Monday, October 14, 2019

Trump as stressor -- Shep Smith edition

This is another one of those threads that goes back three of four years. The conservative movement's media strategy proved to be remarkably effective for a long time, but there waere always tensions and potential instability.

It only worked as long as things weren't pushed too far. With the mainstream press this meant keeping the spin just within the bounds of plausibility.

If you remember the elections of 2000 and 2004, you will probably recall talk of Karl Rove and his mastery of "political jujitsu." It was generally discussed as if it were some sort of mystical Jedi mind trick that allowed Rove to make strings into weaknesses and weaknesses into strengths. Mainly, it came down to the realization that most reporters would respond to obvious lies with straight faces and no follow-up questions.

In 2004, I remember Republican operatives making the argument that George W. Bush's military record compared favorably with that of John Kerry. Just to review, Kerry was a legitimate war hero in terms of courage, sacrifice, and effectiveness. On the other side of the ledger, even if we push aside all of the accusations and contested points about favoritism and completion of requirements, there is a relatively cushy stint in the National Guard.

These and other clearly untrue statements were usually allowed to stand largely because this was a symbiotic relationship. It was in both the source's and the journalist's interests to keep this relationship going and not to push the boundaries in either direction.
Another component was keeping a veneer of respectability on Fox News. This rested primarily on two journalists, Chris Wallace and Shep Smith. For decades, you could find actual news on  Fox, even though the majority of the programming consisted of spin, propaganda and often outright disinformation. These two types of shows could coexist because there was some overlap, or at least proximity, between the two narratives.

Over the past few years, the two versions have drifted so far apart that something has to break. Breakage, sharp and sudden, is what we saw last week. To get a sense of just how unexpected, check out the reactions in this clip. Cavuto and Roberts were professional enough to keep talking but they couldn't hide their shock.

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