Friday, February 17, 2017

Today by Elle Hardy

The politics of distraction
Taken for suckers, the media keeps throwing punches

Remember when we used to decry horse-race journalism?

Only a few days short of his first month in office, President Trump today held an 80-minute press conference where he offered his views a range of topics, and gave a masterclass in the politics of distraction.

The man whose only apparent hobby is watching television understands the media far better than anyone in the business, launching his standard attack on everyone in the room, even gifting them a headline that many outlets ran verbatim. “Tomorrow, they will say, ‘Donald Trump rants and raves at the press,’” the president said. “I’m not ranting and raving … I love this. I’m having a good time doing it.”

Falling straight into line, the Washington Post led its homepage with ‘In an Erratic Performance, Trump Shows His Supporters Who’s Boss’, while CNN host Jake Tapper pronounced the press conference “wild” and “unhinged”.

It is apparent that little has been learned from the last year. Mainstream media outlets have been suckered into Steve Bannon’s narrative that they are the “opposition party”, and been swept into an era of pugilistic journalism. Trying to make amends for last year’s flawed election coverage, the press gallery is playing entirely into the hands of a president who thrives on conflict – and whose policy agenda, and that of the wider GOP, relies on diversion and disunity.

In the past week, Republicans in Congress introduced a bill to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency, controversial labor secretary nominee Andy Puzder withdrew ahead of his hearing, immigrant workers held a one-day national strike, and, in a shocking case in Texas, immigration officers arrested a domestic violence victim in court as she tried to obtain a restraining order against her partner. The list goes on.

Meanwhile, influential Republican senator Rand Paul said that the Republicans shouldn’t worry about placing checks on the Trump administration when they could be focused on their own radical agenda.

Yet the media has continued punching, spending the week largely focused on unsourced allegations from an ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia, and now on his “rambling” press conference.

In the Guardian today, Katharine Murphy has picked up on a similar theme creeping into Australian politics. If people don’t stop punching, she laments, Canberra will be left to “pumped-up pugilists who thrive on adrenaline and gain their power through cycles of destruction, people who can’t function without the constant affirmation of being a public figure, and the endorphin rush of being front and centre”.

Politics by convention is over. If the media cannot tame its instincts, it will provide the perfect cover for an era of dangerous and destructive policy-making.

Today’s links

  • George Christensen has threatened resignation from the Coalition, which would cost Malcolm Turnbull his single-seat majority in the lower house. Christensen also appeared on an Australian alt-right podcast and peddled the theory that activist group GetUp! is funded by George Soros.
  • Russian security services expert Mark Galeotti says that the New York Times’ report on the Trump campaign’s contact with Russia during the election looks more like a political hit job than evidence of collusion.
  • Trump’s pick to replace ousted national security advisor Michael Flynn has turned down the job.
  • Senator Ian Macdonald unhinged in parliament, praising dictators and sulking about the withdrawal of the Life Gold Pass – while noting pollies only make around $50 an hour.
  • John Howard, whom history remembers more kindly than it should for refusing preference deals with One Nation, has declared the WA Liberals deal “sensible”.
  • Robert F Kennedy Jr and Robert De Niro have promised $100,000 to anyone who can prove vaccines are safe.

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at



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