Category Archives: Politics

Trump epitomizes the “charismatic leader” where power is personal

By Christopher B. Daly

Nothing so aptly captures the phenomenon of Donald Trump as the social theory laid out more than a century ago by the German social thinker Max Weber. In Weber’s scheme of understanding power, Trump epitomizes a type known as the “charismatic leader.”

American politicians are sometimes described as charismatic by people who really want to use a word more like “charming.” But leaders like Trump are actually pretty rare in American political history.

Which means, in turn, that Trump is likely to present challenges to the journalists trying to cover him. Most of the national political press corps has never seen the like. On the one hand, Trump is a gift to the news media because he’s exciting; on the other, he does not fit nicely into any conventional category or narrative.

According to Weber, “charismatic authority” is different from traditional or legal sources

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of authority. As the great German sociologist argued in “Politics as a Vocation,” the charismatic leader is followed because of his personal qualities. His success depends on “devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.” In essence, a charismatic leader is endowed with special qualities because his followers believe he has those qualities. He is powerful because people think he’s powerful.

Trump’s authority is entirely personal. It is not connected to a party or a movement or a set of policies. It is all about him. His subliminal message to the convention and the television audience was: I will make you safe. It’s the rough equivalent of saying “I will walk you to school so no one will scare you.”

As a businessman, he is the “Lord of the Tower.” High inside Trump Tower, he rules over a privately held company. He is not like a CEO of a big publicly traded corporation. The modern corporate executive is a cog in a giant machine – made up of corporate boards, executive committees, finance committees, legal counsel, giant organizational charts, rules, policies, and guidelines. This environment produces CEOS who are risk-averse and who know that their time at the top is limited to about four or five years.

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credit: Orlando Sentinel

None of that pertains to Trump. He trusts only those people who work for him in Trump Tower. Any authority they have flows from him directly, in proportion to how close they are to him or how trusted. No one in the Trump camp exercises power independently or by virtue of a place in a bureaucracy. It’s all about personal relationships, as in a royal court or a cult.

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While Trump was rising last week, another career in American conservative politics was ending. Roger Ailes, the founding chief of Fox News, was ousted from his powerful position by his only boss, media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

Like Trump, Ailes was a charismatic leader in the Weberian mold. For decades, Ailes ruled Fox News by fear, bullying, helping favorites, and attempting to exercise the droit de seigneur by “flirting” with the many attractive news readers he hired.

Trump and Ailes also shared a masterful instinct for managing the public’s resentment. Even if you never watch Fox News, you have probably heard phrases like these:

  • “liberal elites”
  • “the War on Christmas”
  • “mainstream media”
  • “radical Islamic terrorism”

These and similar conservative tropes (or “memes”) are all hobgoblins intended to amplify the fear and loathing felt by some Americans. Such memes reinforce the fear that something is slipping away and reinforce the loathing of those responsible – smart people, immigrants, jihadis, liberals.

Ailes toiled for decades inside the conservative meme factory – generating, refining, and broadcasting the idea that America used to be a great country until _______________________  (fill in the blank: secularism, feminism, political correctness, elites, blacks, gays, immigrants) came along and ruined everything. Like Trump, Ailes practiced a politics of restoration.

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Trump had a successful convention in one sense: he managed the almost impossible task of making a modern convention interesting. For decades, the national conventions have been highly scripted, fully produced pageants made for television. No surprises – and no real politics, either. Everything is decided beforehand.

As the Democratic National Convention unfolds in Philadelphia, watch for a dramatic contrast from last week’s show in Cleveland. Hillary Clinton is the opposite of a “chaos candidate” like Trump. He huddles with a small team of political novices and makes decisions at the last minute. In Hillary’s approach to politics, by contrast, professionals are respected, and qualities like steadiness, consistency, and predictably (which Trump disdains) are considered virtues.

She makes plans and sticks to them.  She limits access. Everything is vetted. There is a structure with veteran professionals staff all key positions, from speechwriting to finance to policy.

