

    Sarah Kendzior‏Verified account @sarahkendzior [7/21/17] 

    NYT covering for Trump instead of covering Trump has a long and unfortunate history. Documentation here.
    Trump and The New York Times; A brief history of bad editorial decisions […] Part four. Thread on NYT lies of internal dissent, common propaganda tactic used by autocrats consolidating power. […]

     James Fallows‏Verified account @JamesFallows 

    Through campaign, our greatest paper, NYT, often presented HRC email/ethical problems as on a par w Trump’s […]

    • lefty665 says:

      Similar in magnitude, but very different in content. Together they covered the horrid waterfront, but very separate parts of it and in very different ways.

  13. lefty665 says:

    There are reasons they are more and more called “presstitutes”. The concentration of ownership of media in fat cat elites, corporate or private, has enshrined access over reporting. Reporting degrades future access. Stenography not so much. Access is what generates views and clicks. Access is money.  In addition, the top of the journalism/media world has become part of the elite and shares their misconceptions and herd perceptions that echo around the beltway and upper east coast. They are sycophants to money and power. Who, What, Why, Where, When and How are so quaint, relics of a naive middle class past. Please pass the caviar. See dahling, those ugly Russians are good for something.

    That is why some of us hang around places like this. Independent journalism and thought are our hope for the future.

  14. Rugger9 says:

    The problem of the corporate press is what is in play here.  When 5 companies own 90% of the media, no one is going to make waves in order to save their jobs because their masters want “access” and the conservative editors will keep the key items out.  That’s why Chuck Todd is so craven, a recent but very brief flurry of almost-journalism proving the rule.  The other part of this is a need for horse races (clickbait and selling papers) and because the GOP agenda is such crap, that means the Ds have to be hammered down so the “both sides” argument remains in pay play.  That’s why the NYT’s ombudsman has been universally bad for the last 2-3 iterations, they must toe the line set for them.

    The next to last part of this is the continuing lack of awareness by the courtier press that this is not a game but real people will really be killed (like the SEAL in Yemen) by the incompetent narcissist looking for photo ops and bill signing ceremonies.

    Now, as far as the USN is concerned, the President’s order is illegal and as an officer I would certainly have refused to obey it on those grounds.  That takes more balls than most of my career minded colleagues would show (like the ring knockers from Canoe U), especially those bucking for the golden ticket promotion (in my time it meant making O-5, Commander) so they could get their 20-year pension.

  15. Randy says:

    As a long time listener and first time caller, this year anyway. Many are the times I’ve found myself here and at fdl, for deeper understanding of complex issues. Their machinations. Perspective from really bright people. As with all things human. Some so and so muddies our respite with BS.

  16. Gal Dagon says:

    Should there really be separate tags for ‘2016 Presidential Election’, ‘Fuckstickery’ and ‘Galactic Stupidity’? Surely the first implies the other two.

  17. RexFlex says:

    The Press we have is the Press that came at the same time as Trump.
    Is there really anything else to say.

  18. Desider says:

    Here’s what happened to one NBC stringer when he tried to write real news – supported by his immediate chiefs, speared by the top brass and the heavy influence of money influx in politics & the lifeline those millions mean for news syndicates trying to survive these days on free readers & crap ad revenues. [ok, that’s more the print journalism – presumably TV can stand up better to pressure, but the reality says otherwise]

  19. Cold N. Holefield says:

    You can’t have a conversation with Trump. To Trump, you’re just another vehicle in which to spread his Chaos.

    The best you can do with Trump from a Reporting Standpoint is to Report what he does, not what he says. That necessarily means no interviews and it necessarily means don’t cover his Press Conferences or his Administration’s Media Briefings or, and especially, his Rallies.

    It’s this simple. Report on what he and his Administration DO and what Congress & The Supreme Court DO and you’ve done your best. If you allow yourself and The Public to get distracted by his Chaos Magic, he owns You and he owns Us.

  20. Willis Warren says:

    I agree 100%.  Nice post, bmaz.

    At some point, you have to stop being a reporter, democrat, republican, etc… and start being an American.  At some point it’s time to admit these “leaks” are coming from Trump himself.

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