At least that seems to be how Daniel Henninger sees it:
A standard journalistic defense for publishing, or reporting on, the sort of thing BuzzFeed put on the web Tuesday night about Donald Trump’s alleged compromise by the Russians is that “the people” ultimately will sort it all out. You could say the same thing about tornadoes.
Conventional wisdom after the election held that the media had been chastened by its coverage of the campaign, that it had learned to be more careful about separating facts from the media bubble.
The past week’s news, if one still can call it that, was bookended by two Trump files. The first was the intelligence community report that Russia’s hack of the presidential election favored Mr. Trump. The second was a salacious opposition-research file on Mr. Trump published by BuzzFeed, which says it is about “trending buzz.” Below the site’s Trump-in-Russia stories Wednesday sat, “Lauren Conrad Just Posted The Most Adorable Photo Of Her Baby Bump.”
When people played on real pinball machines, everyone knew that if you banged on the machine too hard, it would lock up. It would “tilt.” Because so many once-respected institutions are behaving so badly, the American system is getting close to tilt.
The interregnum between the election result and next week’s inauguration has become a wild, destructive circus, damaging the reputation and public standing of everyone performing in it, including Donald Trump.
Trumpians will resist that thought, but they should be concerned at their diminishing numbers. Quinnipiac’s poll this week puts Mr. Trump’s approval rating at 37%. Building in even an expansive margin for error, this is an astonishing low for a president-elect.
Mr. Trump routinely mocks the “dishonest media.” He has a point, but dishonesty isn’t the problem. The internet, media’s addictive drug, is the problem. Whatever publication standards existed before the web are eroding.
Any person getting a significant federal job undergoes an FBI background check. These “raw” FBI files—a mix of falsity, half-truths and facts—are never published.
The BuzzFeed story about Donald Trump in Russia is a raw FBI file, or worse. Once it went online, every major U.S. news outlet prominently published long accounts of the story, filled with grave analysis and pro forma caveats about “unverifiable,” as if this is an exemption for recycling sludge.
This isn’t news as normally understood. It’s something else.
Before web-driven media, follow-up stories on anything as fact-free as BuzzFeed’s piece would go on page A15. No more. Now all such stories—in newspapers, on TV or online—run at the same unmitigated intensity because that’s the only level the web knows. These recurring political media storms have become self-feeding wildfires, and they aren’t going to stop. Everyone near them gets burned.
The intelligence community used to know how to keep important secrets. That collapsed in 2011 when the Obama White House poured out operational details of the Osama bin Laden raid within 48 hours. Now the intelligence community, whether the FBI’s James Comey, the CIA or NSA, have become public players in a media environment looking more like Mad Max chasing gasoline than all the news that’s fit to print.
The intelligence community’s report on Russia’s hacking of the election purported to disavow politics even as it said Vladimir Putin stopped praising Mr. Trump in June because he “probably” feared it would backfire. Or “Putin most likely wanted to discredit Secretary Clinton.” We need three intelligence agencies for “probably” and “most likely”?
The intel report burned as another Trump bonfire for days with little notice given to its page-after-page detail on Mr. Putin’s broad, intense and malign effort to undermine the West’s belief in itself. Our election was the tip of the Putin propaganda iceberg. But that’s barely a story.
Mr. Putin has to be grinning at how easy it is to manipulate the U.S. political system into chaos with a Gmail hack and disinformation. Our web-fueled flameouts are doing his work for him.
Which brings us to Donald Trump, the next president.
The New York Times posted this early Wednesday: “From the moment the unsubstantiated but explosive intelligence report hit the internet, the questions arose: When and what would Mr. Trump tweet?”
That is the Gray Lady reducing U.S. politics from something formerly serious to the level of a videogame app—abetted by Mr. Trump, who tweeted that the oppo-research report was “Nazi Germany.”
The fantastic, unsubstantiated memo on the Russians controlling Donald Trump got elevation, in part, because of Mr. Trump’s extensive pro-Putin tweets and comments. Absent more than a 140-character rationale from the Trump camp, the darkest explanation bubbled to the top of the web fever swamp.
Our primary political institutions, including the presidency, are disappearing into a thrill-filled world of their own making that is beyond that of normal, onlooking Americans. None seem to know how to stop banging on the system.