Vox: The ’emotional devastation’ of Trump’s election colored our judgment on collusion


Monday Vox published an interview with Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi about the media’s big failure to cover the collusion story accurately. Taibbi has argued this was a worse journalistic failure than the coverage of WMD prior to the Iraq war. Vox’s Sean Illing doesn’t agree with that, but he does seem to agree with Taibbi on a key point: Where did all the emotional energy driving the collusion story come from?

Sean Illing

A lot of people simply did not want to believe that Trump was a legitimate president, that someone this vulgar and this dishonest could win a presidential election. And I think that disbelief and the emotional devastation of his election colored a lot of our judgments.

Matt Taibbi

Absolutely. Look, almost every pundit failed to see what was happening during the presidential election. No one thought this guy would win. It was almost a 100 percent consensus in the industry. Nobody even accepted it as an idea that he could possibly win, and a lot of that had to do with the insularity of the media. We just weren’t talking to voters enough.

Then when he became president, the instantaneous decision was to declare his presidency illegitimate and foreign-aided. That doesn’t mean all of these stories were made up, of course, but I think there was a deep need to make sense of it all, to somehow not recognize the result. So a lot of people wanted to cancel it out. But that’s not what the press is supposed to do. That’t not our job.

I was watching Chris Matthews yesterday, and he was basically saying now that collusion is off the table, we’re just going to have win the election, as though that’s the first time that thought ever occurred to him. That should’ve been the thought on day one. How do we correct the fact that so many people chose Donald Trump as president? And not, how do we get him out of office prematurely?

There are a lot of lessons that could be gleaned from the collusion spectacle but in my view, this is one of the most important. It would be a mistake for the media to claim that their fixation on this story was purely about its significance. That’s really looking at it through the wrong end of the telescope. The significant thing that happened was this: Trump won the election. The emotional reaction to that was immediate and it was negative.

One day after the election, angry progressives were marching through the streets chanting “not my president.” The other thing they were chanting, more than two months before Trump even took office, was “Impeach!” Those two thoughts naturally run together. The first is a problem (he shouldn’t be president) and the second is the solution (remove him from office). The NY Times published this video clip on November 10, 2016:

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It’s a short step from “Impeach! Impeach!” to collusion. The former is the raw emotion the latter is the post hoc justification for it. Collusion became the bucket into which millions of angry progressives poured their anger. And the media went along for the ride because they had an eager audience which was great for ratings and because most of them believed it themselves.

Sean Illing

The commercialization of the press, the drive to be first, to get more clicks, to push more content. This is a problem that touches literally every media organization in the country. Cable networks like MSNBC and CNN saw a huge spike in ratings and profits thanks to Trump and the infinite promise of the Mueller investigation. This is a deep, structural issue for the media right now. And I don’t think anyone has the answer to it.

Matt Taibbi

Can you imagine the horror right now in the network planning rooms? This is the greatest story that has ever existed for the news media business. And you can’t separate that out from the coverage, because the financial incentive to keep hammering this home was tremendous.

I mean, this was the greatest reality show in history. It had everything. It had sex, it had cloak and dagger intrigue, it had the shadowy British spy [Christopher Steele], it had obscure meetings on remote islands. And it had the added advantage of being able to tell audiences, “You can’t turn us off, because this thing could blow up any minute. That bombshell could be coming at any time, so keep tuning in.”

The story made a ton of money and I honestly think we need go over all of it from scratch and look closely at what went wrong.

I think we know what went wrong and I think we know why. As Taibbi says above, “a lot of that had to do with the insularity of the media.” Yes, it did and the only real solution to that problem is a media that is less overwhelmingly left-wing in its impulses. But that’s clearly not something Vox is interested in. On the contrary, they are part of the progressive insulation that created the problem.

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