Quintessential Coverage

Onkel Joachim

A week-old article from TV2 only caught my eye the other day because it compressed so much of what’s wrong with contemporary Danish media coverage of the United States into a single article.

You can find the original version (obviously in Danish) here:

Trump Costs the Developing World Dearly, Svenning Dalgaard, TV2..dk, 24 November

Ordinarily I’d zero in on specifics, extracting a lot of citations and peppering my golden prose with links to articles supporting my observations. That’s not gonna happen today. I’m only using Svenning Dalgaard’s article as a springboard to discuss generalities I’ve observed elsewhere, almost all of which have been dealt with specifically in previous posts.

We can start with the headline. Like almost all establishment media headlines these days, in Denmark and America, it names Trump and says something negative about him. That’s because, as always, Trump sells. I haven’t seen any data on the issue, but I’ve worked enough in media and marketing to know that we wouldn’t have been seeing such a smorgasbord of Trump headlines these past four years if they weren’t pulling in the eyeballs.

Naturally it’s all negative: all that is bad about America in 2020 is because of Trump; all that is good is in spite of him. It’s not unique to Trump or 2020: any Republican in any year will get the same treatment. Remember when Bush was Hitler? Good times. The rules flip when there’s a Democrat in the White House: all that is good in America is because of the Democrat; all that is bad is in spite of the Democrat.

The article itself is built largely (if not entirely) from a story in the New York Times. This is standard practice in Denmark, as I’ve noted before, even though the Times has openly declared an activist stance against the current president and should therefore be disqualified as a source (or balanced by pro-Trump sources) for any stories relating to the Trump administration. Danish outlets also frequently base their stories on coverage from the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC, all of which are just as slanted. Only You will pretty much never see anything sourced from any right-of-center outfit, although it’s not uncommon to see Danish journalists quoting establishment media sources’ criticism of stories from right-of-center sources. (For example, telling us that the New York Times doesn’t believe the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden is credible. Yeah, so? Wouldn’t the New York Post say they don’t consider the New York Times credible in their criticism?)

Think of it: America is universally understood to be a country split down the middle, and the intrepid knights of Danish journalism are content to give you all their reporting on America from just one side: they will tell you what the leftist scribes of America’s establishment media think about the American left (sunshine! rainbows! unicorns!), and they will tell you what the leftist scribes of America’s establishment media think about the American right (lunatics! Nazis! terrorists!).

You cannot understand America if you do not understand both sides of the current divide. And you cannot understand the American right if all your information about them has been filtered by the American left.

Svenning Dalgaard illustrates another failing of Danish journalists: he imports not just the leftward-tilting content of his American sources, but the sneering condescension as well. Dalgaard’s effort is amateurish compared to masters like David Trads and Steffen Kretz, but he manages a pretty good level of snark just the same.

Dalgaard’s article also exhibits the Danish establishment’s reverence for Non-Government Organizations (NGOs): there’s an obvious assumption built into his piece that the all NGOs are good, and that any resistance to or criticism of them is necessarily bad. In truth, of course, some NGOs are generally good and some are generally bad; some that are generally good have done some pretty bad things, and some that are generally bad have done some pretty good things. The G20 is an NGO with plenty of supporters and detractors, but the article is written on the premise that the G20 is good and its decisions are sound and its policies are correct. Each of those premises may or may not be correct, but they are premises, which is to say opinions, not tautological truths. Journalists on both side of the Atlantic seem to fear that to acknowledge as much would be feeding into the current mood of populist antagonism toward globalism, and the last thing any establishment journalist wants is to do or say anything that might encourage those anti-globalist cranks.

Another common failing of Danish journalism can be seen in Dalgaard’s failure to treat the U.S. as a sovereign country with its own interests to assert and defend. While every other country of the world is typically assessed by Danish journalists in terms of its own domestic situation, the U.S. is most often portrayed as having global responsibilities that outweigh the needs of its own people. Yes, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and global stability is in the American interest, but that doesn’t mean America always has the resources to help everyone everywhere whenever help is needed, or that the American people never need help from their own government.

