Eric Alterman: Reviving the liberal label

For nearly a year and a half many journalists and media outlets have struggled to make sense on Donald Trump’s sexist, racist, xenophobic campaign for President.

But not The Nation’s Eric Alterman.

“I think Trump is in many ways a continuation of what we’ve gotten from the Republican Party for the past 20 years,” Alterman said. “But the media have decided that he’s a unique threat, and that once he’s gone we can go back to normal.

“I don’t agree,” Alterman said.

Alterman, The Nation’s self-described “Liberal Media” columnist, has dedicated much of his career to exposing right wing extremism. His ten books include “The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama” and “What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News.”

For Alterman, being liberal is a point of pride, though he acknowledged not everyone likes being labeled as such.

“No presidential candidate, not one, has called himself a liberal since George McGovern in 1972,” Alterman said. “The word has been turned to poison by the right wing attacks on it.”

Alterman said he’s made it his mission to “fight to revive the term.”

“Most people think that battle is not worth fighting,” Alterman said. “I think it is worth fighting because if you run away from the label, you have to run away from what people understand to be the programs.

“And the programs are actually quite popular,” Alterman said. “So what they’ve done is they’ve destroyed the value of the programs by destroying the label, even though people want the programs.”

But presidential candidates aren’t the only ones who have tried to avoid being called liberal, Alterman said.

“The mainstream media were very susceptible to attacks by conservatives that they were too liberal, so they became more conservative as well,” Alterman said. “I call that ‘working the refs.’

“I didn’t make up that term,” Alterman said. “It’s something that Republican political operatives have bragged about.”

While Alterman believes that the “liberal media” is a myth, he said Conservative media isn’t.

“Conservatives invested a fortune in it,” Alterman said. “They decided way back in 1964, when Barry Goldwater got creamed, that they had no chance to win the presidency as long as their ideas were being mocked by the media.

“So they thought they better invest their own media, their own think tanks [and] their own structure of knowledge,” Alterman said. “And they were patient about it, and they made a lot of mistakes, but they ended up doing it.

“And now they’ve got this board that’s almost as big as the mainstream media,” Alterman said. “And almost as influential.”

When it came to the election, Alterman said the mainstream media’s coverage “for a long time” was “awful, indefensible, stupid, and self defeating.”

In their effort to avoid being accused of liberal bias, the mainstream media attempted to create a “false equivalence” to balance negative coverage between Democrats and Republicans, Alterman said.

“For the longest every time they said something critical about the Republicans, they had to say something critical about Barack Obama or the Democrats,” Alterman said. “Or every time conservatives denied the reality of global warming, they had to find some liberal somewhere who said something objectionable.”

Though eventually the media began to see Trump for his true colors, Alterman said.

“He’s done two things,” Alterman said. “He’s shown that he doesn’t care if he’s caught lying, and he’s shown no respect for freedom of the press.

“He’s constantly threatening the press, saying that he’s going to sue them, encouraging violence in some cases,” Alterman said. “They think that he’s a different animal.

“And now a lot of journalists have decided that the danger that Donald Trump could mean for the country is more important than their own commitment to objectivity.”

Though he believes the coverage of the Trump campaign has “gotten better” he said the media “still haven’t woken up to how extreme the Republican Party has become over the past decade or two.

“They still believe that the two sides are roughly equivalent,” Alterman said. “Even though one of them believes in science and one of them doesn’t, and one of them believes in the laws of economics and one of them doesn’t, etcetera, etcetera,”

Alterman pointed to the intense media coverage of the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State as an example of the media creating a “false equivalence” between her and Trump.

“If they want to criticize Trump for wanting to destroy the republic, they have to criticize Hillary for something,” Alterman said.

“And they’re only got two stories, the Clinton Foundation, which isn’t much of a story because it’s actually quite a good foundation, and these emails,” Alterman said.

However, Alterman acknowledge that Clinton has been “very reluctant” to come clean about her use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State.

“She still doesn’t trust the press,” Alterman said. “She creates a lot of problems for herself.”

Despite Clinton’s problems with the press, Alterman said he can’t imagine Trump getting elected.

“Call me naïve, but I think it’s impossible that America’s going to elect someone like that,” Alterman said.

While he can’t imagine Trump in the White House, Alterman said many of the alternative candidates the Republicans had “were just as bad in their own ways.”

“The republican party has become an extreme, ungovernable party,” Alterman said. “And the press is still not ready to admit that.

Alterman said he expects Trump will lose the election, and Republicans will then look to someone like Trump’s running mate Mike Pence, “who’s incredibly extreme, doesn’t believe in global warming, has all these extreme views of abortion, and gay people, and of course right wing foreign policy and economics.

“They will act as if that’s the new center,” Alterman said.

Even if Trump loses, Alterman said he doesn’t think America will have seen the last of him.

“My fear is that after this election what’ll happen is that Donald Trump will start his own cable news station and media company and that will make Fox [News] look reasonable, Alterman said.

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