The American public has used the Internet to build a new mainstream media outside the establishment media’s control and power, President Barack Obama admitted to the top editor of the elite New Yorker magazine.
The editor, David Remnick, met with Obama for two hours on Nov. 10, just after Obama met the President Elect. Obama bemoaned the emergence of mainstream media outlets, such as Drudge and Breitbart and Facebook-shared conservations, that do not take their orders from establishment politicians, experts and institutions.
What frustrated Obama and his staff [in the 2016 campaign] was the knowledge that, in large measure, they were reaching their own people but no further. They spoke to the networks and the major cable outlets, the major papers and the mainstream Web sites, and, in an attempt to find people “where they are,” forums such as Bill Maher’s and Samantha Bee’s late-night cable shows, and Marc Maron’s podcast. But they would never reach the collective readerships of Breitbart News, the Drudge Report, WND, Newsmax, InfoWars, and lesser-knowns like Western Journalism—not to mention the closed loop of peer-to-peer right-wing rumor-mongering.
… That marked a decisive change from previous political eras, [Obama] maintained. “Ideally, in a democracy, everybody would agree that climate change is the consequence of man-made behavior, because that’s what ninety-nine per cent of scientists tell us,” he said. “And then we would have a debate about how to fix it. That’s how, in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, you had Republicans supporting the Clean Air Act and you had a market-based fix for acid rain rather than a command-and-control approach. So you’d argue about means, but there was a baseline of facts that we could all work off of. And now we just don’t have that” …
“I have complete confidence in the American people—that if I can have a conversation with them they’ll choose what’s right. At an emotional level, they want to do the right thing if they have the information.” And yet in an age of filter bubbles and social-media silos, he knew, the “information” that reached people was increasingly shaped by what they wanted to be true. And that was no longer in his hands or anyone else’s.
Obama’s assessment of his own powers of persuasion may not be fully justified. For example, he has completely failed to persuade Americans that his vision of high immigration and low wages is preferable to low-immigration, high wage alternative. He also failed to persuade Americans to support his government directed healthcare system or to support Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Remnick is already on record complaining that his own elite publication was sidelined by Breitbart in the 2016 election.
Surely, Breitbart News, a site of vile conspiracies, could not become for millions a source of news and mainstream opinion… the information loop had been shattered. On Facebook, articles in the traditional, fact-based press look the same as articles from the conspiratorial alt-right media. Spokesmen for the unspeakable now have access to huge audiences. This was the cauldron, with so much misogynistic language, that helped to demean and destroy Clinton. The alt-right press was the purveyor of constant lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories that Trump used as the oxygen of his campaign…
But despair is no answer. To combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. That is all there is to do.
Read Remnick’s interview here.