Think of it this way: every airline in the world reminds every passenger on every flight that in the event of an emergency, they must secure their own oxygen mask before trying to help others, including their own children. Yet the U.S. is expected to shrug off money it’s owed and cough up even more foreign charity even when its own people are struggling. It’s expected to ensure that a vaccine is available to the world’s poorest countries before having ensured its own citizens have been tended to.

In what kind of world should national governments have any higher priority than the well-being of their own citizens? Does Svenning Dalgaard honestly believe the Danish government should worry about getting vaccinations out to Burundi before taking care of Brøndby?

But, as we see in so many other Danish articles, Dalgaard isn’t actually being critical of America here, because the piece is written as though Trump were an autocrat. Donald Trump is not the American Emperor. L’etat, ce n’est pas lui. Certainly he wields the executive power, but that power is not absolute—as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has made clear repeatedly. Trump’s job approval was over 50% coming into this election, meaning that more than half the population found his policies amenable, even if less than half of eligible voters considered him preferable to Joe Biden. When Trump demurs from a costly foreign aid commitment, that’s not The Donald being pissy: that’s American policy, backed by the American people.

Which relates to another interesting point. America’s unwillingness to go along with other western countries is always singled out for criticism and blamed entirely on the president—when the president is Republican. The policies in question are never held up to scrutiny (will they work, are they feasible, what would their impact be?). Instead, it all seems to boil down to a very simple formula: anything that France and Germany can agree on should have the full backing of the United States. Right? If the U.S. disagrees with France and Germany, the U.S. is wrong. Find me one example of an establishment media article from the last decade or two asserting that in a disagreement between America on the one hand and France and Germany on the other, the U.S. is right and the French and Germans are wrong. You can’t. Because the establishment media of Europe naturally enough defend European interests, while the establishment media of the United States defend… European interests. Which allows establishment European media to quote their American peers in support of their own positions. Can you imagine a world in which establishment French and German newspapers were consistently supporting American positions over those of Germany and France? Of course not. Yet we all take the existing state of affairs, in which the Times and the Post (among many others) routinely support Europe over America, as a given. This should seem strange to us: that it does not is even stranger.

Next, and this is hardly unique to Danish coverage of America but appears to be built into establishment journalism everywhere: there’s an assumption that it’s unfair and even cruel to expect that debts be repaid. This notion is colored with a suggestion that debtors are automatically sympathetic: whether it’s an entire nation defaulting on a massive loan from an NGO, or just some young American unable to make the payments on his or her college loan, our sympathies are always assumed to side with the debtors. I lend you a thousand dollars, you can’t afford to pay me back on the terms we agreed to, I insist you honor our contract, and I’m the bad guy.

Even just a few years ago when the mostly southern PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) were becoming a dangerous drag on the European economy, there was a surprising amount of support for the fiscal irresponsibility of those countries. The establishment media of northern Europe couldn’t deny the seriousness of the problem, but their coverage was almost universally tinged with a “Don’t let’s be beastly to the debtors” vibe. I don’t oppose charity or generosity… but I don’t fetishize them, either. It’s reasonable and even necessary to hold debtors accountable for their debts. If it’s not, civilization ceases to be possible.

This isn’t just a question of semantics. If you demonize people, organizations, and entire nations who expect to be paid what they’re contractually owed, you create a massive disincentive for those parties to lend money in the future. Who wants to issue loans on the basis of contracts they’ll be publicly abused for enforcing? This question is about to catch fire in America (the left has signaled their intention to address what they call a “student loan crisis”) and it’s central to the ideas undergirding both this article and the Times article on which it’s based.

Of course, the apparent moral confusion about loan obligations is exacerbated by something else going on here: the mostly leftist notion that countries don’t bear responsibility for their own poverty. That they are impoverished by wealthier countries withholding trade and aid, or by the lingering effects of colonialism or imperialism, or both. This is part of a larger, paternalistic assumption that many if not most of the problems in the so-called developing world are the fault of the advanced western economies. It’s not something many journalists say out loud, but it’s palpable in the subtext of articles like this one.