Not so with the charismatic candidate Trump. He harkens back to political insurgents like Huey Long or George Wallace – not (just) in his bigotry but in his personal approach. Trump has no bureaucracy around him. A reporter cannot go seek out Trump’s “foreign policy shop” and get briefings on his approach to the Mideast. First of all, there is no “shop.” Second, even if there were a shop, there is no policy. There will be a policy when Trump makes one up, and it will change when he feels like it. He may meet with Netanyahu, for example, and if they hit it off personally, then Israel is under U.S. protection. If they don’t hit it off, then all bets are off. What are Trump’s budget plans? Who would make up the Cabinet? No one has a clue. Reporters are hard pressed to find reliable sources.

In covering Trump, the media have a further problem: they feel obligated to treat Trump with a straight face. Their professional code prevents them from writing and saying many things that they know to be true.

Moreover, the press gets no down time with Trump. Even when he has retreated to Trump Tower, he could still feel the urge to tweet out some message or insult or provocation at any time, creating a brand-new controversy and “winning” that news cycle.

Trump likes to talk about law and order. But in his style, he is the candidate of chaos. Fasten your seatbelt.

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Media Earthquake: the end of the Roger Ailes era at Fox News

By Christopher B. Daly

“If you would strike at a prince, you must kill him.”  –Niccolo Machiavelli

The fall of Roger Ailes is an ephocal event in the history of modern news media. For a man who delivers more than $1 billion in annual profit to his boss and who delivers the top viewer ratings in cable TV news to be fired certainly marks the end of an era.

Carlson : NYDaily NewsHis departure today was brought about by the charges of sexual harrassment filed in court by Fox News on-air star Gretchen Carlson. (Before there was Megyn Kelly, there was Gretchen.)

Variety's Power of Women New York luncheon - Arrivals

Megyn Kelly Credit: Dennis Van Tine

 

Ailes was a king-maker who became a powerful prince himself within the kingdom of American conservatism. By assembling a loyal audience for Fox News, Ailes performed several important services for resurgent conservatism:

–Fox News attacked the rest of the news media

–Fox News provided an outlet for conservatives (including climate deniers, conspiracy theorists, and conservative ideologues who could not get on the air otherwise)

–Fox News hounded the Clintons and Obama while endorsing and defending George W. Bush

–Fox News cultivated and sustained Bill O’Reilly (and stood by him when O’Reilly had his own problems with a sexual harrasment claim).

–Fox News, by selling ads for gold bullion, attorneys for the plaintiff’s bar, and many other products, delivered a consistent profit stream to Murdoch’s News Corp.

The back story is well told in the 2014 biography of Ailes by the journalist Gabriel Sherman. The book is titled “The Loudest Voice in the Room” and subtitled “How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News and Divided a Country.” Sherman, a national correspondent for New York Magazine whose recent daily reporting has driven and shaped the coverage of Ailes, lays out the rise of Ailes from the day the young tv producer met Richard Nixon in 1967 and lectured the veteran politician on the power of television.

Ailes went on to work for Nixon, then became an impresario of conservative media. He had a big role in the rise of conservative talk-show champ Rush Limbaugh, then teamed up with conservative media mogul to found Fox News in 1996.

Fox News is the embodiment of Roger Ailes. He is responsible for the shrewd and deeply cynical slogans “Fair and balanced” and “We report/you decide.” Never mind that neither slogan was true. They served the purpose of assembling an audience of American conservatives who consider Fox a national message board.

Ailes harrangued the mainstream media for being liberal, while building the most ideological news operation on the air, all the while denying that he was doing so.

What brought him down was his failure to make an alliance with Murdoch’s sons, who are the future of News Corp. The sons may be less conservative than their father and, as members of a younger generation, they certainly have far less tolerance for the towel-slapping, know-nothing ethos of the Fox News morning show. On that show, whose co-hosts regularly humiliated Gretchen Carlson, who may have more i.q. points than Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade combined. They harped regularly on her looks, her wardrobe, and her hotness.

