Should-Read: Brian Buetler: The Seeds of Media Self-Sabotage: "In explaining last week why Sean Hannity had once called Julian Assange an enemy of the United States, but now—thanks to Assange’s in-kind support for Donald Trump—proposes a U.S. government-Wikileaks alliance, CNN’s Dana Bash called it 'classic politics'...

...Rather than belabor false equivalence, I want to focus on the category error that makes this particular kind of false equivalence possible, because if it goes uncorrected, it will clear the path by which illiberal forces in America ultimately prevail. It isn’t that Sean Hannity and scores of other oily Trump apparatchiks aren’t daily engaged in brazen hypocrisy. They are. It’s that the concept of hypocrisy doesn’t really capture the conservative media’s driving ethic, in all its ugliness. Lumping the methods of Trump apologists into the same critical framework as “classic politics” creates a parity between agitprop and honest discourse that propagandists will exploit until most people can’t tell the difference. It will allow insidious disinformation to chew away at the institutions of journalism and academic expertise, until the enlightened foundations of an informed citizenry collapse....

When a politician takes both sides of an issue at different times, journalists can elide the substance of the positions by zeroing in on the apparent hypocrisy—was he for it before he was against it? When partisans set forth double standards, it is often easier to make them address their inconsistencies than to question the merits of the standards themselves. And since all politicians engage in hypocrisy at least occasionally, criticizing it carries no aroma of bias.... Tim Russert used his perch as host of Meet the Press to surface all manner of political contradictions along these lines, and then confront his guests with their own hypocrisies. The value of his approach was... that even the most unctuous partisans feared getting caught. That at some level they understood and respected the importance of facts and consistency and reason and honesty.

The most influential figures in conservative media today cannot be shamed out of hypocrisy, because they are, at best, completely indifferent to those notions. In some cases, they’re outright hostile to them. When the assumption of deep-seated good faith doesn’t hold, the value of scrutinizing hypocrisy plummets.... Money and ratings are motives... and for some Trump apologists, the collateral damage to competing institutions is just an ancillary benefit of cashing in. But media figures more closely associated with the alt-right are fully conscious of and motivated by larger ideological goals.... Faithful representations of observable reality are generally incompatible with the aim of whipping a segment of the public into a frenzy for political power. So they jettison the former....

We would be better off as a political culture and a country if conservative media mirrored liberal media in its relative commitment to empiricism and fair-mindedness. But while we can’t control the way Trump’s enablers conduct themselves, we should recognize that they pocket unearned credibility when we collapse the moral distinction between partisan hypocrisy and concerted propaganda, treating their illiberal commitments as “classic politics.” Predictable if regrettable partisan behavior. The unseemly but typical behavior of ideologues....

Bannon... trashed Republican senator Bob Corker for speaking out about Trump’s unfitness for office, claiming risibly that Corker was the first senator in U.S. history to mock a sitting president while troops are serving abroad. The hypocrisy hounds descended. CNN’s Jake Tapper rightly noted that Bannon’s own website routinely celebrated mockery of Barack Obama while he was president. But Tapper ended his corrective with the admonition that “feelings aren’t facts”—as if Bannon had simply gotten carried away. Not likely. It is useful to Bannon’s ambitions to convince Trump’s supporters that criticizing the president is tantamount to sedition, history and consistency and democratic values be damned. He knows exactly what he’s doing. To a greater or lesser extent, so do the rest of them. And the longer that takes to sink in—the longer it takes us to develop new norms for addressing demonstrable bad faith—the likelier it becomes that this tide of propaganda will swamp us.

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