Truth Sandwiches
November 24, 2018 5:45 PM   Subscribe

How the media should respond to Trump’s lies: a linguist explains how Trump uses lies to divert attention from the “big truths.” "George Lakoff, a professor of linguistics and cognitive science at UC Berkeley ... recently published an article laying out the media’s dilemma. Trump’s 'big lie' strategy, he argues, is to 'exploit journalistic convention by providing rapid-fire news events for reporters to chase.' According to Lakoff, the president uses lies to divert attention from the 'big truths,' or the things he doesn’t want the media to cover. This allows Trump to create the controversies he wants and capitalize on the outrage and confusion they generate, while simultaneously stoking his base and forcing the press into the role of 'opposition party.'" [ViA]

From Lakoff's article in Medium referenced above: A Blitzkrieg Strategy Of Lies and Distractions: Trump counts on reporters to chase his lies and distractions like dogs chase balls. Too often, they meet his expectations
Trump’s “big lie” strategy is designed to exploit journalistic convention by providing rapid-fire “news” events for reporters to chase. Trump spews falsehoods in a blitzkrieg fashion, but the lies are only part of the game. What reporters continue to miss is the strategy behind the big lies: to divert attention from big truths. The technique is simple: create controversy and confusion around politically-charged topics to stoke his conservative base and distract from stories that harm Trump.

It’s a numbers game. The more he can get his key terms and images repeated in the media — even as “fact checks” — the more he wins. That’s just how our brains work. The more we hear about something, the more it sticks. Even if it’s not true. When I say “don’t think of an elephant,” it forces you to think of an elephant. Repeating lies, even to debunk them, helps spread and strengthen them. The scientific evidence is clear.
George P Lakoff and Gil Duran: Trump has turned words into weapons. And he's winning the linguistic war: From ‘spygate’ to ‘fake news’, Trump is using language to frame – and win – debates. And the press operate like his marketing agency
Trump knows the press has a strong instinct to repeat his most outrageous claims, and this allows him put the press to work as a marketing agency for his ideas. His lies reach millions of people through constant repetition in the press and social media. This poses an existential threat to democracy.

Language works by activating brain structures called “frame-circuits” used to understand experience. They get stronger when we hear the activating language. Enough repetition can make them permanent, changing how we view the world. Even negating a frame-circuit activates and strengthens it, as when Nixon said “I am not a crook” and people thought of him as a crook.

Scientists, marketers, advertisers and salespeople understand these principles. So do Russian and Islamic State hackers. But most reporters and editors clearly don’t. So the press is at a disadvantage when dealing with a super salesman with an instinctive ability to manipulate thought by 1) framing first 2) repeating often, and 3) leading others to repeat his words by getting people to attack him within his own frame.
Interview with Brian Stelter on CNN's Reliable Sources: George Lakoff: 'The media is not doing its job'
George Lakoff has a warning for the national news media: Don't adopt President Trump's distorted framing of events.

Lakoff is a well-known linguist and a staunch critic of Trump. On... "Reliable Sources" podcast, he urged reporters to not just repeat or fact-check what the president says about topics like traveling migrants. Instead, he said, they should come up with new framings that put facts front and center.

"Reporters are trained to adopt the language of the people they're reporting on. And in this case you have to not do that. You have to resist it," Lakoff told Brian Stelter. "You have to ask what is the truth and tell the truth," he said.

He has previously written about how Trump turns "words into weapons" and has urged journalists to state facts first; then share Trump's falsehoods; then repeat the facts again. A "truth sandwich," so to speak.
Instead of Trump’s propaganda, how about a nice ‘truth sandwich’?
posted by homunculus (66 comments total) 73 users marked this as a favorite
 


Carnival barker.
posted by nofundy at 6:08 PM on November 24 [3 favorites]


I don't know what to say about this. As far as I can tell, Lakoff's "framing" concept is something designed to make poli-sci students feel good and superior, but it accomplishes nothing at all in the world of actual politics. In this case, does he really believe the people in the press haven't grasped Trump's strategies, when they've experienced those strategies full on, for nearly three years? Trump is a media person, with an intuitive grasp of how the system works. He is giving the reporters and commentators exactly what they want. Trump is a terrible leader and worthless as an administrator, but he is actually a pretty capable reality TV star. The symbiotic rotten reality of the relationship between Trump and the press goes much deeper than a superficial idea of them being hoodwinked by him pointing stage left and shouting, "hey look over there!"
posted by Seaweed Shark at 6:20 PM on November 24 [31 favorites]


I said from day 1 of hearing about Trump in politics that the media should just steer clear of him. That giving him a platform, even if to ridicule him, would allow his way of thinking to worm its way into people’s minds and grow his power. If he was actually interested in governance I’d have had a problem with the media ignoring him, but he wasn’t and still isn’t interested in governance. So he should be getting the bare minimum of coverage.

The media is doing the complete opposite of ignoring him, though. They are giving him tabloid-level coverage. Major newspapers have entire “Trump” sections. He is kind of singlehandedly saving them from obsolescence. But every moment we spend rubbernecking the current train wreck in Washington is a moment we don’t spend making a difference in our communities. I’m just about over the whole spectacle. It’s just too bad we’re spending 4 years without an American leader, especially given how quickly the digi-political landscape is changing right now.
posted by mantecol at 6:29 PM on November 24 [37 favorites]


I took a few of Lakoff’s classes when he was developing these ideas in the 1990s. It’s always been an attempt to understand, explain, and respond to the Luntz-style language use of the right, including such examples as “death tax”. His research is mostly about how we use metaphors to order our thinking about the world and the observation that a well-chosen metaphor can pay political dividends. At the time, he was mostly talking about the conservative “strict father” model resulting from an underlying “nation = family” metaphor.