Under Ailes, Fox News had a history of hiring attractive women and placing them in front of the cameras in ways that displayed their physical attributes. Even in an industry like television, which is obsessed with visuals, Fox News stood out for its use of news babes. Turns out, Ailes — who resembles the late Sidney Greenstreet minus the charm — was “flirting” with them and implying that they should put out for him.

In the end, it would appear, the man who ruled by fear was brought down by one brave woman.

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Monday media roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

Here are some recent comments worth thinking about:

–After seeing “Spotlight,” NYT Public Editor Margaret Sullivan expresses concern over the state of investigative reporting by the nation’s regional newspapers. (I guess “regional newspapers” is Timesspeak for papers that the Times respects but does not consider in its league — i.e., Boston, Seattle, Milwaukee.)

–“On the Media” views with dismay the current state of political rhetoric. The show even uses the L-word. (To listen, click on the link, then hit “This Week’s Show.”)

–On CNN, “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter went a few bruising rounds with Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson  on this Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 3.17.01 PMquestion: “Is Donald Trump the “post-truth” candidate?” Pierson is one tough cookie, and expect to see and hear a lot more from her.

–The battle over ad-blocking rages on. I don’t like most ads, and I happily use an ad-blocking app on my iPhone. My only complaint is that some ads still slip through. Now, I am the first to say that the news business needs to work as a business if it is to succeed and do all the other

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Illustration by Sam Manchester for NYT

things we want from it. My solution: allow customers like to pay more — even a lot more — to pay the full freight of news-gathering and eliminate the need for advertising altogether. This approach, which is reflexively pooh-poohed by certain people, has worked in the past: it was the basic model in the 18th century, and it has worked for I.F. Stone, for a lot of investment newsletters, and for a few others. Any takers?

–Finally, RIP to M. Roland Nachman, who was on the losing (and wrong) side of one of the landmark First Amendment cases in U.S. history — the Sullivan case of 1964. He seems to have been a decent fellow, but he was still wrong. Read more in my book, Covering America, at pages 312-13.

 

 

 

 

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Politics and the American Language

By Christopher B. Daly 

The following op-ed essay appeared the other day under the byline of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. I believe he is wrong on the facts and the politics. But that’s beside the point of this blog. I was struck by his rhetoric, highlighted in red below.

 BATON ROUGE, La. — THE debate over religious liberty in America presents conservatives and business leaders with a crucial choice.

In Indiana and Arkansas, large corporations recently joined left-wing activists to bully elected officials into backing away from strong protections for religious liberty. It was disappointing to see conservative leaders so hastily retreat on legislation that would simply allow for an individual or business to claim a right to free exercise of religion in a court of law.

Our country was founded on the principle of religious liberty, enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Why shouldn’t an individual or business have the right to cite, in a court proceeding, religious liberty as a reason for not participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony that violates a sincerely held religious belief?

That is what Indiana and Arkansas sought to do. That political leaders in both states quickly cowered amid the shrieks of big business and the radical left should alarm us all.

As the fight for religious liberty moves to Louisiana, I have a clear message for any corporation that contemplates bullying our state: Save your breath.

Gov. Bobby Jindal, front, with his family during a prayer at the opening session of the Louisiana State Legislature in April. CreditPool photo by Gerald Herbert

In 2010, Louisiana adopted a Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from unduly burdening a person’s exercise of religion. However, given the changing positions of politicians, judges and the public in favor of same-sex marriage, along with the potential for discrimination against Christian individuals and businesses that comes with these shifts, I plan in this legislative session to fight for passage of the Marriage and Conscience Act.

The legislation would prohibit the state from denying a person, company or nonprofit group a license, accreditation, employment or contract — or taking other “adverse action” — based on the person or entity’s religious views on the institution of marriage.

