Journalist Bemoans the ‘Culture of Assertion’

Former L.A. Times staffer Tim Rutten theorizes about the evolution of Trump's rabid base.

TimRuttenBlogPicA number of people have suggested this presidential election cycle that Donald Trump’s loyal supporters are like an Internet comments thread come to life. This week, veteran journalist Tim Rutten has further corroborated that theory.

In a blog post about’s tangled relationship with the GOP candidate, Rutten, a former Los Angeles Times staffer, recalls how he first encountered the spirit that is animating the GOP caucus, primary and debate trail:

I began to discern the outlines of what’s come to be Trump’s base while writing a column on media for the Los Angeles Times. Interactivity was the era’s journalistic buzzword, so our email addresses were appended to the end of our pieces, as were comments from readers. I had worked an earlier stint writing a column in the early 90’s, when readers actually wrote letters in response to your work. This was during the run-up to the riots and tempers were hot, but even the least civil of those letters – a distinct minority – were nothing compared to the digital reactions I received for the later work.

One of the first things that struck me was how palpably angry much of the reaction was. Name-calling of a sort I hadn’t encountered since leaving the schoolyard was unrestrained. I noticed, in particular, that I no longer ever was mistaken; I always was a “liar.” Suspicions of conspiracy and unseen forces ran through the notes like a dark thread; I was accused of being in a league with everyone except, possibly, the Zambian Patriotic Front. I lost track of the emails that began, “You Jew bastard” and finally wearied of pointing out that I’m a Catholic.

Many on the hard right long had chaffed because on most of the major news organizations’ editorial pages they’d lost the arguments over the major economic, social and civil liberties issues. They lost on the merits, but found that impossible to accept. So, they began a ceaseless drumbeat about how the shortcomings of reportorial journalism all could be attributed to ideological bias. Repeated over and over, the label “liberal media” became the right’s preferred epithet — and repetition granted the fallacy a credibility unsupported by facts. We had entered the era in which we still find ourselves in which political argument is almost wholly in thrall to the culture of assertion.

The culture of assertion. Now fully fertilized by the corporate culture of cable news. We don’t normally excerpt as large a text block from cited articles as the one above, but we felt in this case the exception was justified.

Rutten was laid off from the L.A. Times in 2011. A few years later, at end of the November 2013 comedy sketch embedded below, Conan O’Brien with mock seriousness intoned: “That sketch was a comment on where we are as a society and, if we’re not careful, where we’re headed.’ You called it, Conan!

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