Beyond “Is It News”

As much as we might wish for a more positive and uplifting media, the job of journalism–the legitimate kind–is to report what is newsworthy, and to do so accurately.

No thumb on the news scale, so to speak.

A great deal of the criticism of the press revolves around that gatekeeper function: why didn’t the media report on such-and-such? Why did the news media give so much attention to thus-and-so? Why did reporters fall into a “both sides do it” false equivalency?

A recent report, highlighted by Daily Kos, raised a related, but somewhat different issue.

Around the same time that Rep. King was practicing his neo-KKK oratory skills, newly elected Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan made a statement that referred to Donald Trump as a “motherfucker.” The statement was relevant, as she and other Democrats were elected to attack the blatant corruption in the current government—including with the possible impeachment of President Trump.

A lot of hand-wringing ensued on both sides about both statements. The fact that traditional media outlets covered both King’s racism and Tlaib’s use of the word “motherfucker” is not a surprise, nor is it wrong. Both stories, after all, are newsworthy. But it turns out that both stories weren’t covered at the same rate. In fact, Media Matters reports that Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s curse word received about five times more news coverage than Rep. Steve King’s white supremacist lament.

According to the media watchdog, CNN spent 14 minutes and 42 seconds covering King’s remarks, and dedicated over an hour’s worth of discussion to Rep. Tlaib’s expletive. According to the study, MSNBC spent around over twice as much time debating whether or not Trump is an impeachable motherfucker when compared to discussion about how much of a goddamn nightmare the racist King is. Finally, Fox News predictably dedicated nearly an hour to fearmongering about Tlaib’s plot to steal Jesus out of American homes, while spending not even a full minute on King’s most recent bigotry.

The article on Daily Kos attributed the disparity in part to media’s conservative bias and in part to Americans’ ingrained sexism: we are more likely to expect–and ignore– foul language from men than from women, so Tlaib’s comment was considered shocking.

To be fair, it might also be that Tlaib is new, while King’s racism has been on prominent display for years. It’s old hat, day-before-yesterday’s news.

But I have another theory, one that doesn’t depend upon newness or media bias or the male/female angle.

When a progressive political figure says something incendiary, or makes a gaffe, Right-wingers can be counted on to make a big deal out of it, no matter how trivial or  meaningless it is in the scheme of things.

The problem is, you can usually count on some part of the Left to be equally critical. Democrats routinely eat their own.

Rightwing commentators, on and off Fox, will jump to the defense of Republicans who make outrageous comments or engage in inappropriate activities, if they cover the matter at all. Did Trump boast about grabbing lady parts? Just locker room talk.  Nothing to see here. Did you hear about that celebrity who…

For some reason, Democrats and Leftwing commentators tend to repeatedly revisit the progressive’s gaffe;  explaining why it was wrong or counterproductive, analyzing the context within which the offending remark was made or “interpreting” it to mean something else. Even when they’re playing defense, they’re like a dog with a bone.

The result is that people keep talking about what the Democrat said or did, and after the initial report, no one is talking about the alt-right asshole.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Democrats and left-leaning media should ignore or minimize misbehavior from their ranks just because Republicans do–but it would be nice if the party would set the bar for triggering outraged disapproval a bit higher, or at least reduce the length of the imposed purgatory.

It may be news, but it doesn’t have to be forever.


  1. And another thing….
    Democrats have an awful habit of saying WE when they are talking about some stupid thing that the REPUBLICANS in government just did.
    Way beyond dumb – and they do it all the time.

  2. I wouldn’t over analyze this one…this is what sells to Americans:

    Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib (non-male, non-white, non-christian) calls a white Christian male a motherfucker.

    Remember who watches television news. I also believe Rashida is the rep who was sworn in with the Koran which sent conservatives ballistic.

