New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg disclosed the other day that she suffers from an ailment not listed in the American Psychiatric Manual of Mental Disorders but therapists assure her is very real: “Democracy Grief.” Trump’s presidency, she said, “has been marked, for many of us who are part of the plurality that despises it, by anxiety and anger. But lately I’ve noticed, and not just in myself, a demoralizing degree of fear, even depression.”
Goldberg’s column triggered responses from more than 2,000 readers sharing the trauma they also are experiencing because of Trump’s presidency. The fourth most recommended reader comment, also endorsed by the Times, was from Deirdre in New Jersey:
I have gained 20 pounds since the 2016 election. I obsess over the federal agencies that are dismantled piece by piece. I save obsessively because I am concerned that the 2017 tax scam has raided our treasury and that social security and Medicare are next and I am not even retired yet. I worry about the people of our country who will vote for him again and think that his grifting, self dealing and personal money making presidency is just fine with them as our infrastructure crumbles, students are burdened by debt and everyone fears a hospital bill.
Most of all I worry about voter turnout. I am working to register people but they have to show up. Voter turnout is all I can think about.
I’m not a psychiatrist, but I suspect that poor Deirdre has some other issues besides Trump she needs to work on. That said, the trauma and ongoing sense of impending doom Deirdre and other New York Times readers are experiencing because of Trump’s presidency is very real and quantifiably explainable. The New York Times manipulates them to feel this way.
Unknown to Times readers, their beloved publication is carefully curated and optimized to stoke their hatred and fears, keeping them engaged and clicking on content like Goldberg’s column, so they encounter more ads. It’s a digital science that Facebook honed over the years, which maybe explains why an executive from the social network company with no journalism background sits on the board of the publication’s parent company.
Musa al-Gharbi, a Columbia University sociologist, quantified how the Times keeps its readers focused on Trump and explained why prevailing journalism practices are harming America. The academic graphed all mentions of the terms “Carter,” “Reagan,” “Bush,” “Clinton,” “Obama,” and “Trump” from 1975 through 2018. As depicted below, Trump’s inordinate mentions are quite dramatic.
“Little is published (in the Times) without some reference to Trump,” al-Gharbi said. “He is the lens through which many other stories are filtered.”
That lens is refracted to project a black-and-white narrative where Trump and his supporters are pure evil and those looking to depose him are on the side of angels. The Times, by its own admission, experienced a considerable “Trump bump” in circulation after the 2016 election, attracting readers who despise Trump as much as Goldberg does. Goldberg’s job is to feed that hate, sometimes employing techniques taught at the Kellyanne Conway School of Alternative Facts.
Goldberg makes reference to last week’s Department of Justice’s inspector general report which she says, “refutes years of Republican deep state conspiracy theories about an FBI plot to subvert Trump’s campaign.” Yes, Michael Horowitz, the inspector general, did conclude the FBI wasn’t motivated by politics to spy on Trump’s campaign. But Horowitz’s findings are quite damning about the media, as they make clear law enforcement and other government officials easily snookered reporters into publishing “fake news” that Russia has compromising information about Trump.
If any Times readers are willing to expose themselves to some uncomfortable truths about House Leader Nancy Pelosi, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, and other prominent Democratic leaders, they should read this easy-to-understand analysis by Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi, who provides links to previously published news stories based on information debunked by Horowitz. By way of background, Taibbi is best known for his blistering takedown of Goldman Sachs, likening the company to a “great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Neither Taibbi, nor Rolling Stone, can be dismissed as champions of right-wing conservatism.
I, too, once suffered the chronic malaise New York Times readers are experiencing, but I got wise to the publication’s digital ensnarement practices and put an end to my victimization.
My first step was turning off all the publication’s incessant alerts, which created instant relief. Whereas the Times was long the first of seven publications I read in the morning, it’s now the last. One of the joys of reading the Wall Street Journal, now my first read, is the publication spares its readers Trump’s Twitter musings and focuses only on policy initiatives that matter. If the Times or the Washington Post have mopped up leaks of any significance, the Journal’s reporters almost instantly confirm them and report the stories adhering to traditional journalism standards of objectivity and fairness.
When I get to the Times, I avert my gaze from stories and columns whose headlines signal they are just Trump-hating tirades that won’t advance my knowledge or understanding of the man. (I sought out Goldberg’s column after a family member mentioned it to me.) When I see stories out of Washington attributed entirely to “anonymous” sources, I know they are one-sided and advancing a hidden agenda. Often, I’ve already read the same stories citing anonymous sources in the Washington Post. The only reason I keep my Times subscription is mostly because the publication’s California coverage is excellent and some of its best reporters are based out here. (The Times has more readers in California than the New York area.)
What’s unfortunate is that the Times’ hate-spewing rhetoric invariably finds its way to Trump-loving publications, which also are quite adept at manipulating the emotions of their readers. The lead story when I checked Breitbart yesterday morning was about Times columnist and Columbia University professor Tom Edsall calling those who support Trump’s immigration policy “snakes and vermin.” (Dehumanizing people they don’t like is a growing trend among college professors.) Breitbart readers know what the Times and its readers think about them, which is why the disdain is mutual.
As al-Gharbi noted, the Times has contributed mightily to the polarization of America, as most U.S. publications and cable news networks have followed the publication’s lead and are equally focused on promoting narratives and opinions, rather than objectively reporting facts. The public understands this, which is why the majority of Americans distrust the media. Trump has exploited this distrust to his advantage, and it’s conceivable he can win a second term in office.
That’s Deidre in New Jersey’s worst nightmare. But it would be the best thing that ever happened to the New York Times.