James Meek last month wrote about a similar idea in the UK when talking about Brexit, though he focused on myths rather than metaphors:
Robin Hood is a process; St George is an event. Robin Hood steals from the rich, which is difficult, to give to the poor, which is trickier still, and has to keep on doing it over and over; but St George kills the dragon, and that’s it.
posted by migurski at 6:31 PM on November 24 [18 favorites]


St George kills the dragon

Bloody immigrants, coming over, killing our dragons...
posted by pompomtom at 6:41 PM on November 24 [16 favorites]


The media chases Trump because those reports = $. I don't think that any amount of linguistic re- framing is going to change that.
posted by bluesky43 at 6:50 PM on November 24 [16 favorites]


Trump very clearly seems like a person who just confidently says whatever bullshit he thinks will work best for him in the moment, and who generally neither knows nor cares whether or not what he is saying is true. The exception is when he is saying something coached or scripted and he is bothering to stick to the plan rather than just saying whatever he wants.

Lots of people act like this, I'm sure we've all met them. There doesn't have to be a deeper, smarter strategy underlying the bullshit. He just says what he wants. Frequently what he wants to say is a lie because he's not very informed or clever and often the truth doesn't suit him, but he just goes ahead and says it because that's how he rolls.

It's not some cunning plan. He's not playing twelve-dimensional chess here. If he's running circles around the media despite being so obviously incompetent and impulse-driven, I feel like that really says more about the state of journalism in America than anything else.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:55 PM on November 24 [74 favorites]


Lakoff has been saying things along this line since the Bush era (usually in the format of advice on Dem messaging) and honestly at this point I can't really parse it as other than "Try This One Weird Trick To Solve Politics! (Authoritarians HATE this!)"

Being able to describe the causation of and within a process is not the same as being able to change its course - Cnut famously understood that a good millennium ago.

And yes as has been said above, as long as/once information is commoditized, the big lie is inevitable, because it's profitable.
posted by PMdixon at 7:13 PM on November 24 [19 favorites]


bluesky43 has it right. Trump is good for media, esp. if the majority of media’s revenue is based on eyeballs. That’s said, some media outlets do a better job of balancing this need than others. If anything, Lakoff’s ideas show us the linguistical reason for why it works so well (and why we tune in), but it offers little in the way of solutions. I say this as someone who truly loves Lakoff’s research.
posted by johnxlibris at 7:15 PM on November 24 [7 favorites]


Someone over at Epsilon Theory ran a meta analysis demonstrating what was fairly clear intuitively: that during the campaign Trump's most important and continuous positive coverage, and the most damaging nonstop negative "coverage" of Clinton's email server and Benghazi, had come not from fringe right-wing outlets or even from Fox, but from the major mainstream news sources. These were people who, most of them, would have pulled out their teeth rather than help DT become president, and yet they continued giving him non-stop free, generally positive coverage. Didn't someone estimate that Trump received something on the order of $2 billion in free coverage? The pattern during the past 2 years doesn't need to be gone over again -- the OP article actually covers it pretty well. But somehow it sticks in my metaphorical throat that even now, people are saying, "if only the press would wake up and recognize his manipulative tactics." Come on. They know.
posted by Seaweed Shark at 7:21 PM on November 24 [22 favorites]



It's not some cunning plan. He's not playing twelve-dimensional chess here.


I agree. But why he does it doesn’t matter as much as why it works. These articles are explaining why it works irrespective of why he does it.
posted by vorpal bunny at 7:21 PM on November 24 [7 favorites]


Yeah, how can you be so focused on the effect of framing and allow words like “manipulate” and “strategy” to dominate the conversation?

Trump is an IDIOT. This is obvious to any person of reasonable intelligence who listens to him for 30 seconds. The fact that the media plays into his shtick is not an indication of calculated strategy, in fact the idea that Trump actually puts any thought into his nonsense is a big part of the problem.

Charles Pierce has it right — it’s a prion disease. The fact that it’s killing us doesn’t mean that prions (or the opportunistic infection that takes hold in their midst) represent anything you should consider thoughtful or strategic.
posted by bjrubble at 7:21 PM on November 24 [23 favorites]


Trump's most important and continuous positive coverage, and the most damaging nonstop negative "coverage" of Clinton's email server and Benghazi, had come not from fringe right-wing outlets or even from Fox, but from the major mainstream news sources.

THIS (as someone who also loves Lakoff's work). And one of the maddening things is the sanctimony of the press doing 'analysis' of what is obviously trolling.
posted by bluesky43 at 7:25 PM on November 24 [13 favorites]


We live in an era where the news media pretends to have an objective standard of nominal truth, rather than a relative standard of corporate or political alliance. However, they normally report things that are not news at all, such as planned political, corporate or religious announcements, often staged as news events. This is comparable to late night talk shows that feature famous actors, authors and performers, with the public not realizing it is typically a managed media event coordinated with publicists. One thought experiment is to try to imagine a world where not one staged announcement was ever made by the news media. Trump would hardly appear at all, except in stories where he was mentioned after the fact; where he had no control over the timing or the framing. Trump rightly calls the mainstream media fake news because he well knows he's been playing them as chumps for years.
posted by Brian B. at 7:46 PM on November 24 [14 favorites]


This entire wonderful post is a McLuhan-esque description of postwar mass media—and of how it affects us, and of how it describes us—more than it is about any one man. But that man truly is its ultimate fleshy manifestation. He is formed into the shape of the pipes that deliver him to us. He is extruded from them, like sausage.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 7:57 PM on November 24 [18 favorites]