    An old white guy uttering racial remarks is so ordinary it’s boring. If people didn’t know Steve King was a racist by now…

    One last note, Rashida was correct in calling Trump a motherfucker. She could have used even more pejoratives to describe our POTUS. It’s not every day that our media gets to bring on mouthpieces to discuss whether or not our POTUS is a motherfucker.

    If it’s as fun to say on the TV as it is to type, maybe that’s the reason “MF” got more media play. 😉

  3. Could part of the time devoted to Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s statement be because she is new on the Democratic political scene or because she is a “she”? The “F-bomb” is being used more and more in conjunction with this Trump fucked up administration and Congressional control of our lives; currently with no apparent way out with McConnell in charge. Trump’s public cursing is accepted as stating facts; including his “locker room” speech giving Billy Bush social advice. The media needs to keep his “deconstruction” of our democracy and our government before the public because he is turning the United States of America into one of those “shit hole” countries he denied help to after a hurricane.

    “The result is that people keep talking about what the Democrat said or did, and after the initial report, no one is talking about the alt-right asshole.”

    Sheila’s comment above is on target; I would like to speak to an issue someone on this blog stated not long ago regarding the repeated “Breaking News” items on cable news systems. I can’t remember who it was complaining but…they are not the only people watching those news broadcasts. Others are at work or shopping, in the shower or fixing dinner or live in other time zones and didn’t see the original broadcasts. These repeated “Breaking News” items on MSNBC and CNN are done to reach as many people as possible with what it going on in this current administration, all thanks to that Motherfucker Donald Trump and his evil twin Mitch McConnell.

  4. And the press is silent as Mitch McConnell appeals to Democrats to “put country ahead of politics”.

  5. Another explanation that I choose to accept is that Democrats and liberals/progressives are educated, well-informed, judicious and modulated. Republicans and conservatives are uncouth, uninformed, outrageous and not well-educated. Therefore, it is news when a Democrat/liberal makes a gaffe, but when a Republican/conservative makes a gaffe, it’s just an everyday, unnewsworth, expected event. ?

  6. I just wish humans would take the time to analyze just why “motherfucker” has come into their vocabulary.

  7. What I find even more disturbing is the media’s desire to find some sort of “balance” in everything. Look at the calls from the likes of the New York Times for Dems to accept 45’s “compromise” on his border wall. His new “offer” was they would give him $5.7 billion for the wall, in return for which he would take back two of his own policies that the courts have already prevented him from moving forward, AND he would eliminate the right of young people from Central America to request asylum. Who wouldn’t want that deal, right?

    Is there anybody out there that doesn’t agree with Pelosi that this is a non-starter? Why doesn’t the Times call for 45 to grow a pair and ignore Faux News and Rush? Why don’t they lay out in small words why it is NOT feasible to build a wall, so that even 45 and his supporters can understand?

  8. Peggy,

    “Why don’t they lay out in small words why it is NOT feasible to build a wall, so that even 45 and his supporters can understand?”

    I’m surprised you would ask such a question with a fascist president sitting in the White House.

  9. While the plutocrat owned media machines tell their employees what can and what cannot be reported on, the Right continues to dismantle regulations that were enacted to make our lives safer or to control or stop illegal corporate activities, or outright corporate theft.

    It is working well for the plutocrats. The masses seem to be fine with being told what to pay attention to and what they should believe.

  10. It isn’t just the big news stories that are so often distorted by the media; it is the small nuances and slants that local TV news outlets engage in on a daily basis. Case in point, last night the local CBS news report “covered” the recent event in Washington DC where some Catholic high school boys were shown taunting an American Indian. The local news reporter explained that the boys were there in DC on a “school outing”. School outing??? They had been bused there to take part in the Right to Life political rally, not there to visit the monuments.
    It is this small coloring of the news that feeds the distorted self view that too many Americans cannot give up. It is what stirs and inflames alt-right supporters who cannot deal with the social changes that have already taken place in the world.

