David Roberts @drvox Seattleite transplanted from Tennessee; now blogging for vox.com/ about energy politics. Climate hawk, deficit dove. Not a doctor. Jan. 04, 2019 5 min read

1. Since we're thinking about the role of media bullshit in presidential campaigns, let's take a look at how it works. As a preface to this thread: I like Gillibrand fine, but I'm not stanning for her or anything -- this is just an examination of media dynamics.

2. Say your a political outlet & you are in an endless war for clicks & eyeballs. What can draw them? One reliable method is to reinforce people's priors -- confirm to them what they already think they know. People like that feeling. They'll click on that stuff.

3. When it comes to candidates, that means reinforcing whatever "narrative" has built around them. So take Gillibrand. What's the "narrative" that makes Dems suspicious of her? One is the idea that she's faking progressivism & is secretly a Wall Street shill.

4. CNBC knows that very well. It knows that if it publishes a story "confirming" that pre-existing narrative, it will get tons of clicks. Might even go viral. Thus, this story:  https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/04/kirsten-gillibrand-reaches-out-to-wall-street-execs-about-potential-2020-run-for-president.html?__source=twitter%7Cmain 

5. The story (and associated tweet) strongly lean into the implication that Gillibrand is calling her masters on Wall Street, asking for their support as she attempts to become president & do their bidding, under cover of progressivism. So clicky!

6. And what evidence is brought to bear to support this implication? Here is is: "according to two senior business leaders who spoke on the condition of anonymity." That's it! Literally, that is the ONLY EVIDENCE. "Two senior business leaders" said so.

7. Is Gillibrand calling other kinds of donors? Are other potential candidates also reaching out to potential donors in various industries? Is there anything at all unusual or untoward about reaching out to potential supporters? CNBC readers will have absolutely no idea.

8. As a piece of journalism, it is utterly worthless. But that wasn't the point. The point of the entire sordid exercise was to produce this tweet, which, as they no doubt predicted, is going viral:

9. (OK well not *viral* viral, but among the community of political nerds & influencers on Twitter, a Thing.)

10. When you reinforce existing narratives, people have a MUCH lower threshold of skepticism. People who already "know" Gillibrand is a Wall Street shill will now find their "knowledge" confirmed by this "evidence" ... which reinforces the narrative, which leads to more stories.

11. Thus you'll get a flood of stories on the theme, most of which (if you look closely) are vapid, most of which are relying for evidence on the OTHER vapid stories. It becomes a closed, self-reinforcing loop until it's "obvious" to everyone that it's true.

12. Then, eventually, there are enough such stories that journalists no longer feel obliged to even pretend to support it with evidence. It's just obvious. "Everyone knows" it. I mean, look at all the stories!

13. Again, the point is not to defend Gillibrand. The same dynamic happens again & again. Al Gore was "stiff." Kerry was boring. Hillary was shrill & dishonest. Everyone knows it, so everyone writes it, so everyone knows it. The lack of original evidence fades into to the ether.

14. It is beginning with AOC, even as we speak. The "narrative" is that (because she's young, female, & attractive) she's a ditz. Journos will pluck things out of context, quote anonymous sources, refer to one another ... the narrative will be self-reinforcing.

15. In my adult lifetime, Obama is the *only* politician I've seen who had the ability to resist these narratives. They tried so hard, with "aloof" & "professorial" & "arrogant." They just couldn't get them to catch on. But not every politician can be Obama.

16. Anyway, I have no idea at all how to stop this in media. It's less any political bias than just a bias for clicks & mindshare. The social & economic structures media operate in seem to make it inevitable. But at the very least, media *consumers* could/should wise up.

17. If you see a "news" story that tells you exactly what you already believe about a politician, maybe, before RTing the headline all over the place, read it & see what actual evidence is on offer. The speed of Twitter discourages this, but it's worth the extra minute.

18. I don't see how else to stop it. And it's utterly corrosive. Bullshit narratives about Gore STILL persist, to this day, despite being total & complete vaporware. Every Hillary hater is STILL convinced that she is omni-incompetent & diabolical, weak & a warmonger, all at once.

19. No one has an easier time manipulating us than those who are telling us what we want to hear. So those are the kind of stories to which we should apply extra skepticism. And yes, I'm preaching at myself here, too.

20. In conclusion, beware the "narratives," most especially the ones you agree with. (Probably shoulda ended on the last tweet, but I like a nice round number.) </fin>

The your/you're mistake in tweet #2 invalidates this entire thread and my whole career and I'm retiring now.

OK I really gotta run do errands, but I can't BELIEVE the responses saying, "well Gillibrand could just deny it!" Have you people not been watching for the last 30-some years? You think if she draws 10X attention to this story by denying it, that will STOP the narrative?

Hillary tried to play this game her whole career. Don't respond, you're dodging. Respond, you're being defensive. Respond too softly & you should have been louder. Respond to loudly & you're shrill. Respond to X narrative & you just reinforce Y narrative. There. Is. No. Winning.

Gore was too stiff & formal. Then he dressed down & tried to make jokes and it was "earth tones" and "trying too hard" and "inauthentic." On & on & on. Narratives are bigger than facts; facts don't dislodge them. Controversy only fuels them. There's no winning.


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