To me the concept of ‘Journalistic Objectivity ‘ is the problem. ‘ Medical Objectivity ‘ would be a better standard but for whatever reason we don’t have that.
‘Journalistic Objectivity’ is that you attempt to cover all sides. Well if you do that carelessly, you are going to wind up with a lot of bullshit creeping in.
‘Medical Objectivity ‘ is about getting at the hard, physical facts and beliefs and philosophies have no place in it.
We don’t educate people carefully enough that they’ll seek out truth. People are overworked and tired, either from bare survival or the endless task of earning a living. It’s really a hateful situation. If there were trusted people in society who would get listened to, smart people who sifted through ALL the information and put it out there, they’d be jumped all over. Snopes and Politifact get accused of not being on the up and up.
Then there is the serious issue of infiltration by people acting in bad faith of political groups. I’m only beginning to unpack all of this. It seems like no one ever does this stuff to right - wing groups. It is a constant issue in groups which are left of center.
It’s among the reasons I’m so over third parties. They always implode. Leftish ones do so more rapidly.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:19 PM on November 24 [4 favorites]


If there were trusted people in society who would get listened to, smart people who sifted through ALL the information and put it out there

That used to be the media. When Cronkite told the public that Vietnam was lost it moved public opinion. There's a reason the right started attacking the media so much after Vietnam and Watergate; they don't want trusted people in society who would get listened to. Who can take down a war or a President. They don't want the country trusting smart people who sift through all the information and put it out there.

they’d be jumped all over.

not once the right wing noise machine got done with them. They'd be called biased and failing and liberal and the enemy of the people.

Some people make the mistake of believing that if only the NYT or WaPo or CNN or MSNBC did their jobs better they'd be trusted more. But that's obviously wrong; the better they do their jobs the more the right will attack them and the more trust in those institutions will decrease. Even among people who aren't authoritarians or even conservatives.

The smear machine works. Not on everyone and not all the time. But enough. Even on people who you'd think would know better.
posted by Justinian at 8:41 PM on November 24 [40 favorites]


However, they normally report things that are not news at all, such as planned political, corporate or religious announcements, often staged as news events.

Daniel Boorenstien called these Pseudo-Events way back in the 60's. Here's a nice article about how trump fits in to that notion.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 9:11 PM on November 24 [14 favorites]


"Try This One Weird Trick To Solve Politics! (Authoritarians HATE this!)"

I find Lakoff deeply tiresome, ever since I read his Women, Fire and Dangerous Things he's struck me as a hack.

In any case, I agree with his dismissal of "Enlightenment Reason" as what is operative in political discourse. Habermasian communicative action through dialogue among reasonable people is not at play.

But Lakoff dodges the question that Illing poses in response to that thesis: if political discourse does not take place at the level of reason, and everything is interpreted in advance through the values we bring to the facts, then what's the point of pursuing the public sphere in the first place? Readers of The New York Review of Books are going to stay in their lane, and the Breitbart crowd will stay in theirs, no matter how many truth sandwiches we try and force feed them. The Breitbarters will eat their sandwiches like they're on a keto diet, discarding the top and bottom slices and going for the redmeat of a Caravan Marching To Invade Us or whatever the fuck.

TLDR: there is no hope, we are a post-rationality society and we will never tackle the crises facing us, welcome to hellworld, etc.
posted by dis_integration at 9:23 PM on November 24 [4 favorites]




I dropped George Lakoff's class in the second week because the fact that he assigned about five of his own books rubbed me the wrong way. But I have always thought that he is right that the American center-left is pretty terrible at playing the framing game.
posted by atoxyl at 11:21 PM on November 24 [5 favorites]


Some weeks ago I saw the domestic version of this CNN promotional spot while at a pizzeria, and it briefly put me off my lunch.

*announcer voice*
A COUNTRY DIVIDED
A CRITICAL ELECTION
A CRUCIAL QUESTION
WHO WILL WIN THE CHANCE OT SHAPE AMERICAS FUTURE
36 GOVERNORSHIPS
35 SENATE RACES
435 HOUSE RACES
THIS ELECTION NIGHT THE STAKES COULD NOT BE HIGHER
AND THE ONLY PLACE TO WATCH IS CNN

Forget real, this lacks even verisimilitude. The news is presented in the mode of fiction, or at best sports. Can't suspend disbelief anymore.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:37 PM on November 24 [20 favorites]


I'm not sure why these articles are getting so much flak. All the time on Twitter I see leftists making basically the same point: amplifying Trumpist messages, even to refute them, is a problem.

I think understanding problems of framing is a key cognitive tool; on the other hand, that in itself doesn't give you better frames that the Left could use. For that you need creativity and some good luck.

FWIW, I think though the Right sometimes stumbles on effective framing, it's mostly by accident. Elections are mostly decided by the fuzzy middle tenth of the electorate, the people who actually switch their votes. And the Right is losing those people. Take the Senate races this year, which as you may know didn't go the right way in terms of seats. But in votes, it was a Democratic landslide: 58.5% to 40%.

Plus, sometimes we get great framing on the Left. E.g. "Medicare for all" is brilliant framing. It's short, easily grasped, and hard to oppose. "Single-payer" or "public option", by contrast, are yawners.
posted by zompist at 4:38 AM on November 25 [14 favorites]


I'm with zompist; this cynical and tiresome dismissal of Lakoff's argument is really baffling. Lakoff is exactly right about what Trump is doing. And Trump is doing it explicitly, deliberately. Maybe not intelligently, I tend to go with him just having remarkable instincts for media manipulation. Either way it's working and the press is letting it work.

And a good number of journalists are thinking and baffled about what to do. Not the bland hacks that make up the top of mainstream coverage like CNN and broadcast TV news. But the editors at the WashPo certainly get it, and sometimes the NYTimes shows some glimmerings of it. The Economist is largely immune to Trump's bullshit cycle being a weekly that's edited and mostly written outside the US. Ezra Klein is also grappling with it in a media-navel-gazing way, like his recent podcast "Is the media making American politics worse?". (Answer: yes, and Klein doesn't know how to fix it.)