If, say, the economy of the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Denmark, or Germany were to collapse, blame would properly be placed on its government (or at least the most recent conservative to have had his or her hands on the economy in that country; leftists can’t be blamed because all leftist economic policies are perfect). If the economy of a third-world shit-hole collapses, blame will be placed on… the governments of wealthy western nations. Even in a global economic contraction, when everyone is hurting, it is apparently expected that western countries whose own economies are in serious trouble should be rushing their own resources out to help third-world basket cases.

Incidentally, America is currently shouldering 27 trillion U.S. dollars worth of debt right now. That’s 128% of its current GDP. And Congress is debating another (roughly) trillion dollars in domestic pandemic relief. This same pain is being felt around the world, and yes, the pain is surely sharpest in countries that were on shaky ground to begin with. But is this really a scenario where journalists feel comfortable sneering at a president opting not to throw good money after bad? I mean, fair enough if you want to make the argument that strapped Americans should not only be taking on massive new debt to help themselves out of the current crisis, but should also be taking on additional new debt to help people in faraway nations out of the current crisis. There are surely some sober arguments to be made for that position, even if I can’t think of any: go ahead and make them. But don’t act as though it’s a no-brainer.

Getting back to the villain of this piece, the notorious DJT, there’s clearly no such thing as “too much contempt” when writing about him. After pointing out that Trump’s message to the G20 summit was short and brusque, the article takes a jarring leap:

Golftur nr. 298

Derefter forsvandt præsidenten fra skærmen og gik i gang med at skrive sine tweets om resultatet fra præsidentvalget i delstaten Michigan. Og allerede midt på formiddagen var han på golftur nr. 298 i sin tid som præsident, som CBS’ Hvide Hus-korrespondent Mark Knoller påpegede.

Det er denne demonstration af fuldstændig mangel på interesse, der gør det svært at skaffe penge til de fattigste også fra resten af verden.

In English:

Golf Tour No. 298

The president then disappeared from the screen and began writing his tweets about the election results in Michigan. And already before noon, he was on golf outing number 298 in his time as president, as CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller pointed out.

It’s this demonstration of complete lack of interest that makes it difficult to raise money for the poorest from the rest of the world as well.

I’ve always believed that presidential golf is a good thing. There’s only so much damage a president can do on the links. The more time they’re out whacking balls around a golf course, the less time they have to screw things up elsewhere. I was happy to see Obama golf and I’m happy to see Trump golf. I think it would improve things dramatically if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer played at least nine holes a day. My consistency in this is, alas, abnormal: Trump was critical of Obama’s golf outings but has spent considerably more time golfing as president than Obama did. The journalists who criticize Trump’s golfing never seemed to have a problem with Obama’s; many of the conservatives who were critical of Obama’s golfing seem indifferent to Trump’s.

But put that aside: the point Dalgaard is trying to make is that by checking out of a meeting, sending out a couple of tweets about the election, and then hitting the golf course, Trump was making it harder for unspecified parties to raise money from other unspecified parties to help the world’s poorest people.

No effort is made to back that up. None. It’s not even phrased as an opinion, or as something said by some uncredited observer. It’s just dropped in there as a fact.

“Trump withholds American aid from G20 debt relief program to assist developing countries, making it harder for other members to raise the desired level of funding” would have been a perfectly defensible observation, whether or not it were true.

“Trump’s tweets and golfing make it hard to raise money for the poor” is stupid because it’s such obvious nonsense. Twitter and golf are entirely beside the point. Had Trump popped into the virtual meeting and said, “Hey folks, sounds good, we’re in for forty billion, gotta go,” and then fired off a couple of tweets and hopped into his golf cart, nobody would have complained about his “lack of interest.” Because no one cares about lack of interest: they care about lack of money.

But that’s what passes for journalism today.

Assuming Biden is sworn in as expected next month, it’ll be interesting to watch the evolution of Danish journalism with respect to their coverage of America.

It should be fun.