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Weaponizing Savvy


Good piece by Perry Bacon Jr. on how Savvy inside-baseball coverage of politics turned particularly disastrous during the rise of Trump:

“The Politico model of insider coverage and savvy style of analysis is premised on conditions in politics that became less true over time, which then undermined the model,” said New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “Conditions like two roughly similar parties obeying democratic norms, with similar establishments in both parties and competing for swing voters.”

The coverage of the 2016 campaign in particular was abysmal. The focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails stemmed from the media’s reflexive both sides-ism, and an obsession with feuds among Donald Trump’s staffers reflected an insider-focused approach to politics gone too far. More deeply, the press went out of its way to suggest that the people supporting a candidate who campaigned on banning Muslims from the country and building a wall between the United States and Mexico were expressing “economic anxiety” or a desire for an outsider politician. “[Trump’s supporters] view Trump’s pledges more as malleable symbols than concrete promises, reflecting a willingness to shake things up and to be bold,” one Post story reported in June 2016. The mind-set was encapsulated by Salena Zito’s observation that Trump’s supporters took him “seriously but not literally.” This mind-set wholly failed to anticipate Trump aggressively trying to limit immigration once he was in office, including a specific effort to block people from heavily Muslim nations from entering the United States.

As Bacon says, things were not nearly as bad in 2020, but the meltdown over Afghanistan isn’t encouraging going forward.

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