My biggest concern is it's not clear how America recovers from this nadir. There's absolutely no reason for other politicians not to emulate the Trump playbook, and I don't mean just Republicans. My biggest hope is whatever bizarre talent Trump has for media manipulation with giant malicious lies is rare.
posted by Nelson at 4:53 AM on November 25 [13 favorites]


I'm not sure why these articles are getting so much flak.

Because language≠media and linguist≠media theorist, basically. There are reasons that media organizations will find it profitable or otherwise desirable to pick-up certain framings but not others, and Lakoff has basically nothing to say about that.
posted by PMdixon at 5:19 AM on November 25 [3 favorites]


I'm with zompist; this cynical and tiresome dismissal of Lakoff's argument is really baffling. Lakoff is exactly right about what Trump is doing. And Trump is doing it explicitly, deliberately. Maybe not intelligently, I tend to go with him just having remarkable instincts for media manipulation. Either way it's working and the press is letting it work.

Lakoff has a brilliant analysis. It's just that the press will not be persuaded to change the way they engage with Trump. And that is a pre-requisite to all of Lakoff's analyses having an impact.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:20 AM on November 25 [6 favorites]


Right. But some members of the press pay attention to what Lakoff is saying. And are greatful for a cognitive science framework for them to think about how they need to do their job as journalists. Lakoff's work has value.

Absolutely agree it needs to actually cycle back into changing how journalism is done to ultimately matter. That Ezra Klein podcast I linked is all about that.
posted by Nelson at 5:26 AM on November 25 [2 favorites]


It has value for sure! I'm just not optimistic that the contingencies of the press corp (the bottom line) are modifiable in any way that has impact. Individual journalists who many appreciate Lakoff's analysis won't have the sway to influence the management who answer to stock holders. There was a super interesting interview with Jon Stewart and Christiane Amanpour (I linked to it somewhere in one of these mega threads) in which Stewart calls out the media for exactly this issue. Amanpour's reaction was one of obvious annoyance combined with a holier than thou view of the role of the press. It was a really telling interchange, And Trump knows all of this too - he sees the press better than they see themselves.
posted by bluesky43 at 5:39 AM on November 25 [3 favorites]


Media falls over themselves to milk buckshot for clicks. It’s a lampoon.

Everybody clicks. There’s an instant reward of emotion: morbid curiosity, dark amusement, schadenfreude, righteous anger. You milk newsbangs for stim.

We like to explain it to each other. President McDonald’s is a so-and-so, and a textbook this-and-that, and all of the sins of the rainbow sizzle openly in his wake. We like to describe the pattern of torts; we enjoy counting every bit of buckshot. There’s a sense of control in definition, even when we define it and redefine it again and again like a sheep with scrapie. We milk definition for solace.

It’s a self-amplifying Moebius strip of weaponized and monetized hookum. And every navel-gazing column, article, and forum harnesses this awesome power to charge its mobile and stream Netflix-Cola.

Clown-kings, hate memes, a shirtless supervillan on horseback, and so very very much commentary.

“May you live in interesting times.”
posted by Construction Concern at 6:03 AM on November 25 [9 favorites]


My issue is that Lakoff’s framing portrays Trump as a “master manipulator” which strikes me as exactly the same problem as the one he decries.

Trump is a pathetic weakling, morally and intellectually. The fact that he has gotten so far is a searing indictment of our media and political culture, but his words, his ideas, and the man himself deserve (and should be framed with) nothing but ridicule.

The problem isn’t that the media fails to properly present the truth value of Trump’s ideas, it’s that they treat them as coherent “ideas” in the first place.
posted by bjrubble at 6:12 AM on November 25 [14 favorites]


I'm a bit surprised that racism hasn't come up yet, but that's a big factor in how Trump specifically gets attention that wouldn't be granted to just any pseudo-rich idiot. American racism is in an awkward transitional phase, becoming at least nominally less acceptable/normal over the course of many decades. That helped prompt what Van Jones, on the 2016 election night, called a "whitelash".

You might say there was pent-up consumer demand in white America for the things Donald had to say about Muslims and Mexicans. For a rich guy from Queens to say that stuff so bluntly was like a cool drink after trekking through the desert. It was validation from the "elite" itself.

This mixes with the false-balance problem, because false balance doesn't happen for just any subject (you don't get "Why cancer is actually great" except in a contrarian way), it happens when the media sources are worried about the views of a sizable/powerful group of people.

But at the same time, the media fails to worry about the false balance legitimizing him, because they're blinkered enough to think that the unacceptability of racism (or other broken norms like vitriol against soldiers or whatever) is more a fact about racism/sexism/vitriol than a fact about variable social mores -- in other words, they think that a Trump quote refutes itself because "everyone knows" it's putrid stuff. They're insulted at the idea that their readers need hand-holding.
posted by InTheYear2017 at 6:27 AM on November 25 [11 favorites]


And it isn't just Trump, but nearly all Republicans, who have internalized Newt Gingrich's infamous 1990s memo on language.

Mitch McConnell will never say "regulations" without saying "job-killing" in front of it, and any time NPR airs that audio clip, he gets a free ride to inject the phrase "job-killing regulations" into the national dialogue. And as we have known for a century or more, repeating a message makes it sink in. Same thing for every time a Republicans "accidentally" uses the phrase "Democrat Party."

One thing the media could do is simply refuse to air that kind of propaganda. NPR doesn't air interviews live, let alone prepared news segments, and they could simply cut it out. And they and the rest of the so-called "liberal media" certainly should cut it out.
posted by Gelatin at 7:02 AM on November 25 [18 favorites]


My issue is that Lakoff’s framing portrays Trump as a “master manipulator” which strikes me as exactly the same problem as the one he decries.

Trump is a pathetic weakling, morally and intellectually.