  11. Motherfucker used to be two separate words. But in the inner cities of America, most black families were absent a father. The mother, therefore, was the tacit head of household, disciplinarian, wage earner, hearth warmer. So, when the black males got into an argument, and the name calling got going, calling someone a mother fucker was among the worst epithets used. Why? Well, it meant that the person being labeled was utterly evil and disrespectful to the maximum about who was in charge of their only source of love and caring. It was used so often, that it evolved into one word.

    BTW, the real question is: Why is that motherfucker the president?

  12. An excerpt from “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin:

    “For hard example, white Americans congratulated themselves on the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing segregation in the schools; they suppose, in spite of the mountain of evidence that has since accumulated to the contrary, that this was proof of a change in heart—or, as they like to say, progress. Perhaps, it all depends on how one reads the word “progress.” Most of the Negroes I know do not believe that this immense concession would ever had been made if it had not been for the Cold War, and the fact that Africa was clearly liberating itself and therefore had, for political reasons, to be wooed by the descendants of her former masters. If it has been a matter of love or justice, the 1954 decision would surely have occurred sooner; were it not for the realities of power in this difficult era, it might well not have occurred yet.”

    Let’s try reality for once. We need to start over, if we’re to escape from this horrible mess we’re in.

  13. Vernon, I would expand your question to ask, Why is that motherfucker STILL the president? Any one of his multiple illegal, treasonous actions would have long since brought down a Democrat elected to that position. And that takes us back to the point Sheila is making today…

  14. WADR – the underlying issue here is the degradation of our culture via making “swear words” that used to be suitable only for unrestrained anger into everyday cool.

    And, some would say, that F word used to imply harsh sexist “wham bam, thank you m’am” language for intercourse. Now even women reinforce that…

  15. To your point, Kirsten Gillibrand followed that playbook in demanding Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate without even a hearing. In the process, she eliminated a likely strong primary opponent in the 2020 presidential race. IMHO her behavior shows Democrats can fight dirty, just as the GOP does. They just tend to do it within the party rather than fighting the GOP.

  16. As a sailor during WW II I heard every dirty/cuss word under the sun on a daily basis, but they didn’t stick. You will never read a dirty or cuss word in what I write, even though I may agree with the underlying sentiment sought to be expressed by those who opt to use such language, especially as applied to Trump, who represents the very bottom of a sleaze pile in thought, word and deed.

    I’m no saint, but I think as a practical matter (and at the cost of being seen as anti-First Amendment) that the use of such language detracts from resolution of the issues left unaddressed and that our time and energy should be focussed on government by reasoning together rather than government derailed by insult and put down.

    I finally think George Lakoff would agree that name calling and repetition of Republican stands on the issues provides free framing for the opposition as they play the oppressed game, and that an obsessed for circulation media will, as we have seen in Sheila’s example, yet further give free framing for Republicans at our PR expense. Not smart. Let’s not give them more ammunition than they already have with their framing financed by the rich – who (see lower taxes and deregulation) have their own fish to fry.

  17. We Democrats need to avoid vulgarity at some point. It sounds like Pub rhetoric. Pubs need to avoid racism, misogynism and the like. Democrat vulgarity does aim at tyrants while Pub vulgarity is directed at people in the margins. If I have to take other, I’ll take the Democrat/progresssive approach.

  18. Gerald,

    I agree with you about the name calling, but your vision of America is no longer there. The context has changed. There is been a fundamental change, the TRANSFORMATION has been going on for 50 years and now we’re facing a TRANSITION to FASCISM.

    We’ve must stop riding a “DEAD HORSE” and face-up to the dangerous situation we are all in.

