The Media Couldn’t Get Enough of the Nunes Memo

Alvin Chang writes about how the media got snookered—again—by a ridiculous Republican obsession:

We’ve been here before: the Uranium One conspiracy; the allegation that Hillary Clinton colluded with Russia; the theory that the DNC killed a staffer who was supposedly the source of the email leak; the stories about the “deep state” trying to undermine Trump; and even Pizzagate….As the rest of the media tries to make sense of the spectacle, these conspiracy theories end up completely dominating news cycles. Making these storylines mainstream doesn’t work unless CNN, MSNBC, the nightly shows, the morning shows, and even Saturday Night Live engage seriously with the topic. And they do, time and again.

….It would be one thing if this was the first time, but it’s not. Time and again, mainstream media is enamored with the spectacle, to the point that much of the news is observing this spectacle and trying to make sense of it. There is a real conundrum in how much to cover these conspiracy theories, and how to do it. But eventually, we will get real, hugely consequential information — and the true indicator of whether the conspiratorial right has won will be whether the media can get the public to listen to that signal amid all the noise.

It’s not just the media, though. One thing that’s clear is that this stuff drives clicks and ratings on both sides of the aisle. We all wanted to hear about the Nunes memo, and we tuned out when the news was about something else. Partly this is because of the media coverage, which sucks us in. But then we start demanding more, and the media obliges. It’s a vicious circle, and it’s not even clear who’s to blame for starting it. It’s tempting to say that it’s obviously the media, but there’s always a point at the beginning of these things where coverage is perfectly justified. It’s news, after all. And then it gets out of control because the media doesn’t have either the desire or the self-discipline to stop the hype machine. But neither do we, it turns out.

At the moment, all I can suggest is the Hannity test: If Sean Hannity is going crazy over something, the rest of us should ignore it. He’s an almost perfect barometer of what’s news and what’s nonsense.