Trump is, first and foremost, a creature of the industry he hails from (and, in many ways, the industry he helped form). He's a fucking real estate developer. He's a gladhander. He schmoozes people in order to get them to make a deal with him. He's the CEO who kisses your ass as deeply as necessary to sell you, promises you everything and anything he thinks you need/want to hear, no matter how ludicrous, then walks away and lets his subordinates clean his shit up and do the actual deal-making.

That's the only thing he knows how to do. It's who he is. To expect him to act otherwise simply because he's in a new office is illogical. Add into that his pathological narcissism and lack of self-control, and you have the manbaby-in-chief we see today.

The main difference today is he's subjected, 24-7, to a world full of people who actually disagree with him, which is something he probably isn't used to, as, I dare say, no one working for him back at the family business would dare disagree with him. The butt-hurt, shrieking ego we see on-stage is probably exactly what the people working for him in the business are subject to should they raise his ire.

It's kind of interesting that so many people in this country actually seem to like the guy exactly because of this CEO/leadership manner of his. It kind of makes you wonder if this is exactly the sort of leader they are subjected to at their own jobs and have simply come to assume such people are the way leaders are supposed to be.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:36 AM on November 25 [15 favorites]


The problem with the media is, and I quote from a well known press reporter; "Who cares whether it is true or not as long as it is a good story and sells papers.".
posted by Burn_IT at 7:49 AM on November 25 [2 favorites]


Agreeing to stop covering Trump's lies is like agreeing to have nuclear disarmament -- it's a great idea, but who volunteers to go first?
posted by Brachinus at 8:32 AM on November 25 [2 favorites]




> There was a super interesting interview with Jon Stewart and Christiane Amanpour (I linked to it somewhere in one of these mega threads) in which Stewart calls out the media for exactly this issue. Amanpour's reaction was one of obvious annoyance combined with a holier than thou view of the role of the press. It was a really telling interchange, And Trump knows all of this too - he sees the press better than they see themselves.

Amanpour interviews Dave Chappelle and Jon Stewart

How Trump conned the media, according to Jon Stewart

CNN's Christiane Amanpour tells Stephen Colbert that Jon Stewart was half-right about Trump and the media
posted by homunculus at 10:27 AM on November 25 [5 favorites]


CNN's Christiane Amanpour tells Stephen Colbert that Jon Stewart was half-right about Trump and the media

I do accept a lot of the criticism," Amanpour said, but she wanted to make two points. "One, it is our role, and we must defend our profession. This is a noble profession, this is a profession that in the United States of America, is guaranteed and protected by the First Amendment. ... We cannot bend over and surrender, we're not going to do that." On the other hand, she said, "we cannot be dragged down every single rabbit hole. We must stand for issues and actually keep our eye on the prize," and "some journalists are getting way too emotional about this," understandably but regrettably.

yeah, I'm not really seeing the half right part referenced. Jon Stewart's point was the media, money and Trump. If the rabbit hole drives clicks, the media will go there. and ahem some journalists are too emotional? Isn't that part of the Trump coverage?
posted by bluesky43 at 11:35 AM on November 25


On the subject of pseudo-events, my favorite is when the 3 or 4 news apps on my phone all send breaking news alerts on the same topic, within 10 minutes of each other. There are two options I can think of: either the organizations had the story pre-written and were waiting to pull the trigger (meaning, external sources are dictating the “news” to them), or they scrambled to pull something together in 5 minutes, in order to maintain the same level of coverage as their competitors (meaning, they definitely put a lot of effort into fact-checking).
posted by mantecol at 11:52 AM on November 25


News Coverage of the 2016 General Election: How the Press Failed the Voters

A new report from Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy analyzes news coverage during the 2016 general election, and concludes that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump received coverage that was overwhelmingly negative in tone and extremely light on policy.

The negativity was not unique to the 2016 election cycle but instead part of a pattern in place since the 1980s and one that is not limited to election coverage. “A healthy dose of negativity is unquestionably a good thing,” writes Thomas Patterson, the study’s author. “Yet an incessant stream of criticism has a corrosive effect. It needlessly erodes trust in political leaders and institutions and undermines confidence in government and policy,” resulting in a media environment full of false equivalencies that can mislead voters about the choices they face.

The study found that, on topics relating to the candidates’ fitness for office, Clinton and Trump’s coverage was virtually identical in terms of its negative tone. “Were the allegations surrounding Clinton of the same order of magnitude as those surrounding Trump?” asks Patterson. “It’s a question that political reporters made no serious effort to answer during the 2016 campaign.”
posted by bluesky43 at 12:24 PM on November 25


Next step: develop a funding model of the media that doesn't require preying on people's worst instincts, since vanishingly few people want to/can afford to pay for it.
posted by rewil at 12:35 PM on November 25


So comrades, was 'Lock her up' good framing or great framing?
posted by tirutiru at 12:44 PM on November 25


Trump was a "media favorite" long before he got fully political. He was given book deals with ghost writers writing his (self-)praises and all the New York Press loved him, NYT, WSJ, Post, even the contrarian Daily News never turned against him when a single expose could've landed him in the Big House instead of the White House (but then, having pals as prosecutors like Giuliani and Christie helped protect him). Part of it was his skill as a showman (even if he was more the Clown Prince of Billionaires) but I suspect he was a good source of real estate advertising for a more direct financial benefit. And it doesn't hurt to have the National Enquirer protecting and openly supporting you when you're building a support base of "deplorables".

(I haven't mentioned this before but I knew a guy 20+ years ago who was driven out of business by Trump's unwillingness to pay his bills, especially for socially-beneficial services like my acquaintance provided, so Trump as "crook with an extra dose of immorality" was settled in my mind in the 1990s, and it added to my belief that New York City was a hive of scum and villainy... originally based on the stories a New York-based cousin of mine told me... and I suspect the reason my cousin had no Trump stories was because he "avoided the worst of them".)

