Media Buzz

The limits of outrage: Liberal journalists coming to grips with Trump's win, Hillary's loss

'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz weighs in on the liberal media's 'outrage porn' over every bit of new Donald Trump news


As liberal pundits struggle to come to terms with the Trump victory they never expected, some are finally pulling themselves out of denial.

They are still appalled by Donald Trump, but they are edging toward more honesty about why Hillary Clinton lost and how they need to calibrate their opposition to the next president.

I don’t think the media have gotten over the shock either. Trump continues to use disruptive tactics, and many journalists are still smacking their foreheads in the belief that “this is not how it’s supposed to be done.” It’s the same mistake they made during the campaign. Governing is much harder, of course, and some tactics can backfire, but every president brings his own style—and takes advantage of new technology.

In a kind of meta-tweet, Trump wrote yesterday: “If the press would cover me accurately & honorably, I would have far less reason to ‘tweet.’ Sadly, I don't know if that will ever happen!”

Almost everything Trump has done since the election has kept him in the news, and has riled up the left. He gets little credit for conciliatory gestures. I mean, the guy met with Al Gore yesterday and talked about finding common ground on climate change. That certainly seems like reaching out.

In the New Republic, Eric Sasson, while ripping Trump, suggests that the liberal side might want to dial it down:

“It is painfully clear that all our outrage didn’t work. And now there’s a danger of getting sucked into a vortex of what I’d like to refer to as ‘outrage porn.’”

In other words, everything shouldn’t be cranked up to 11.

“Trump’s horrific statements aren’t going to stop. He’s going to keep tweeting about every sleight and alleged offense, from Hamilton controversies to unflattering Saturday Night Live sketches to the untold thousands of protests and articles and taunts forthcoming. And he will use these incidents to cement his reputation as a political outsider with his voters. He will weaponize these reactions, holding them up as proof of just how much know-it-all elites loathe his ‘deplorable’ white base.”

The piece argues that Trump’s more entertaining tweets distract from his business conflicts and controversies, and that left-wingers have every right to be outraged about, say, his Cabinet picks:

“But shouting into an echo chamber will not amplify our voices. To the extent that our outrage forces us to stay vigilant and harness our anger to formulate a plan of resistance, it can be useful. But we must remind ourselves that the television media, especially the cable news networks, will continue to highlight the glamorous if petty squabbles like the one between Trump and Alec Baldwin, while paying almost no attention to issues of grave importance like climate change.”

I would argue that the media’s coverage of Trump, tweets and all, is getting more substantive. The journalistic uproar over his call with Taiwan’s president wound up sparking a debate about the U.S. relationship with Taiwan (which is strong, despite the polite fiction that it doesn’t really exist) and the risk of antagonizing China (whose cooperation we will need on North Korea and other geopolitical matters).

At the same time, the initial media reports fed the narrative of Trump as a foreign policy neophyte unconcerned with decades of protocol. But the Washington Post reported yesterday that pro-Taiwan Trump advisers had been working on the call for weeks.

The same goes for Trump doing a deal to save 1,000 Carrier jobs in Indiana. The press loved the symbolism, but has explored whether the tax breaks involved amount to crony capitalism and provide leverage for other companies considering moving production to foreign countries.

There also may be an evolution on the left on the reasons for Clinton’s loss. (Yes, she won over 2.5 million more popular votes, but everyone builds their campaigns to win the Electoral College.)

In the Huffington Post, which when Arianna ran it included an editor’s note eviscerating Trump as a racist in every story, Zach Carter sympathizes with the Clinton campaign, but says its “defense of its own righteousness helps explain why the election was close to begin with.”

While Trump ran a “deeply bigoted campaign,” he insists, “his dominant performance among white working-class voters wasn’t due to his campaign message alone. Much of Clinton’s poor performance resulted from her campaign’s strategic decision to not even contest the demographic. A good chunk of the Democratic Party intelligentsia applauded Clinton for taking the moral high ground, declaring the entire white working class to be a deplorable racist swamp. The notion that economic issues played literally no role ― zero ― in Trump’s appeal became a common Democratic talking point. Democrats were Good People, and anyone even considering voting for Trump was a Bad Person.”

While saying some working-class Trump fans may be bigots, the author says, “the job of a presidential candidate is to appeal to our better angels and win votes anyway…Writing off the white working class is a pretty bad way to start…All of this was obvious to the Democratic Party, which plowed ahead anyway, insisting that anyone who wasn’t on board with the first woman president was a vile sexist.”

During the campaign I argued that Hillary didn’t seem to have much of a core message other than not being the scary Donald Trump. Now her folks could point you to 25 policy planks on the economy, but to me she didn’t seem to speak to people who worked in factory or service jobs and are anxious about their future. And, of course, she blew off Michigan and Wisconsin till the very end of the campaign, assuming the states would as usual vote for the Obama party.

Media liberals who want to rebuild the Democratic Party or effectively challenge Trump need to grapple more honestly with the earthquake of 2016. Some are finally digging their way out of the rubble.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.