Some corporations have already contacted me and asked me to oppose this law. I am certain that other companies, under pressure from radical liberals, will do the same. They are free to voice their opinions, but they will not deter me. As a nation we would not compel a priest, minister or rabbi to violate his conscience and perform a same-sex wedding ceremony. But a great many Americans who are not members of the clergy feel just as called to live their faith through their businesses. That’s why we should ensure that musicians, caterers, photographers and others should be immune from government coercion on deeply held religious convictions.

The bill does not, as opponents assert, create a right to discriminate against, or generally refuse service to, gay men or lesbians. The bill does not change anything as it relates to the law in terms of discrimination suits between private parties. It merely makes our constitutional freedom so well defined that no judge can miss it.

I hold the view that has been the consensus in our country for over two centuries: that marriage is between one man and one woman. Polls indicate that the American consensus is changing — but like many other believers, I will not change my faith-driven view on this matter, even if it becomes a minority opinion.

A pluralistic and diverse society like ours can exist only if we all tolerate people who disagree with us. That’s why religious freedom laws matter — and why it is critical for conservatives and business leaders to unite in this debate.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on April 23, 2015, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Holding Firm Against Gay Marriage.

Now, I am old enough to remember a time in our past when we had a real radical left. And I have studied enough American history to know that before the New Left, there was an earlier radical left. (Just consider: the socialist newspaper “Appeal to Reason” had more than a million readers at its heyday little over a century ago.)

Clearly, Jindal is trying to pull off an old conservative rhetorical trick here: labeling anyone who disagrees with him as a “radical.” If only. The one I found particularly amusing was his mash-up of “the shrieks of big business and the radical left.” 

Then there’s his paradoxical coinage: “radical liberals.” Huh? Categorically, liberals are not radical. If they were radicals, they would be called radicals. He knows better (or he should). The people he is talking about are mainstream Democrats, centrists, independents, and some members of his own party.

The fact is, the far left in America is pretty much dormant nowadays — something that you might think Jindal would celebrate. But why let any hobgoblin go unemployed?

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BU Prof: The Benghazi tragedy was caused by the CIA station chief

By Christopher B. Daly

Get ready: the Benghazi controversy is about to get a big new dose of fuel. My friend and B.U. colleague Mitch Zuckoff has a new book coming out next week that tells the story of the tragic assault on the U.S. compound in Libya from the perspective of five American commandoes who were there. The five men have teamed up with Zuckoff to write their jpegeyewitness account in a book titled “13 Hours.”

The release of the book is already reviving the arguments over who was to blame for the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others during the assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi in 2012. Most Republicans (including the Republican Party news outlet known as Fox News) are hoping to lay the blame on Hilary Clinton, on the grounds that she was U.S. Secretary of State at the time and therefore responsible for every bad thing that happened anywhere in the world during her entire tenure. The Republicans would like to use this tragedy to damage her politically as she gears up to run for president in 2016.

Most Democrats, meanwhile, would like to just see the whole thing disappear.

Most journalists, like Mitch, would like to get to the bottom of exactly what happened. Operating in a fact-based world, journalists (and historians, for that matter) need to establish a reliable, factual sequence of events before we can even have a political discussion. That’s what has been largely missing. Based on knowing Mitch Zuckoff for almost 30 years and working with him when we were both reporters at the AP and working with him since we have both been journalism professors at B.U., I can say that I would expect his version to be definitive. 

The debate is flaring up, as you can see from these accounts from MSNBC, the Washington Post, and the NYTimes (which somehow “obtained” an advance copy of Mitch’s book). Fox News jumped with a “special report” by Bret Baier. The book’s release also just happens to coincide with the start of hearings into Benghazi by a special House committee. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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News comes from far away. . .

By Christopher B. Daly

Do we get too much information about distant conflicts, or too little?

The New York Times offers two very different answers.