But remember that Donald Trump was NBC's "Top Star" for fifteen minutes in the '00s, big enough to have have his show put on Thursday Night "Must See TV" for a while. And there is still an impenetrable firewall between NBC News and Entertainment that keeps his true behavior on "The Apprentice" from providing about a hundred hours of content on MSNBC (which is probably why CNN is Television Enemy #1... he threatened one time to cause trouble for NBC's station licenses and that was enough to remove any real threat).
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:01 PM on November 25 [2 favorites]


was 'Lock her up' good framing or great framing?

In Lakoff's terms, I think it'd be terrible framing. What he worries about the most is not terms that pander to the base, it's terms that get adopted by the opposition (i.e. the rest of us) and influence our thinking.

His best example is "tax relief", a term that many liberals adopted, though its whole metaphor implies an anti-government bias that weakens liberalism (and socialism).

Another example is "pro-life". It's not as insidious, because pro-choice people don't adopt it; they can see that it's propaganda. But it's almost as bad, because the media used it anyway, as if it were a neutral label for anti-abortion people.

There's also a problem with merely repeating Trump's drivel. But if you're talking specifically about framing, the issue is clever framing that influences your opponents' own worldview.
posted by zompist at 1:10 PM on November 25 [3 favorites]


His best example is "tax relief", a term that many liberals adopted, though its whole metaphor implies an anti-government bias that weakens liberalism (and socialism).

The worst part about it is that it portrays taxes as a burden rather than, say, a duty. This is why I have begun harping on tax-avoidance and the desire to reduce one's taxes as much as possible as unpatriotic.
posted by rhizome at 1:17 PM on November 25 [4 favorites]


Trump is a pathetic weakling, morally and intellectually.

Trump's an idiot but he has a fantastic instinct for playing the media (and has shown signs that he is aware of the effect he has).
posted by atoxyl at 1:18 PM on November 25 [1 favorite]


the desire to reduce one's taxes as much as possible as unpatriotic.

Heck, I think I could make a decent case that it's treasonous. Does "aid and comfort the enemy" require one to articulate a specific enemy, or is intentionally working for the crippling of one's own government enough?
posted by rhizome at 1:20 PM on November 25


Trump's an idiot but he has a fantastic instinct for playing the media (and has shown signs that he is aware of the effect he has).

The Apprentice was all scripted. I doubt he has the skill to play anything more complicated than the skin flute. He's just talking shit, did you see the last Samantha Bee with the clip with him doing that numbers thing? There's no way that's intentional except as aimless riffing, aka filling time.
posted by rhizome at 1:28 PM on November 25 [1 favorite]


What Donald Trump Learned From Joseph McCarthy’s Right-Hand Man

Decades later, Mr. Cohn’s influence on Mr. Trump is unmistakable. Mr. Trump’s wrecking ball of a presidential bid — the gleeful smearing of his opponents, the embracing of bluster as brand — has been a Roy Cohn number on a grand scale. Mr. Trump’s response to the Orlando massacre, with his ominous warnings of a terrorist attack that could wipe out the country and his conspiratorial suggestions of a Muslim fifth column in the United States, seemed to have been ripped straight out of the Cohn playbook.

“I hear Roy in the things he says quite clearly,” said Peter Fraser, who as Mr. Cohn’s lover for the last two years of his life spent a great deal of time with Mr. Trump. “That bravado, and if you say it aggressively and loudly enough, it’s the truth — that’s the way Roy used to operate to a degree, and Donald was certainly his apprentice.”

posted by Brian B. at 2:13 PM on November 25 [3 favorites]


As usual, The Simpsons has a relevant quote.
That Homer fella grifted you good, Dad.

Well, there's no shame in being beaten by the best.

But he didn't seem all that-

We were beaten by the best, boy.
S9-12 Bart Carny
posted by bjrubble at 2:54 PM on November 25 [13 favorites]


That is, my reaction to any suggestion about Trump’s “genius” is, of course you’d like to believe that, because the alternative is that you really were that phenomenally stupid.
posted by bjrubble at 3:10 PM on November 25 [6 favorites]


I suspect Trump will ultimately prove to have been both stupider and smarter than any of us can possibly imagine.
posted by philip-random at 4:42 PM on November 25 [1 favorite]


I posit that Trump’s actions are driven by dollars, plain and simple. It’s like a musician in a rock band—after a couple decades of touring, you aren’t consciously thinking about what notes to play or how to get the best reaction from the audience—you’re acting on pure instinct honed from years of practice and direct feedback from the crowd. You can learn from the loudness of their screams, how much merch you sell that night, how well tickets sell the next time you come through town, etc. (That’s not to say that musicians are always driven by money, but if the goal is anything external, they will get immediate feedback on it each time they step out in front of a crowd, which is an invaluable teaching tool.)

I think it’s the same thing with Trump. His goal is money and he’s sitting on his golden throne, making bets on which combination of letters entered into his Twitter box will get him the maximum monetary return. Even when it doesn’t work out in his immediate favor, he gets feedback that shapes his future actions. It’s even better for him because he’s apparently not conflicted in his motives (e.g money vs morals) so the learning is incredibly efficient. (Note: this is also how Machine Learning works, and so far I wouldn’t call it “intelligent,” but it sure does accomplish a lot.)
posted by mantecol at 6:44 PM on November 25 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why, nearly 30 years after Gingrich, the Democrats haven't countered with their own phrases.

Job-creating regulations, "Lock him up" (Trump), bankrupting America (for GOP spending), terrorizing peaceful/lawful residents (ICE & police violence), deplorablist entitlement (Milo & "free speech" advocates), viper-pit rules-mongering (Mitch Viper-Pit McConnell), truth toxin (when they say "fake news"), the anti-liberty agenda (socially conservative views, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ, pro-racist, etc.), immiseration policies (for GOP cutting of social & infrastructure programs) ...

