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Hack WatchNewsletter | Revolving Door Newsletter | August 25, 2023

Lesson Number #8976829 That The Media Has Not Learned Since 2016

2024 ElectionMedia Accountability
Lesson Number #8976829 That The Media Has Not Learned Since 2016

This article first appeared in our weekly Hack Watch newsletter on media accountability. Subscribe here to get it delivered straight to your inbox every week, and check out our Hack Watch website.

Republicans Posit Dangerous Policy Proposals And The Media Still Only Cares About Performance.

In this week’s hack watch: I’ll break down the Republican Presidential debate, which I watched so you don’t have to…and honestly…you didn’t miss out. 

Ah yes, the Republican Presidential debate. A once weighty event— that allowed serious conservatives seeking to be the leader of the free world to pitch their policy platforms and lay out plans to make Americans’ lives better— has devolved into a cacophony of catchy one-liners and catty bickering best suited for the Real Housewives of New Jersey. At best, this serves as content for the 24-hour news cycle. Which is the problem with these debates. Instead of being thought provoking discussions that allow for the American people to take a serious look at the candidates, Republicans spent two hours, each making the case they are the most extreme. But, judging by the media coverage, the policy discourse barely matters at all.

What are the talking heads saying about the debate? Do they have any thoughts about Republican policy proposals? Or maybe insights into how the Republican platform could impact Americans’ everyday lives? No, no, that would be silly. Pundits and journalists would much rather talk about how candidates appeared. Rather than discussing how businessman (and apparently 9/11 truther) Vivek Ramaswamy believes America should effectively cede Ukraine, or debunking Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley’s claim that the biggest threat to women is trans women in sports, the media talked about winners and losers, playing judges in a high stakes popularity contest instead of focusing on what the presidential hopefuls might actually do if they prevail  …again. But hey, it’s not like the media has ever abetted the election of a horrific person with authoritarian tendencies by focusing on their campaign as a game show-esque spectacle, right?

Anyway, someone’s got to show them the type of coverage we really needed. Let’s walk through a few of these policy areas and then talk about the media. 

Republicans Want To Dismantle The Federal Government 

It should terrify Americans that every Republican gleefully laid out their plans to reduce the federal government to rubble. One would think people seeking the highest position in the land would believe in the power of government, but not this iteration of the Republican Party! From Ramaswamy (and others) indicating they want to abolish the Department of Education to “happy warrior” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) entertaining the idea of further kneecapping the Internal Revenue Service to hire more customs and border patrol officers to seize Fentanyl at the border (which CPB is already doing quite successfully), Republicans message to Americans is a call to “dismantle the administrative state.” 

This is not new for the GOP. Small government conservatives have claimed for decades they want to reduce the overall influence of the federal government, but it should raise concerns among all Americans that even “moderate” candidates like (former Arkansas Gov.) Asa Hutchinson are trying to woo voters by, say, bragging about cutting the number of public employees in their state. It should be clear to all Americans that these slate of Republicans have zero interest in governance and simply want to burn it all down.

Even more importantly, there was no discussion of why GOP candidates are committed to destroying the administrative state. It’s actually quite simple, the administrative state is what keeps Republican corporate donors from breaking the law and hurting ordinary workers and consumers. As we keep urging, Biden and his team are going to elevate these concerns themselves through a series of attacks on corporate crooks and their GOP enablers.

Who needs an “Economic Plan”?

Instead of presenting even a semblance of a serious thought about how  to revitalize the US economy and the many people who are struggling, Republican presidential candidates chose to lie. From Hutchinson to Haley, Republicans simply panned “Bidenomics” with what CNN’s Daniel Dale called a “smattering of false and misleading claims.” For example, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum claimed President Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act  (IRA) was “subsidizing China.” Burgum’s claim originates from a Goldman Sachs analysis of the bill that explains that the price tag of the IRA could be as high as $1.2 trillion – over the course of 10 years. Burgum neglected to mention that the same report indicates the U.S. power demand will increase 2.5 times by 2050 and will require an investment of $6.6 trillion. Yes, the good governor’s own evidence works against his claims. What’s worse is that the other part of his claim is flat out wrong. The investment in the climate infrastructure will bring jobs from China to help build the clean energy economy. Sen. Scott was even worse, outright claiming that unemployment was at a record low by the end of the Trump Administration, when it had really spiked to 14.7 percent as a result of the pandemic. In reality, it’s the Biden administration that has seen record low unemployment rates.

In 2023, Republicans Still Cannot Utter The Words “Climate Change Is Real”

And in the year of our lord 2023, Republican candidates for President could not even give a full throated acknowledgement on the reality of the climate crisis. When Fox News Channel’s Chief Political Anchor (and apparent MAGA coddler) Bret Baier asked the candidates to simply raise their hand(s) if they believed in climate change (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis, whose state is currently facing several climaterelated disasters, angrily interrupted the moderator claiming “they are not school children.” Joining in on the denial of the general consensus around climate change, was Ramaswamy who outright called it a hoax. In fact the only presidential candidate who acknowledged the realities of the climate crisis was Nikki Haley… who chose to blame other countries. (Weren’t Republicans supposed to be the party that believed in American leadership?)

And The Media Still Has Not Learned Its Lesson From 2016 

There is a reason why trust in the political media is at an all time low. Rather than extrapolate on the sparse (and incredibly dangerous) policy proposals set forth by Republicans, the media discussed…who won. In addition to the fact that both of Fox’s anchors refused to fact check any of the candidates, journalists took pen to paper to publish pieces about the biggest “winners and losers.” I get it, I get it alot of political journalism nowadays is about the horse race…but that is precisely how we ended up with Donald Trump as President. Reporters and analysts alike turn the election of our Commander-in-chief into a spectacle for the masses. 

Americans should not care that “Mike Pence tangled with Ramaswamy” as POLITICO put it. Americans need to know what these debates are about. These pieces should expound on what the ending of the Department of Education means. They could analyze the truly harmful effects of leaving Ukraine on its own.

Consider this analysis from Yahoo Chief National Correspondent Jon Ward claiming that Ramaswamy had a “good debate.” The premise of the piece is Ramaswamy has “survived” the debate despite his unforced errors over the last few weeks (contradicting himself on January 6th, spreading conspiracy theories about 9/11, etc). Nowhere in this piece does Ward really take the former biotech executive to task on the pseudo-populist, red-meat policy stances he’s taken. 

And Ward isn’t alone. From Obama White House official turned CNN Political Commentator David Axelrod gushing over Nikki Haley to multiple New York Times opinion writers talking about who performed best. The New York Times’s David Brooks going so far to declare that Haley was the true alternative to Trump. Even Newsweek’s Andrew Stanton could not help but declare. Haley the winner for her ability…to get Kellyanne Conway’s daughter to give her incredibly tepid praise.

There were no winners in this debate. The big loser, however, was the American people. What again, could and should have been a forum for an open exchange of conservative ideas is best summed up, as my boyfriend noted, as a “shit show.” 

Image Credit: “Republican Elephant” by DonkeyHotey is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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