Two recent very much connected events:
This last week an accredited CNN pool reporter for White House briefings was kicked out for shouting some questions to Donald Trump. Nothing new there. Since the President famously only answers questions he likes - usually from the servile sycophants at Fox News - most White House correspondents are reduced to the same tactic. And, if Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his press spokesperson, is holding the fort, she is equally dismissive of any area of questioning which might prove embarrassing to the administration. ie most areas of questioning. So this expulsion had rather more to do with the identity of the interlocuter, CNN, than with the manner of her intervention. Then rewind to that cringeworthy press conference with Theresa May - you remember, the one where he robustly denied the content of a Sun article of which the reporter had an audio recording - and where he again refused to take a question from a representative of CNN, one of the many news organisations he routinely accuses of peddling 'fake news".
The point here is not that the US President is day and daily refusing to be held to account for his behaviour and his now legendary economy with the actualite, but that other members of the media are letting him get away with it. Imagine if you will that in either of these scenarios the rest of the media representatives had got up and walked out. Imagine if the White House Correspondents Association had resigned en masse. Because it's exactly that shock to the system this appalling regime requires in order to be held accountable in the normal way. Consider this: Donald Trump has already dispensed with the long established practice of the White House recording every visitor and the purpose of that visit. In addition transcripts of conversations with other world leaders mde in or from the White House are no longer made available. (Though the transcripts would doubtless be the customary stream of consciousness, ignorance, and self justification and unlikely to add much to the sum of human wisdom.)
In fairness to the US media, some outlets are doing their best under more than trying circumstances to monitor the serial excesses of the most unfit man ever to occupy that office. Magazines like New York and the New Yorker have run lengthy pieces joining up some of the dots regarding dubious contacts, business deals, and tax affairs. The Washington Post is keeping count of Trump's straight lies and misrepresentations since taking office - currently running at over 6000. The New York Times columnists, including some who were registered Republicans, write daily of their horror at the normal presidential conventions being trashed. Commentators like Rachel Maddow on MSNBC and Chris Cuomo on CNN nightly try to shine a spotlight on the latest Trumpian outrage.
But, in a sense, this is part of the problem. The fact that Trump daily tweets incontinently, lashing out in all and every direction, actually serves the purpose of allowing him to set that day's news agenda. Or, more usually, to avert prying eyes from one scandal by flagging up another issue altogether. Things are so desperate that some commentators actually believe it was Trump associates who leaked the latest tape of his alleged paying off mistresses in order to a) distract attention from other crimes and misdemeanours and b) to try and stop that evidence being used in any subsequent legal proceedings involving his former personal lawyer. The man whose vanity knows no bounds cites his millions of Twitter "followers" as evidence of his worldwide popularity when, in truth, hundreds of thousands merely tune in in horrified fascination. Time, perhaps, for the media followers to tune out and concentrate instead on the mounting evidence from other quarters of his duplicity and delusions. Not to mention the small matter of alleged Russian collusion.
But this is not just an American media phenomenon. By common consent the biggest issue facing the UK is the proposed departure from the EU. It's not that the media don't cover Brexit. They do: ubiquitously. But the more I listen the more aghast I am at the failure to query outright lies from studio guests, even where the falsehood has already been flagged up elsewhere. As a convinced Remainer I'm not an objective source of comment. But as a journalist I do know when people are telling outrageous porkies, and when they're not being called out on them. What I don't know, or understand is why. As someone who was a BBC presenter for a long number of years I now find myself shouting at the radio when another piece of fatuous Rees Moggery, or Foxification goes unchallenged.
And it goes without saying that the more rabid tabloids have long since given up an pretence of erecting barriers between news and comment. If Brexit goes ahead on the current basis, stand by for The Sun and the Daily Mail to deny all knowledge of complicity in the resultant economic carnage. We've already had the spectacle of the appalling Nigel Farage whining that he never promised us a Rose Garden. Which brings us to the equally unhappy topic of his contant appearance on the airwaves and high profile programmes like Question Time as a man who has consistently failed to win a seat to a British parliament. A man whose party changes leaders with embarrassing frequency as they try to find a reason for UKIP still living. The reason why he's on speed dial with some broadcast editors of course, the reason that he can spout his bile on his own LBC slot, is that sections of the media only care that he's box office. A cheap headline the next day.
This week Peter Geoghan at Open Democracy published another damning series of accusations about the activities of Arron Banks, principle financial backer of Vote Leave, and sometime pal of that nice Steve Bannon and our Nige. Similarly the admirable Carole Caddwalladr has been given the time and space in The Observer to chase up a parallel story on Banks and much else, now in tandem with Channel 4 news. There is good journalism out there. There is fine, committed, tenacious journalism out there. The sad truth is that it is now the exception rather than the norm.