The Times of India is one of the leading papers of India by circulation, and is one of the top amongst the English language dailies. It is also a paper which is widely criticized for being a little too feisty with its content, for instance, focusing on fluff like cut of actress’s clothes rather than on serious news in a bid to garner readership. The current online edition of this paper is covering Vijay Mallya’s court loss at its headline news. The other key news being covered at the top include the threat perception from Chinese missiles and money laundering cases against Nawaz Sharif. So, the paper which is much maligned in India as being not serious enough is covering economics, defense and Geo-politics as its most important contributions. The most read papers in India though are the Hindi dallies, Dainik Jagaran and Dainik Bhaskar. They cover Mallya and in addition focus on the egg on Sibal’s face as SC raps him on CJI impeachment case. They also cover the building dust storm in National Capital Region. If the media headline choice can be taken as reflection of the most important and pressing issues, even the much mocked Indian media cannot be faulted for taking a broad view of all important topics for India as a nation and giving each of them due attention.
If this is the case with Indian media, surely the much stronger, richer and more powerful media of the world’s oldest and mature democracy should be expected to do better? The most viewed and respected channels of USA, such as the CNN, New York Times and Washington Post can be expected to focus on weighty, sensible and serious matters of national and international concern? So what was the most important topic for US media over last week and now? Is it economy? Is it jobs? Is it geo-politics?
In this time there have been some very interesting developments within US, such as the US economy is now officially in the period of longest revival since the great depression, with the GDP growth bouncing back dramatically after Trump assumed office in January 2017. The falling growth trend of the later Obama years, where the GDP growth fell precipitously down by 1.2%, had been pulled up to 3.1% by end the of 2017. It had a better than expected first quarter of 2018 of 2.3% compared to the expectation of 2.0% growth. The job market in US is at a nearly 20 year low and it has been predicted to keep falling as manufacturing jobs finally register a minor uptick after decades of falling numbers. There is a growth in real salaries with new hires expected to get 5% more than previous year. The overall pay has increased by 2.9%, as effects of Trump’s tax cuts fully come into play. The compensation payouts are only expected to get better. One can be forgiven for thinking that this would perhaps be the top of mind subject for highest attention by media, especially given how critical this issue is for the overall wellbeing of the American people, who were badly affected from the jobless recovery, post the 2008 depression. This was also the critical point in influencing the overall vote in their last presidential elections with Trump focusing on jobs and economic recovery, giving him voters’ preference over an ideological position by Clinton.
Apparently when one turns to American media to look at their focus on this critical point and other key issues, it turns out that this is not perhaps the most pressing matter on their hands. As an exhibit consider the following images from US web page editions CNN and NY Times on Monday. The CNN has a page full of diatribe railing against Trump, there is at the very end of the page, tucked away news on US economic recovery, which is almost incidentally inserted. There is another venomous opinion piece on how confidence in stock market is crumbling, no doubt due to the fact that the Dow Jones has seen the best performance ever in its history and index’s such as standard and poor are reaching new highs.
Clearly then, the most important topic for their media is Trump, of course Trump and Stormy Daniels, and Stoney Daniels and Trump, and Trump and Comey, and Mullens and Trump and so on.But then for the US media the most important issue of course is not whether Americans jobs are coming back, but whether Trump had a sexual liaison with a porn star 20 years ago and paid her some money to not keep their amorous trysts private during campaign.
This apathy in media is not merely limited to economic affairs though. In this time there have been “some” other developments in the international arena as well. The long simmering Korean crises recently had an unexpected positive development of North Korean president opening up to his South Korean counterpart and putting on tables offer for talks on possible nuclear disarmament of Korean peninsula. This was accompanied with North Korea working towards releasing American detainees in their prison as a confidence building measure. This has been an extremely significant progress in one of the knottiest Geo-political conundrums of the world. It would also be unfair to say that this has not been so recognized by the world at large. The Australian PM has waxed eloquent on just how far-reaching this has been already, and has come out in fulsome praise of Trump’s role towards the same. The South Korean PM, who cannot remotely be thought of as being influenced by US partisan politics, considers the role of Trump to be enough of key to suggest that Trump deserve a Nobel peace prize for his efforts. God knows, Obama got one just for being voted into power and this has been a real tangible advancement to world peace. Internationally while there is wide agreement that it was the sustained pressure on North Korea through sanctions and willingness to use military options, as well as consistent pushing of China by the Americans which led to the ice melt. The focus within US has been towards negating any involvement of Trump in the matter, or claiming that there is only a show of progress and no real change and some time swinging between both. While this news bumps up a bit, if it’s being used to say that Trump has been incidental in the picture, most of the geo-political discussions on the topic stay firmly in the back pages. Even as we discuss it, the North Korean rapprochement is a developing story of significant human interest and political import, yet a hot current affairs matter is relegated to back pages as the US media continue to focus on stories which could reflect negatively on Trump.