I can do this all day. For every R catchphrase, there should be a D counter-phrase. It's not caving to GOP framing to reframe, it's neutralizing their weapon, and if GOP catchphrases get repeated more often than liberal catchphrases, it gives an easy, quantifiable metric to counter the "liberal media" narrative, because whose catchphrases do they mention more? Whose framing do they adopt more?

And then, when they try to pull a William F. Buckley on Gore Vidal-style "knock you in the god damn face and you'll stay plastered", we call for civility and make their violence plain.

A more aggressive and cohesive strategy of doing this would be exactly the thing that forces media into a "truth sandwiches" format if they want to be seen as balanced. If you're just repeating catchphrases and framing from both sides, you're not doing reporting, you're rebroadcasting. If you're not explaining what both sides mean, or only explaining one, you're biased. If we're post-truth, then you either pick one of the competing truths, or you synthesize a new truth based on multiple competing truths. In any of the preceding formulations, you are forced to stake out your ground clearly. But when one side is twisting and the other side refuses to untwist more forcefully, assuming the facts speak for themselves, it lets the media and the audience off the hook.

The current media landscape is what we get for not going tit-for-tat with Republicans. Go high AND low. I'm not asking anybody to lie, I'm asking for slogans and a saucy pundit class.

^^^^^^This is what my gut has been telling me all my life, and I know I'm probably wrong, but I still don't know why I am. I welcome counter-arguments.

edited to add "and a saucy pundit class", which I forgot in my "grr", which means I should come back to this thread tomorrow.
posted by saysthis at 6:51 PM on November 25 [9 favorites]


Well, ok, I got one more thing before I go into ISD (Internet Surliness Detox) for the day.

Pro-life - I rarely hear this term anymore, except from...the media, to describe a side. If you talk to people who are anti-abortion, the words they use to describe their position are "against abortion", "not in support of abortion", etc. This, despite the recent surge in anti-abortion legislation at the state level, is a semantic battle that, in my humble frog-in-a-well's eye view, the left has won. They did it by staking out and sticking to a term. In fact, in the media, often what I see is "pro/anti-abortion" more often than "pro-choice/pro-life".

Newt was right about this. It's not a losing game to pick a term and stick to it. It's a game won by persistence, a persistence the right has exhibited thanks to their far more centralized funding, talking points, and media strategy. We can do this, but somebody in charge of the Dems has to explicitly take up the strategy and commit to it. It does not work outside of sustained organized movements. See also Soviet & Chinese Communism, the Catholic Church, and...Republicans, etc.
posted by saysthis at 7:14 PM on November 25 [2 favorites]


Faked Out: Why are we so ready to believe that truth is over?
Our current moment tends to misunderstand the Enlightenment, which challenged a world governed by epistemic dogma, handed down by religion and royalty, that held truth as something frozen, complete, and beyond debate. The Enlightenment was an effort to treat truth as something that wasn’t a given but needed to be worked on, and could be failed at. The experience of the Enlightenment was and remains itself a crisis of reality.

Epistemic uncertainty isn’t something we are newly experiencing. It has, again, lingered through modernity. The modern rise of science and democracy, the industrial revolutions, globalization, the furthering of transportation, urbanism, and mass media all multiply that uncertainty by providing access to other cultures, ideas, and ways of knowing. Technology warps what we think is real faster than we can cope, which continues to bring both possibility and despair. Truth’s contestability means that the meaning of your life, or anyone else’s, is a question that is possible to ask, and possible to get wrong. You can fail to become the person you’re supposed to be. Truth, in short, was and continues to be radically contested. That was always the point.

People often say Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) was prophetic in describing a world where truth wasn’t just hidden but largely irrelevant, as it feels today. But he wasn’t predicting the future as much as describing his present, too: a Reagan era dominated by the information economy of print journalism and television. This is the immediate pre-internet arrangement that the web was born into, and, predictably, replicated. Many of the old media vanguards who today complain about the post-truth internet were, rightly, Postman’s targets then.

And before Postman, other thinkers came to the same conclusions about their own eras. Historian Daniel J. Boorstin wrote about the falsity of his time in The Image (1962), targeting, among other things, radio news. Before that, theorist Siegfried Kracauer said much the same of the years between the first and second World Wars, warning about the implication of the rise of images in newspapers and magazines. Richard Hofstadter, in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963), located many of these trends in America’s early history.

As long as mass media has existed in the West, there have been complaints about social acceleration, uncertainty, and the loss of a real, knowable world. In other words, our current conversations about the loss of reality are familiar; while each writer attempts to sound innovative, the concerns are evergreen. If the term “infocalypse” is useful, it is as a synonym for modernity, where truth is always two decades ago and dying today, and a new dark age always on the horizon.
posted by homunculus at 4:12 AM on November 26 [3 favorites]


They don't want the country trusting smart people who sift through all the information and put it out there.

Thanks Justinian deeply for this powerful empowering insight. It explains a lot of what I'm seeing in social media rightnow.
posted by infini at 5:20 AM on November 26 [1 favorite]


Re: "Job-creating regulations"

I agree with the substance of your comment, saysthis, but in this particular instance, I think we need better framing, because the word "regulations" has already been tainted. Never, ever call them regulations. They are protections: from illness, traffic accidents, job injuries, unscrupulous con artists, and bad faith businesses.

Your larger point stands. We need to pay attention more closely to the emotional content of our language and leverage it every single time.
posted by Mental Wimp at 6:28 AM on November 26 [7 favorites]


Related issue: Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds -- New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason. By Elizabeth Kolbert for the New Yorker, from the February 27, 2017 Issue), wherein it is covered that research indicates that playing to emotions are a better way to gain support than stating facts.