  19. and theres the CBS VP who said in a interview (after dump was elected),we just ran with all the trump campagin crap,because we sold untold commercial time,more than anyother canidate ever. so we also have medias blaintant disregard for the subject,and what they are promoting for THIER own good. who cares about right or wrong,just hire a PR firm when its done,send out some buzzwords,and the ignorant is happy.. just another day in corprate media,do us all a favor, turn it off, take names of who pays the ad rime,send them a no thanks your supporting message about thier support of cutting up democracy for thier needs too. i read from many,im talking alot,of news journals,many like DW,BBC,AlJ, and some smaller thing about them,out side the north american continent match the stories up,as written,and you can see how the world doesnt look at us as any type of stable democracy,and accepts right wing idealism,because thats what thier getting to. the money is winning,like 1933. instead of a dictator,we have banks,wall street,and the rich,all conspiring to control the money..after that,they have total control of the people.. look at how our society is now built. no warehousing,too busy to care,pay the charade on the screens,and ignorance in blossom..its all in front of you,and we just sit and stare. (i can them speed bumps) when a politician wakes up the media,its just anorther show,for money..covington KY..
    now the kid is telling media (was his pr firm hired by his parents-or,?)he had the right to stand there,and media is making money off sandman,maybe if sandman had decent educators,(maybe a reality check,a public education in low wage neighborhood,god forbid)parents,and associates,maybe he would be part of a solution,instead,hes just another part of the problem. walk into a country bar in kentuck,and get your fill of the parents who teach them such shit.even in catholic school. if they werent sent to DC for a march for life rally,maybe they could be taught to respect others needs in life,besides learning how to give the finger at anyone they deem out of it,in thier little minds.

  20. Our culture is changing and so is our language as part of it. I personally don’t worry about it too much. My focus is on the fact that here, politically, majority rules so where is that majority culture? What politics will that majority culture vote for? On the short term what I hope we are all figuring out is which of the numerous qualified Democratic candidates declared or undeclared is most electable? We need a Putin proof candidate. We need a Trumpence proof candidate. We need a Republican political assassination proof candidate. We need an inclusive candidate.

  21. Marv – Of course the context has changed and we are indeed faced with fascism, but what I am writing about is procedural, not substance, and even if we have a Hitler in the Oval Office we may well detract from our anti-message with dirty words. Not smart. Let’s use our time, energy and effort to attack the Hitlers among us, not aid them with framing the way we do it.

  22. The media could choose to stop commenting on every Trump tweet and limit his coverage to stories and issues that pass a “significance test”. Most of the the reports contain his meaningless and ignorant blather and can be safely ignored. But those advertising revenues are so sweet.

  23. Gerald,

    I agree. But you have to hit harder than what George Lakoff would do. We can’t afford at this point in time to “pull any punches.” The democratic spirit has been UNDERMINED by a “Black Swan.” It has to exposed as the “body politic” is in the process of bleeding to an early death.

  24. Gerald,

    “even if we have a Hitler in the Oval Office we may well detract from our anti-message with dirty words.”

    Calling Trump a FASCIST is not a dirty word in my book. From my perspective, it is just the RIGHT WORD to put Trump “on the spot.” Let’s hear what he has to say. Do you agree?

  25. Well the TV -Cable – McMega-Media, CNN, MSDNC and FOX, all got want they wanted out of the Steve King, Tlaib flap – Ratings, which of course equals Profits, and it is Profit over All here in America. We had hours and hours of the Usual Suspects and their revolving chairs of experts locked into analysis paralysis of what was said, what it means and blah, blah. Stay tuned for more Breaking News, after another commercial break. The commercial break seems to always have a Big Pharma spiel.

    A Media watch dog now counted up the minutes and seconds of King vs Tlaib, reporting. Hah, counting grains of sand in the empty desert of Corporate Media.

    A not so brilliant job of diversion. However, as HL Mencken wrote, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public”. Now, how, when and where MF can be used is hotly debated.

    Let’s keep the Disco Ball of King vs Tlaib, lit up. The Cable News -McMega-Media will not ask why after 18 plus years we have still have troops in Afghanistan, Why has our missions failed in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria?? Why do we have the most costly health care system among major industrial countries, and millions have no health care coverage.

