The Fix

Inside Washington 2014: Day 6

Jay Rosen, new media critic and NYU journalism professor, said this on Facebook:

It’s unclear to me what the Washington Post thinks they get from Chris Cillizza, their “politics is just a game” blogger at a site called The Fix (the title tells you it’s for junkies.) Perhaps the Post editors just look at the traffic numbers and that is that. They really should read the guy’s blog some time.

Last week he published “Can we please stop blaming the media for Donald Trump?” It attempts to argue that there is nothing to the claim that outsized media attention is feeding Trump’s rise to the top of the Republican primary polls. The man he chooses to argue with is Michael Freeman, a communications consultant in DC who had said on Twitter: “Media, particularly cable news, has made a conscious decision to give Trump disproportionate coverage.”

Cillizza said he had two words for that “theory,” using the term very loosely. His two words: “absolutely ridiculous.” Why is this claim so ridiculous? This is The Fix’s reasoning:

“To believe that Donald Trump is a media creation born of a desire for ratings, you have to believe one other thing: that conservatives, who comprise much of Trump’s support base at the moment, take their marching orders from the media. Which, of course, they don’t.”…/can-we-please-stop-blaming…/

To Cillizza what he wrote in that paragraph is a devastating take down of the hapless tweeter, Michael Freeman. But it took me six seconds to come with an equally devastating take down of Cillizza. Ready for it? Here goes:

“No, Chris. You only have to believe that conservatives love watching Trump make it onto the media stage. They know most journalists think he’s a clown and an ass and can’t win, which only makes conservatives root for him more when he shows up on TV. And the fact that’s he’s on all the time is proof that he can win. See? No ‘marching orders’ necessary. They can love Trump, despise the media and get infuenced by the coverage at the same time.”

Can Cillizza ever recover? My point is not that this reply is so devastating, although I think it’s somewhat apt. My point is that this kind of reasoning is extremely superificial, almost baby-ish. It would take seconds for intelligent Post readers to come up with an argument as plausible as Cillizza’s. Because it’s not a serious argument. And it’s not made by a serious person.

However, the question of media coverage and its influence on primary poll results is an important one. There is a lot of empirical work behind it. Which is why the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post — which is authored by political scientists commenting on politics — has run two posts on the issue. Here are the titles:

Why is Trump surging? Blame the media (July 20)…/why-is-trump-surging-blame…/ )

Why does Trump remain atop the polls? You can still blame the media (Aug. 28)…/why-does-trump-remain-atop…/

Both were written by John Sides, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University who specializes in public opinion, voting, and elections.

Now to the obvious questions for Post editors. Why is Chris Cillizza refuting as “absolutely ridiculous” the tweeting of a Post reader, Michael Freeman, when he could instead try to refute the thinking of a Post writer, John Sides, who has data, a PhD, a lot of findings from political science and a nuanced argument to discuss? How can he call it “one of the most persistent — and persistently wrong — storylines” of the campaign and never even mention the Post’s rather loud treatment of that very storyline?

I will answer for you. He is not a serious person. The Post editors should read him more carefully. One more thing, in the disclosure catgeory. As close followers of my feeds know, Cillizza has blocked me on Twitter because I’m too negative, a “rock thrower,” not a legitimate critic. Make of that what you will. Meanwhile, do read his “Can we please stop blaming the media for Donald Trump?” and I believe you will find the reason he did not try to argue with political science professor John Sides.