In our precedent-shattering era, is it better to use imagination, or apply judgement based on research and history, when choosing what to cover? Should we "be practical," or entertain what seems "impossible"? Brooke ponders this tension.
Tomorrow Never Knows - Quartetto d’Archi Dell’ Orchestra Sinfonica de Milano Guiseppe Verdi
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone. Look, there's not a whole lot of comfort in the show coming up. We’re just trying to do what we do, which is drill down on the stuff we think is important. But, frankly, recent events have made us less confident in our gut in deciding what to cover, less confident in our heads too. We find ourselves in the grip of centrifugal forces. One is magical thinking, the other failure of the imagination. Let me explain.
Last summer, we spoke to journalist Masha Gessen whose perspective on American politics is shaped by her Russian roots. She said our media has suffered from a disabling failure of the imagination when it came to Donald Trump.
MASHA GESSEN: We need to start imagining what happens if he becomes president. Now, the American system doesn't actually give the chief executive a lot of power. There is an intricate system of checks and balances that will force him to mobilize things through rhetoric. And that basically means, I think, that we have to start imagining witch hunts, we have to start imagining kind of wars at home. We have to start imagining what kind of groups he is going to start blaming for all his problems and all our problems, whether real or imaginary.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So your advice to the news consumer?
MASHA GESSEN: My advice to the news consumer is - imagine the worst.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But is it better to use imagination or to apply judgment based on research and experience when choosing what to cover? For instance, when we spoke to The New York Times’ very smart David Leonhardt back in 2015, he was editing the paper’s data-driven blog called The Upshot, where he’d just written that it was the duty of his site to point out when a candidate just isn't going to win.
DAVID LEONHARDT: It lets you in the press cover the real battle that’s going on among Walker and Bush and Rubio and others to get the nomination.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He thought it was, frankly, a disservice to readers to waste their time on the fun and games afforded by a crowded field of nominees. Much better to come clean and lay out what the available data and past history made manifestly clear.
DAVID LEONHARDT: And I think that saying that to readers without going so far as to saying there is no scenario under any situation, no matter what, in which the nominee will be someone other than Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio is a way to level with readers and to be honest with them about what we know and what we don't know.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So we have four years to atone for knowing. We are now obliged to imagine. And that brings me to the other force swinging us around like a tetherball, magical thinking, by which I mean believing in things more strongly than either evidence or experience justified.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Realistic or not, some protesters across the nation are hanging their hopes on what many would say is a pipedream, that members of the Electoral College will block Donald Trump’s election when they vote on December 19th.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Throughout history, the faceless electors have never changed an election’s results.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: They could, in fact, starve Trump of an outright victory and kick the election to the House of Representatives. But even then, blue-eyed noodler Paul Ryan and the boys wouldn’t further indulge this existential crisis. They would give in to DT. While Hillary sinks into a deeper depression, as potential power escapes her icy grasp, there are still basement-bound propeller heads dreaming up fantastical ways she could still be their rocket queen.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It was when one of our producers suggested covering the media rumblings over the potential for an Electoral College revolt that sent us gyrating between those two centrifugal poles. We decided not to cover it. It was magical thinking. We already had a full plate of reality. But watching Mr. Trump assemble his cabinet, installing, as Bob put it, a fox in every henhouse, reality can really tax your imagination.