There's a Problem in the Coverage of the AL Senate Election
As the Alabama Senate election approaches, Republicans and Democrats around the country are becoming increasingly anxious about the possibility that Roy Moore, the Republican nominee and alleged child molester, will be elected to fill the vacancy left by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore is currently leading most polls right now with a RCP average of +2.2%, though the polling has been erratic and unreliable (the two most recent polls differ by 19 points).
In any case, it should be remarkable that Moore is within even 20 points of Jones, much less leading with a Presidential endorsement. It's not, though -- anyone following the last 24 months of politics in this country is not truly surprised. But there have still been many Republicans who have drawn the line with Moore or urged others to do so. In his column last week, David Brooks had this to say:
If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.
You don’t help your cause by wrapping your arms around an alleged sexual predator and a patriarchic bigot. You don’t help your cause by putting the pursuit of power above character, by worshiping at the feet of some loutish man or another, by claiming the ends justify any means. You don’t successfully rationalize your own tawdriness by claiming your opponents are satanic. You don’t save Christianity by betraying its message. (Brooks Dec 7th, 2017).
If Brooks was referring exclusively to the RNC (who have re-upped support for Moore despite allegations) or GOP Senators who have somehow avoided condemning Moore, his column would hit every base. The compulsive rationalization of ultra-partisan moral concessions has significantly damaged both the Left and the Right in this country, and elected officials who refuse to give voice to unpopular truths in favor of partisan objectives have knowingly abetted our moral degradation. And we elect them, so it's our fault too.
But Brooks is suggesting that the Alabama Voters are knowingly electing a child molester, that the voters are actively making the decision to forgo their beliefs for an extra vote in the Senate, and I do not think that's true. For some context, watch this Vice News focus group run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
Yes, there are voters who actively weigh the prospects of a Democrat in the Senate instead of Moore -- one voter said "policy is everything, and if we don't stand for Conservative policies, then we've lost anyway," and some in the group applauded. But I believe that the vast majority of those who are portrayed as 'stomaching' Roy Moore and his alleged actions in favor of conservative policies would not actually be doing so if they believed the allegations.
Everyone in the news media and on the Left is scrambling to cite Roy Moore's election as the ultimate corruption of the Republican voter. They say that they are willing to stop at nothing to achieve their goals, and juxtaposed against the (delayed?) resignation of Al Franken and John Conyers, Moore's election prospects and the Trump apologism of the 2016 election do look pretty bad. But what they don't understand, what they don't want to realize perhaps, is that many Republican voters (82% of them) are living quite literally in a different world.
It sounds patronizing to write, but its true. If you watch Fox News every night, if you read Breitbart or the Drudge Report, not only would you never hear criticism of the President, but you would constantly hear criticism of the 'liberal' news media that reports on things like Roy Moore. On Fox News channel and many 'conservative' publications (National Review, The Wall Street Journal excluded), coverage gives you every reason to believe that every Moore accuser is lying, that their proof is fake, or that they're being paid; it might also lead you to believe that the FBI is rotten, or that Muller should be fired.
Many Republican voters have been ruthlessly conditioned to distrust mainstream media sources, and that makes it infinitely easier to succumb to echo-chamber partisan impulses. One could argue that there is infinitely more reason to distrust outlets like Breitbart and Fox News channel given their disturbing penchant to make obviously false and disprovable claims while refusing to negatively cover the President, but those outlets have been incredibly effective at highlighting Left and Center media's mistakes as well, creating what appears to Republican voters to be a legitimate foil. The President plays no small part, either: he tweeted on Saturday that Washington Post reporter Dave Weigel ought to be fired over an erroneous attempt to qualify the President's claims about his crowd size, one that was quickly taken down and corrected. Tactics like this are quite effective.
But this country is not becoming morally bankrupt, at least not all the way. People are always going to be able to make partisan concessions, but it is so easy nowadays because nobody can agree on a set of facts. The 'Paper of Record' doesn't mean anything to half the country anymore, and a major news channel isn't trusted by the other half; every Washington Post reporter is bought and paid for left-wing billionaires, and the Wall street journal is run by Republican hedge fund managers. And while there's no doubt that this development is dangerous, we ought to stop blaming the morality of the other side. Sometimes we disagree on what's moral, but far more often we disagree on basic plot points of events that ask us to enforce our morality, and the vast majority of media coverage ignores this. Americans aren't as bad as we say they are; dishonest media outlets and politicians complicit in dishonesty to further their own gains are.