Reporters Can’t See the Big Fat Orange Forest

My most harsh criticism of modern journalism is that coverage almost always misses the larger forest by focusing so intensely on each of the trees.

It’s called turn-of-the-screw journalism. It goes like this. This happened and then this happened and he said this and she said and this happened. When you consume that news you learn about various bits of news.

I was listening to On Point today. They were discussing the Iran nuclear, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem and possible sanctions against European allies over the Iran deal.

It was the host and a couple of journalists. One was from the conservative Weekly Standard and the other I think was from the New Yorker. So they had balance on the show, right? The supposedly “liberal” New Yorker reporter and the conservative from the Weekly Standard.

If I may digress, right there is a flawed setup. The so-called “liberal” journalist on the panel is actually just someone working as a journalist. So she was just approaching these individual stories with measured, unbiased analysis. The guy from the Weekly Standard clearly presented himself in defense of Trump and the conservative agenda.

However, my problem with the entire On Point segment was that it merely ticked off various stories of the day involving Trump. The discussion largely centered around whether Trump won domestically on the issue or not.

When the panel discussed moving the embassy to Jerusalem, they all agreed that this was Trump succeeding. Both journalists seemed to agree that Trump was able to do something that no other president has been able to do. Trump campaigned on it, and so moving the embassy was a winner for him.

It didn’t matter that dozens of people were killed and thousands wounded. Trump was following through on a campaign promise. There was no discussion as to why previous presidents chose to not move the embassy. Presumably, those presidents had reasons for not moving the embassy, it wasn’t merely that they had failed.

On the Iran deal, the panel seemed to suggest that Trump was the winner here as well because he had promised to blow up the Iran deal. I think it was the guy from the Weekly Standard who casually said that Iran’s nuclear program will continue, but it didn’t seem to matter about pulling out of the deal. While the reporter from the New Yorker acknowledged that now the likelihood of violence between Israel and Iran has increased, it’s basically all jacked up over there anyways.

The panel all agreed that Trump’s threats about sanctioning our European allies who have not bailed on the Iran deal was just Trump bluster. In the end, the panel agreed that Trump would not really sanction European allies. Why they thought that about Trump wasn’t really explained other than they thought sanctions would be totally outside of norms. Yet, they just spent the previous 10 minutes talking about how Trump doesn’t follow norms, but I digress again.

These discussions never widen the lens. It’s all very micro journalism and it plays perfectly into Trump’s hyper-transactional style. All he cares about is winning on this or that issue on that given day. And so this sort of reporting about Trump makes him appear much more successful than he perhaps actually is as president.

If we pull back the lens a bit and look at all of these stories, we can examine them through the lens of Russia and Vladimir Putin. By doing so, a different picture emerges.

For example, which of our allies wanted us to pull out of the international agreement with Iran? None of them did, but Putin did.

Who thinks imposing sanctions on our European allies after WE bailed on the Iran deal is a good idea? Putin thinks it’s a great idea.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem was just something Trump had the power to do, so he just did it. He didn’t care about the ramifications of that decision beyond his joy of hearing a liberal reporter slap him on the back on NPR.

But looking through the wide angle journalism lens, you can see that each of the policies has achieved one common goal. That goal is to isolate the United States from our allies in Europe and weaken the US internationally. Because to Putin, that US/Europe alliance is far more powerful than Russia could ever imagine. But a fractured Europe and an isolated US? That’s a world where Russia can compete.

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