(Editor’s Note: This dates from July of 2017. Aside from the fact that Cillizza is no longer new at the job, it’s aged pretty well.)
The online version of CNN has a new dedicated contributor in Chris Cillizza. In case you don’t know him, he’s an extremely clever writer, experienced in the arena of political commentary and a regular commentator and panelist on news shows. He wrote for many years for the Washington Post blog The Fix, and he knows politics, elections, and how the media views them.
He contributes daily content to the CNN site, unique for having his name attached to the headline instead of the more traditional byline. Considering his content ranges from virulently anti-Trump to passionately anti-Trump all the way to reasonable and thoughtful anti-Trump politics, it’s no wonder; CNN is hoping he’ll act as a human lightning rod to deflect the negative repercussions of their biased reporting. Thus far, it hasn’t.
The trouble with this approach is that it’s likely to be offputting to the casual reader. Those looking for hard news will see two anti-Trump headlines, one anti-Republican headline, and somewhere off to one side a lower-case link to whatever the most recent disaster happens to have been. (Occasionally, they assign blame for the disaster to Trump and/or the Republicans, which gives us three-for-three.) In order to actually find news, you either need to search the lists of ‘minor’ stories or go to a different site — which, for the most part, is what I’m doing now.
Don’t get me wrong: Not only do I too find Mr. Trump to be rather odious, I also love CNN’s coverage. They do great work overall. But the website is fast becoming all bias and no story. It’s reminiscent of the days when A&E stopped showing drama and foreign films and switched over to ‘Reality TV’; they’re pandering to the biases of their audience instead of living up to their name.
This tendency exacerbates the present — I hesitate to use a term so mild as tensions — between the Trump White House and major news outlets. It’s a tiresome phenomenon with which the public has become distressingly familiar: Whenever something major happens, the press gets diverted by yet another Twitter attack against them and, rather than covering the events, they cover themselves instead — and the media becomes the story. Because we all know how that plays out by now, it no longer qualifies as news, and we all lose interest.
In Cillizza’s most recent story on CNN (I stole his title), he covers the “real problem with [the] voter fraud commission.” Which would be all well and good if, in fact, he spoke much about the Commission as anything other than in the light of Trump’s motivations, but he doesn’t. He presumes that this process was started as a sop to the voters, an empty effort to fulfill a campaign promise, and at most a way to justify some of Trump’s more outrageous statements about the last election.
What he’s missing is that there’s an awful lot of public support in this country for elections oversight. Whether the issue is Russian hacking, dissatisfaction with the Electoral College, election machine tampering, the DNC anti-Bernie effort, voter suppression, or actual voter fraud, Americans are losing confidence in the integrity of their own elections. This is a big deal. It doesn’t actually matter for this purpose if there’s evidence to back up people’s fears; people having doubts is enough to wreak havoc on our political process.
So maybe the Commission itself is a political snowjob, a nothing team of specially picked yes-men designed to act as a presidential mouthpiece. It doesn’t change the fact that the job it’s been assigned is one that, by and large, Americans would like to see get done — not by them, maybe, but by someone. Someone non-partisan and trustworthy, with secure data storage and professional statisticians, maybe — like True The Vote, or perhaps another type of commission that handles state-level personal data regularly, in a secure and confidential manner.
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. It’s been done before by a lot of organizations, from the FBI’s VICAP (and more local crime tracking) to fisheries management. Because it’s always kept outside the traditional federal architecture (or within law enforcement), it eliminates the security holes that are endemic with House oversight as well as any likelihood of partisan influence.
I talk about it a lot more here in this post, but the thing about this that I’d like you to notice is that nowhere on any major media, from Breitbart and Fox through CNN and the HuffPost — not anywhere is anyone looking at the Commission as anything with potential value or even real validity. There’s a very real problem in the eyes of the public, and it’s being ignored by the media, which seems to prefer playing politics.
And that, my friends, is the problem with Chris Cillizza these days.
(Postscript: Cillizza’s actually a great guy. I don’t know if he’s still doing trivia nights at the Capitol Lounge, but even if not, he’s very friendly and accessible. If you see him, say hi for me; he’ll have no clue who I am.)
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