March 26th, 2017
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
But what happens when political participants step out of bounds and violate shared norms? Is it the press’s role to defend those norms, to push back, or merely to report on what has happened?
It’s a dilemma. For one thing, no clear line separates legitimate subjects of political dispute from what is off limits or out of bounds. As circumstances change, those lines shift and warp at the margins. Collective values are always in flux. Things that were subject of dispute get put off limits (slavery, spousal rape), and things that were subject of consensus get opened back up to dispute (trans rights, marijuana legalization).
Instinctively, US journalists tend to see their role not as taking sides in those fights, but as accurately reporting on them.
They have faced the question again and again over the past few decades. From Gingrich’s rule changes in the House through Clinton’s impeachment through George W. Bush’s theft of the 2000 election through adamantine GOP intransigence under Obama to widespread state-level efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, the US political media has watched the right traduce one norm after another.
Each time, it has simply taken a step back and adjusted. A major political party will simply reject the consensus of the world’s scientists on climate change? Okay. Senate Republicans will filibuster every bill now? Okay. House Republicans will routinely threaten the solvency of the country by refusing to raise the debt limit? Okay. The Senate will refuse to vote on a Supreme Court nominee in the last year of a presidency? Okay. The party will unite behind a serial swindler and self-confessed sexual predator? Okay.
It’s been one step back after another, adjusting and readjusting to a new normal in politics.
And it’s been the same with the profusion of right-wing media. One side of America’s two-party system will build a giant parallel information apparatus operating on tribal lines, pushing one nonsense conspiracy theory after another into the political mainstream? Okay.
It’s all been, to use a term much abused and misused lately, normalized.