The New York Times coverage of Monday's debate was flustered and confused. It reflected the wider state of media coverage which now consists of excuse reporting and excuses for excuse reporting. Excuse reporting is new in politics but has always been a favorite in entertainment. It undercuts outrageous content as it highlights it. Its trademark is moral ambiguity toward its subjects. It rewards the subjects that dig the deepest hole.
The Times article reported a favorite Trump hole, one he knows angers black voters: "Blacks and Hispanics are living in hell because it’s so dangerous.”
Excuse reporting trims the edges of cruelty and stupidity in order to make the ugly, original sins of humanity into mere foibles. In the case above, the exaggerated description is a generalized falsehood, but one rarely pointed out. Excuse reporting removes context, skips details, mitigates contrasts, and politely ignores the absence of responsibility of journalists to tell why something is important, to tell us of its risks and dangers, its benefits. In keeping with the abdication of responsibility, journalists have abandoned describing the process in play, who and how things get done, the steps in play.
If 10 cars collide, 6 cases of Zika flare, 3 murders occurs, or incomes increase 2 percent, the numbers are reported--but not if Donald Trump tells serial lies ("I saw Muslims applauding.") Not if Hillary Clinton tells serial truths (We need to innovate jobs)
Excuse Reporting: How To Ignore Lies And Racial Justice
Excuse reporting is a form of serial laziness. Its acceptance by wide audiences is one of the biggest dangers to democracy because it lacks any concern for honesty, substituting repetition for assembling truth and options.
Here's a paragraph from the Times lead story on its digital edition:
Mrs. Clinton also tried to drive a wedge between Mr. Trump and the president, whose approval ratings are on the rise. “Barack Obama is a man of great dignity, and I could tell how much it bothered him,” she said of the controversy, in a clear appeal to voters who deeply admire Mr. Obama but are less enthusiastic about her.
The idea of the wedge describes nothing of the relationship between Trump and Obama. The “wedge” is actually a schism and existed long before Mrs. Clinton pointed to the obvious—Trump's years-long effort to force the President to show papers (a demand with racist echoes: an ugly reminder of South African apartheid and its pass books, and of slavery with its passes to permit movement). The birther issue and its excuse reporting were a conflict of wills. It inflicted a dehumanizing, delegitimatizing, de-Americanizing lie cast as doubt over an elected President, a story advanced by lies at each step, including "people" "finding amazing things" and other unsupported innuendos.
The mention of the President's approval ratings is more excuse reporting; it is not an important reason for Hillary raising the birther issue: Trump's racism is! Mentioning the approval ratings deflects from the central theme: Trump's history of racist actions and attitudes, especially toward minorities in power or seeking progress, is why the birther issue is well known and tied to him.
Racism Is This Year's Driving Political Force
More excuse reporting takes place in the same paragraph: Hillary's "clear appeal" actually was two appeals. First, she sought to win supporters and admirers of the President by praising and sympathizing with him but second to also win those who stand against racism!
This second group was her true object. When she said Trump's start in politics began with the "racist lie" that "our first black president was not an American citizen. There was absolutely no evidence for it, but he persisted, he persisted year after year, because some of his supporters, people that he was trying to bring into his fold, apparently believed it or wanted to believe it."
Clinton sounded the alarm against Trump's racism because she has personally witnessed the harm to individuals and society--to our politics--of racism. By showing the extent Trump is dedicated to racist logic and how he uses it to manipulate and conceal his hate and beliefs, she is reaching beyond the Obama coalition. She is building an anti-racism coalition of her own, in which respect and equality are pillars of trust.
In fact, Hillary's confrontation of Trump shows the most powerful tool of racism is not its hate but its denial. Its denial is what Hillary is the first Presidential candidate to directly confront--a bold fight against Trump's rising legions of white supremacists who are attracting moderate whites who feel Hillary is only interested in the black vote.
Excuse reporting has missed that the driving force in this year's contest has not been the demographics of region, age or occupation, not workers or unions, people of color, women, age, religion or education. The main driver has been the racist vote. The votes of soft core racists drove Trump's victories in Republican primaries. He reversed his appeal to go after racists, correctly assuming he would still harvest the GOP base, who were anti-Democratic.
In two locations, New York and Washington, Trump was sued by the federal government and signed a consent decree acknowledging housing discrimination; witnesses are still alive remember their apartment applications being turned down. By calling out Trump's campaign as being built on a "racist lie" and pointing to his historic practice and pattern of discrimination, Hillary is assembling an anti-racist coalition in the middle of her campaign--an unprecedented--and unreported--feat.
In the final act of excuse reporting, "enthusiastic" acts to measure both reason and response to Clinton's candidacy. But are there other forces in play? Beside emotional feelings, what are they? Among what section of the Obama coalition are her poll numbers off except among millennials, who seem too intent on asserting white privilege to be bothered with realpolitik, coalition building to increase leverage (as blacks did within the Democratic party, beginning with Fannie Lou Hamer's Mississippi Freedom Party in 1968), to support new job initiatives in new industries. (Clinton thinks forward; in green energy, she wants to create new jobs to ensure long-term US leadership.)
Have millennials lost a commitment to racial justice and its enforcement? That's the question hidden in the debate! The question the mainstream media hasn't asked! Hillary Clinton now fights openly for racial justice, a test of courage in today's climate. Her stand is more than "words." Her strength revealed her opponent's denial, lies, double talk and instability and his lack of commitment to justice as he drifts from constitutional principles to pursue white power.