And a further tangent: How Political Opinions Change -- A clever experiment shows it's surprisingly easy to change someone’s political views, revealing how flexible we are (Philip Pärnamets and Jay Van Bavel for Scientific American, November 20, 2018)
A powerful shaping factor about our social and political worlds is how they are structured by group belonging and identities. For instance, researchers have found that moral and emotion messages on contentious political topics, such as gun-control and climate change, spread more rapidly within rather than between ideologically like-minded networks. This echo-chamber problem seems to be made worse by the algorithms of social media companies who send us increasingly extreme content to fit our political preferences.

We are also far more motivated to reason and argue to protect our own or our group’s views. Indeed, some researchers argue that our reasoning capabilities evolved to serve that very function. A recent study illustrates this very well: participants who were assigned to follow Twitter accounts that retweeted information containing opposing political views to their own with the hope of exposing them to new political views. But the exposure backfired—increased polarization in the participants. Simply tuning Republicans into MSNBC, or Democrats into Fox News, might only amplify conflict. What can we do to make people open their minds?

The trick, as strange as it may sound, is to make people believe the opposite opinion was their own to begin with.

The experiment relies on a phenomenon known as choice blindness. Choice blindness was discovered in 2005 by a team of Swedish researchers. They presented participants with two photos of faces and asked participants to choose the photo they thought was more attractive, and then handed participants that photo. Using a clever trick inspired by stage magic, when participants received the photo it had been switched to the person not chosen by the participant—the less attractive photo. Remarkably, most participants accepted this card as their own choice and then proceeded to give arguments for why they had chosen that face in the first place. This revealed a striking mismatch between our choices and our ability to rationalize outcomes. This same finding has since been replicated in various domains including taste for jam, financial decisions, and eye-witness testimony.
Links to relevant research in the linked article, including the primary research: Strandberg, T., Sivén, D., Hall, L., Johansson, P., & Pärnamets, P. (2018). False beliefs and confabulation can lead to lasting changes in political attitudes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(9), 1382-1399.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/xge0000489
posted by filthy light thief at 2:16 PM on November 26 [5 favorites]


> Re: "Job-creating regulations"

I agree with the substance of your comment, saysthis, but in this particular instance, I think we need better framing, because the word "regulations" has already been tainted. Never, ever call them regulations. They are protections: from illness, traffic accidents, job injuries, unscrupulous con artists, and bad faith businesses.


@GeorgeLakoff: "What happens when politicians strip away crucial protections for our health and safety? They put our health and our lives in danger from completely avoidable disasters. Regulations = Protections. Protections for our families, for our children. Protections."
posted by homunculus at 8:24 PM on November 27 [4 favorites]


And Trump is doing it explicitly, deliberately. Maybe not intelligently,

A liver fluke doesn't need many neurons to ruin your life.
posted by benzenedream at 11:11 PM on November 28 [2 favorites]


> Plus, sometimes we get great framing on the Left. E.g. "Medicare for all" is brilliant framing. It's short, easily grasped, and hard to oppose. "Single-payer" or "public option", by contrast, are yawners.

We Don’t Want a Public Option — We Want Medicare for All. Medicare for All threatens top Democratic donors' interests, so Democrats offer the public option as a watered-down compromise.
posted by homunculus at 8:13 PM on November 29


Linguist George Lakoff on what Democrats don’t understand — and Republicans do — about how voters think
We are a storytelling species. What’s the story the Democrats need to tell for the next two years?

The story has two parts, and they have to do with progressive values. One of them comes from Abraham Lincoln, that in a democracy, you have a government that is of, by, and for the people.

“Of” means the ordinary folks are in charge, and “by” means that the people who are governing you have the same life experiences that you have and understand that, and “for” means that the role of the government is to take care of people.

The second thing is that the private depends on public resources, both private life and private enterprise. You can’t have a business without public resources like roads and bridges and airports and the electric grids. But private life is like that too. You need the same roads and bridges and airports and electric grid and much more. Without public resources, you can’t have private enterprise or private life.

And that's something that is rarely said. If you ask a Democrat if that’s true, they’ll all say yes and they’ll give examples. But if you ask them, “Have you ever said it?” the answer is, no.

And that’s the point. They haven’t said it.

Do they just presume people know this?

I think they presume they know it, or they don’t think about it. I think they take it so much for granted that it doesn’t have to be said. These are values that are progressive values, they’re not conservative values, and they are crucial to a democracy. End of story.

Every Democrat should deliver the same messages and repeat them over and over and over. Not only that, they should repeat them every time they have a policy, and they should point out how the policy relates to these values.

You want to say this over and over so that people understand, after a couple of years of hearing it — maybe getting tired of it. But the point is that they would understand that’s what democratic values are, and why they are so crucial.
posted by kliuless at 2:16 PM on December 1 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why, nearly 30 years after Gingrich, the Democrats haven't countered with their own phrases.

I agree, and conclude that the right-wing noise machine is mostly centralized and coordinated, funded by the same interests and paid to be on-message. The left is a volunteer army which competes for attention on so many issues. Bottom line is that people absolutely need to know they are either voting for or against their own subsidized healthcare, education, and the environment in the future, because the right-wing tells them that the free market supports all those things and many will believe it without a strong impression to the contrary. I would borrow those shock ads from the anti-smoking campaign to show what happens to people when they vote Republican: floating dead fish in an oily river, begging for pennies to see a doctor, children working in factories.
posted by Brian B. at 6:25 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


How Political Opinions Change - "A clever experiment shows it's surprisingly easy to change someone's political views, revealing how flexible we are." ('People are tribal, not ideological'. also btw: How Identity, Not Issues, Explains the Partisan Divide)
posted by kliuless at 6:00 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


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