  26. Here is a quick list of TODAY’S big BREAKING NEWS stories that cable news outlets largely ignore in favor of REPEATING REPEATING REPEATING REPEATING OLD NEWS ABOUT SOME DUMB-ASS DUMB-ASS DUMB-ASS DUMB-ASS DUMB-ASS IN THE WHITE HOUSE. I would love to watch news programs that ACTUALLY bring us BREAKING NEWS.

    Thousands in Venezuela Join Protests Against Maduro

    Momentum builds behind bid to stop no deal Brexit

    Russian Missile defense challenges U.S. power

    China-Canada feud escalates

    EU crackdown on golden passports for wealthy

    US marine held by Russia on spy charges; lawyer says he was duped

    New friction in US-China trade talks

    Intelligence Agencies warn weakening world order threatens stability, peace

    Gene-edited babies in China

    Mexico pipeline explosion – what it means for US pipelines

    European Army set to defend against US invasion

  27. I, for one, offer no apologies for my name calling. It helped relieve some of the 3 years of unending stress and fear and I have been cramming the language into my head in an attempt to “be a lady”. It felt good to spew foul language and talk dirty in a public forum; you continue referring to him as the president if that is your choice. My name calling was not aimed at anyone on this blog; I respect all of you, even when we disagree. But I calls ’em like I sees ’em!

    And I, too , loved Vernon’s last line!

  28. I’ve enjoyed mentioning Leviticus 19:13 re not letting hired hands go unpaid at night to my psuedoChristian pro life only until birth friends. It’s interesting that this hasn’t been repeatedly mentioned by either press. Not salacious enough, I guess. Our brains do seek the outlandish, as the menace Facebook has proven, whichever political views one holds.

  29. It seems that the more knowledge researchers develop about what ignorances make Americans tick the less chance democracy has of succeeding. Does that mean that our Founding Fathers were more BONKERS, INEPT, STONED, EVIL, PRANKSTERS than they were visionaries? What chance does democracy have against this invasion and worship of ignorance?

  30. Marv – I do agree; that’s our anti-message. The question is procedural, i.e., how do we deliver it?

  31. Peggy@8:09am
    Couldn’t agree more about “balance,” “fairness to both sides,” and “false equivalencies.”

    Not sure why I keep watching any “news” on TV.

    Found myself cursing at the local TV news anchors last night when they were presenting Trump’s offers for a “compromise” to end the shut down as if it actually amounted to something other than a publicity stunt. Like; it’s perfectly normal to shut partially shut down the U.S. government and not pay workers because Trump wants a symbol to flaunt to his base.

    There was never and is not an actual plan in place to build Trump’s” wall,” even if he somehow (God, if there is one, forbid —please don’t let the Demos cave) gets his $6 Billion. They didn’t even spend all the money that was in last year’s Spending Bill that was allocated to building “the wall.” Of course, one could go on and on about how it would be a useless waste of money to build “the wall” completely across the boarder anyway.

    They simply refuse to call “Bullshit” on him. OK, they don’t have to actually use the word “Bullshit.” Rant over. Not sure I feel any better though.

  32. Gerald,

    “Marv – I do agree; that’s our anti-message. The question is procedural, i.e., how do we deliver it?”

    You must have at least a twosome, one attorney understanding the political aspects, the second understanding the procedural. I doubt if any one person could contain this dual expertise at the necessary level of success. Both have to be experts in their chosen field. That’s the only way justice can be served in controversial, political affecting, litigation.

    I would suggest there wasn’t any better proving grounds than Dallas in the ’80s.

    We would make the perfect team.

  33. Gerald,

    The courtroom doesn’t have to be the venue. I argued most of my important matters in front of the Dallas City Council.

    In the’30s, Retired General Smedley Butler argued about a potential fascist takeover during a special congressional hearing, called especially for his testimony. His testimony stopped the movement.

    That would be the likely venue to take Trump down.

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