We see a very similar trend in the other big news on the world stage which is coming to the fore despite the best efforts of US media to stay focused on Stormy Daniels. As the developments in West Asia and specifically on Iran filter out, there is news on how Trump is going to devastate US and world by walking out on the Iran deal and how a completely foregone conclusion that is. Even before there have been formal announcements from the White House on the exact shape and form of what the new Government would like to do on Iran, the verdict by the media Jury is out, “It’s a disaster!!!”, and this has been a verdict which has been making its way out for last few weeks, railing against any attempts to change to West Asian equations without even a simple consideration of other data points emerging from that region. For example, the Saudi Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s recent statement on Israel having a right to its own land have been a dramatic departure from the past, yet that statement coming on the back of a sustained campaign by Trump for a change in alignments in Levant and Maghreb has hardly been discussed. While the leftist media fights hard to pre-decide doom for the world, it has not even taken into account that what Trump is pushing for and achieving is actually a greater role for Israel and creating additional space for its security and stability through playing the Shia/Sunni rivalry to his advantage. It is no one’s case that in aiming for re-adjustment of the world order by playing with and harnessing deep rooted historical faultiness is not a high risk play. Yet it is also true that all major geo-political moves have been such, including building up of the Sunni Wahabi Islam by Obama’s left. What is needed here is not a knee jerk prejudiced prescript response but a rational analysis of the different sides of taking such a gamble and gaming possible outcomes. This is where the media has been found severely lacking, preferring a mindless stampede over critical analysis.
While we have discussed three specific examples and factoids around media’s approach to Trump, these are by no means the only instances of their behavior. The list of critical issues being ignored while focusing on Trump is a common theme which can be easily seen by those interested in looking at unfolding events in an unbiased manner. To say that Trump came to power in the teeth of media’s hostility is truism which even his worst critic can hardly disagree. This deeply entrenched left establishment in media and universities will continue its ideology based opposition rather than looking at factual information with an open minded approach is also not particularly a revelation. To be sure, Trump has on his part gone specifically after policies and processes the left holds dear. The Iran nuclear deal had been a key piece of the Obama legacy in West Asia along with the support to ISIS and building up of other fundamentalist Islamic organizations in the region and Trump is taking on both IS and Iran, while re-establishing Israel’s predominance in US foreign policy. Similarly he has gone after Obamacare, Climate pacts and outsourcing based crony capitalism in US. It is thus not unexpected that there will be a push-back.
Yet, the level of hate and vitriol directed at Trump has by now far surpassed merely ideological push back.
The glands from which the venom is being spit are deeply personal. It is not merely the issues that Trump stands for but him as a person who is deeply hated. We can say so because the attacks on Trump completely lack a counter based on ideas and providing of a competing philosophical approach, factoids, data points and analysis. As mentioned before, it is not the pros and cons of different approaches being intellectually discussed and Trump’s being shown wanting., but plaintive cry that democracy has failed because it has chosen Trump. What is on display is a fevered attempt to somehow turn the clock back delegitimize Trump’s election. The repulsion that Trump has generated is so strong in the quarter that it is extended to all institutions, people and policies of US which do not believe Trump is a devil as an article of faith. It is not politics that we are witness to, it is birth of a religion, reminiscent of early Christian martyrs and Muslim zealots raging against the heathens and Kafirs and asking for their death, or the murderous rage of Bolsheviks rampaging against the Bourgeois carrying out massacres as the red wave swept across. What we are seeing is a deep schism and binary in US body politic as reflected by its media. Yet another dimension to this split comes from the approval ratings; while Barak Obama’s approval ratings had plummeted over the course of his tenure as his presidency played out, Trump’s approvals and disapprovals have held largely constant over the year. In this trend, Obama has been more like other US presidents whose actions changed their nations opinion of them, disapproval of Trump has been a given constant since the day he was elected. This is even more of a stark constant than the mild fluctuations in his approval. Clearly a large set of people have made up their minds about him, much before he could actually take any decisions, and nothing he can do is going to change their minds. This passionately and deeply held value system will only be satisfied if magically there can be some mechanism of calling the 2016 elections null and void. They would much like the Trump years and the deplorables voting for him to just go away and die out leaving no trace of the event ever happened. Failing this, they would like to tarnish the process of election and democratic victory as a breakdown of proper systems which ensure that only the right people can make their way to the right offices. It is this binary schism that US held in the world at large, now playing out internally.
This is now a fight for the finish, a set of events which will completely change the US as we know it, while we wait and watch for the events to unfold.