One comes from Anjan Sundaram, a former stringer for The Associated Press in Congo. So, he should know. He laments the withdrawal of American correspondents from many countries, the shuttering of overseas bureaus, and a general decline in the coverage of wars, violence, and the politics of many nations.

News organizations need to work more closely with stringers. Make no mistake: Life as a stringer, even for those eager to report from abroad, is daunting. It’s dangerous, the pay is low and there is little support. For years after I left Congo, my position with The A.P. remained — as it is now — vacant. The news from Congo suffers as a result, as does our understanding of that country, and ultimately ourselves.

The other view comes from my Boston University colleague David Carr, the Times‘ media columnist. In his Media Equation piece today, Carr describes the sensation of information-overload that he has been experiencing lately as social media bring him a flood of data about a rocket war in Gaza, plane crashes, and the other disasters.

Geopolitics and the ubiquity of social media have made the world a smaller, seemingly gorier place. If Vietnam brought war into the living room, the last few weeks have put it at our fingertips. On our phones, news alerts full of body counts bubble into our inbox, Facebook feeds are populated by appeals for help or action on behalf of victims, while Twitter boils with up-to-the-second reporting, some by professionals and some by citizens, from scenes of disaster and chaos.

In my view, they are both right, at least to a degree. Sundaram is correct that many U.S. news organizations have retreated (usually for economic reasons) from their commitment to covering international news. In particular, they have lost the budgets to pay for keeping full-time staffers in locations around the world that are not boiling over. I’m talking here about trained journalists who have the time to become multi-lingual, to learn about other cultures and societies, to develop good sources, and to roam about developing a good first-hand sense of the place they are covering. These are the kind of people you want to be able to in a crisis, to explain a self-immolation in Tibet, or a riot in Indonesia, or a drug war in Central America. And, yes, there are too few of those.

But that’s not the same issue David Carr was identifying. He is describing the flood of images, information, and opinions that come streaming at Americans from the hotspot of the week. And yes, he’s right about. In a country or region that America is paying attention to, the flow of news is usually pretty abundant. That doesn’t mean that it’s always very useful, only that there is a lot of it.

This general problem was identified almost a century ago by Walter Lippmann — journalist, author, and media theorist — in his landmark book about journalism, propaganda, and politics, Public Opinion.

News comes from a distance; it comes helter-skelter, in inconceivable imgresconfusion; it deals with matters that are not easily understood; it arrives and is assimilated by busy and tired people who must take what is given to them.

That is, for passive news consumers, the picture of the rest of the world is fragmentary, random, and often blurred or blacked out. I dare say that I am not the only avid consumer of U.S. news reporting who could not tell you a single meaningful thing about Indonesia (the fourth most populous country on Earth and the largest Muslim-majority nation). I don’t know anything about it, because no U.S. news organization has a single full-time correspondent there. I cannot say I am bombarded by social media (or any other kind) about Indonesia. But if something should happen there that draws the attention of the United States, we can be sure the firehose will be turned on, and we will start to absorb a torrent of images, facts, and opinions. Until our attention shifts.

Thurber-Lippmann screenshot

by James Thurber

 

 

 

 

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Rove on Iraq: “We create our own reality”

By Christopher B. Daly

As U.S. policy-makers argue over what to do next in Iraq (How about doing nothing?), it is worth recalling how this all came about. One source of the current situation that is worth recalling can be found in a rare moment of candor in the Bush White House. Thanks to the estimable journalist Ron Suskind, we have a glimpse into the interventionist mindset that propelled U.S. forces into ground action in Iraq. In a New York Times magazine piece from October, 17, 2004, Suskind reported on a conversation he had had in 2002 with a person he could not name but could only identify as a “senior adviser to Bush.” Later, Suskind was able to reveal the identity of that source: turns out, it was Karl Rove, the top political brain in the entire Bush operation.

Here’s what Karl Rove said:

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

This is why we need journalists — not just to “study what they do,” but to hold them accountable.

(h/t to Larry Houghteling)

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