In Part One I introduced my premise: GOP uses tactics against Democrats that mirror the behaviors and outcomes of domestic abusers, creating a warped environment. In Part Two I described and gave examples of these tactics and in Part Three I described the ineffective response by Democrats, who, like domestic abuse victims, have been choosing to cope with, rather than reject, GOP abuse. Today I'll address The Media’s Role and Democratic Enlightenment.
Let me start with this caveat: there are a number of reasons for media failures – they've been analyzed at length, by many and are, largely, outside the scope of this essay. I will summarize the primary drivers as:
- Repeal of the Fairness Doctrine
- Purchase of media outlets by for-profit companies and the accompanying shift from “News as Public Service” to “News as Profit-Center”.
- Media Consolidation
- Media's reaction to the successful conservative effort to tar journalists as liberal and therefore automatically biased.
Point 4 is especially relevant to my larger theme, so, to resume:
In researching domestic abuse, I learned: “Sexual Abuse is the least frequently reported form of child abuse and is believed to be the most under-reported type of child maltreatment because of the secrecy or conspiracy of silence that so often characterizes these cases.”
The “conspiracy of silence” refers to adults who look the other way or disbelieve a child who reports abuse. (The movie Spotlight dramatizes the exposure of a conspiracy of silence. The saga of Joe Paterno, Penn State and Jerry Sandusky is another.)
In an analogous form, the bulk of the mainstream media participates in conspiracy-of-silence-like behaviors.
When covering politics reporters/editors adopt a position of “neutrality”, normalizing Republican abuse through uncritical amplification.
Again: When covering politics reporters/editors adopt a position of “neutrality”, normalizing Republican abuse through uncritical amplification.
Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of some absurdity, for instance, and instead of questioning the absurdity, media figures dutifully report the accusations, thereby lending them legitimacy. The refusal to evaluate the accusations or the track-records of the accusers is a noisy form of “silence” — major media has been silent on the question of validity. Neutrality also led to the widespread use of “false equivalency” in reporting, whereby reporters (or their editors) feel compelled to include some variation of “both sides do it” in stories that would otherwise reflect badly on the GOP. False equivalency obscures and dilutes understanding of the reach and depth of Republican abuse by redirecting the discussions to Democrats' committing “similar” acts. Donald Trump's numerous misdeeds were consistently partnered with references to Hillary Clinton's single “misdeed”: using a private email server.
Donald Trump’s election both confounded the media and reminded members they have a responsibility to the public beyond ratings and ad sales. Trump’s cries of “Fake News” inspired an upsurge in serious investigative reporting and a renewed emphasis on accuracy and honesty. Democrats can make good use of this development assuming they reach the enlightenment and responsibility phases of the abuse pattern.
Democrats: Meet Enlightenment
“It’s hard for people to really see what’s going on when they’re in the midst of it,” said Attorney Joy Wagner. “The denial is unbelievable. The victims’ views of reality become really skewed.”
Statistically battered women average 6 attempts before they finally sever relations with abusive partners. Their ultimate success depends, she says, on “how accurate their perception of reality is or becomes.”
The reality Democrats must perceive is the holistic nature of Republican abuse — it is a strategy with many interlocking components which keep Democrats entangled in defensive maneuvers, constantly fighting a perpetual stream of individual fires. And, as in domestic situations, longstanding abuse skews people's perceptions about what is normal and tolerable. Democrats are accustomed to living in this abusive environment. Everyone is accustomed to living in this abusive environment; collectively we operate as though Republicans-behaving-badly-and-getting-away-with-it is some sort of natural law, like gravity. The abuse is so ingrained we (including the media) don’t question it. We may remark / report on specific instances of abuse but in the same way we lament a coming hurricane — there will be unavoidable damage but we can't stop the hurricane from coming. But GOP abuse can and should be stopped.
Democrats: Meet Responsibility
Victims of abuse are empowered to change their situations once they place the responsibility for the abuse on the abuser. Republicans are fully responsible for their abuses and the consequences thereof. We can't control Republicans but we can control ourselves and we must stop enabling by excusing, ignoring, down-playing or tolerating abusive tactics.
The Way Forward
We begin by getting a firm grip on the essential problem: the Republican Party’s abuse tactics work synergistically to envelope Democrats in an endless loop of outrages, keeping us on the defensive, interfering with our ability to make our aspirations clear and known, and diverting our energy from more constructive activities. Republican abuse confuses and discourages the apolitical and low-information citizen; brainwashes the rightwing base, and enrages, frightens and demoralizes Democrats and/or left-leaning Independents.
The GOP/media-machine presents a formidable challenge. The machine provides continuous cover for GOP abuses. Literally within minutes after some questionable GOP action is reported you will hear, see and read the same explanation / justification / deflection from all corners of the Republican media universe. (Notice how suddenly every third “conservative” you know on Facebook was suddenly very concerned about the loss of history in the wake of confederate statue removal? That wasn't accidental.) Similarly, when a Republican attacks a Democrat, the machine ensures the attack is circulated widely and defended uniformly. Through their consistency Republican’s perpetuate their frames — the media follows their leads about what is important and what can be ignored.
Democrats must recognize the insidiously skewed nature of our political environment and judge it unacceptable. They must learn to spot Republican abuse tactics in action and refuse to retreat to enabling responses.
Next up: Moving from defense to offense.
This segment was featured on today's Kagro in the Morning Show on DailyKOS Radio!