Marion Just, Ann Crigler, Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy in:

Benjamin Krämer, Christina Holtz-Bacha (Ed.)

Perspectives on Populism and the Media, page 125 - 144

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1. Edition 2020, ISBN print: 978-3-8487-5561-5, ISBN online: 978-3-8452-9739-2,

Series: International Studies on Populism, vol. 7

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Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy Marion Just & Ann Crigler In Greek, democracy simply means “people rule,” while demagogue means “people leader.” Early political thinkers such as Plato were concerned that leaders might pander to the majority by making exorbitant promises. Later, political theorists, like Edmund Burke and the American Founders, echoed the concern that the majority might oppress the minority (who are wealthy) with unreasonable taxation or cheapened money. The American Constitution was written to make it difficult for such leaders to come to power. Contemporary theorists are not as concerned about the minority rich, and instead worry about the majorities and the loyalty of populist leaders who are uncommitted to the democratic enterprise (Galston, 2018; Mounk, 2018). As such, this chapter describes the conditions for contemporary populist leaders to emerge and their potential dangers posed to democracy, independent of their ideological bent. We consider the threat from populist leaders who have no ideology or program other than naked ambition. We describe such leaders as “faux populists.” Origins Historically representative democracies, or majority-based systems of democracy, handicapped the people by restricting voting and other institutions to discourage the formation of broad majorities. Even as those restrictions faded, majority preferences have often been unfulfilled by democratic institutions. The thwarting of the majority provides the opportunity for a leader to champion the popular cause and give voice to the people. Populist leaders generally project the view that society is bifurcated into “the real people” and an evil enemy. Ideological left-wing populists identify the enemy as the moneyed elite or business, while right-wing populists often embrace exclusive nationalism rather than pluralism (de Vreese et al., 2018; Salmela & von Scheve, 2017). A key concern about populist leaders of any orientation is whether or not they will abide by the essential elements of democracy beyond majority rule, such as liberty, equality, and the free exchange of ideas (including a free press). Some populist leaders 1. 125 have taken advantage of the open systems of democracy to establish plebiscitary regimes (as did Louis Napoleon) or electoral authoritarian regimes, as threatened today in Turkey and Hungary. To protect democracies, most theorists endorse the need for an informed citizenry, on the assumption that knowledgeable voters will protect democratic institutions. Such an expectation depends on the media system. In contemporary democracy, the news media are crucial to providing citizens with essential political information, including assessments of the qualities of populist leaders. Almost 200 years ago, the theorist Alexis de Tocqueville noted that a key to liberal democracy is an active press. He argued that “nothing but a newspaper can drop the same thought into a thousand minds at the same moment,” which made democratic political action possible (Book II, Ch. 6, 1889/1997). The media system continues to this day to make it possible to form majority preferences (i.e., the ability to identify like-minded others). With modern technology, accessible information is virtually cost-free, which should bode well for an informed citizenry. Publishing freely, however, is not synonymous with reporting factually. The press in many countries in Europe and Latin America has a partisan orientation. The US press was mostly aligned with parties in the 19th Century, while partisan influence has waxed and waned since then. Populists rely on specific mass media platforms (radio, television, and the partisan press) to gain public attention. Now the Internet, with its vast resources, is fertile ground to grow many varieties of partisan news and these, in turn, make it possible for populist candidates to spread their messages without large capital investment. A partisan press, if taken to an extreme, creates a climate of “you have your facts and we have ours,” which has the potential to spread like wildfire. The unreliability of factual claims is detrimental to democratic trust in media and curtails the media’s ability to monitor and defend democratic norms. For that reason, we identify the nature and practices of the press system as a key factor in countering authoritarian populism. How interests and movements organize in politics depends on the political system itself. In representative systems, parties are the primary means of organizing the public politically and especially electorally. In some parliamentary systems, parties can encourage loose coalitions to form a majority government, as is the case in the Dutch system. Other party systems may discourage coalition uniformity and emphasize divisions, or even cause extreme polarization, bringing effective government to a halt. Populist leaders can take advantage of failures in the party system to exploit the frustrations of the majority. Marion Just & Ann Crigler 126 Populism: Left, Right, and “Faux” Amitai Etzioni characterized populist leaders as “demagogues who appeal to the masses in emotive terms,” who attack institutions with simple solutions to difficult problems (2019, p. 4). In this essay we contrast left and right-wing populism, with what we call “faux populists” who are not committed to any ideology or set policy position, but instead are committed to maintaining their personal power. Faux populists are opportunists. Faux populists use policies as rhetorical instruments to achieve power. Authoritarianism may be embraced by a populist leader of the right or left or even by a faux populist. Leaders can morph from one kind of populist to another. Populist leaders may become so enamored of power that they are willing to do anything to preserve their control. They may transform the institutions of the state so that it is no longer an effective democracy but rather a vehicle of oppression of a targeted racial, ethnic, or religious minority (Harms et al., 2018). Populism thrives on the idealization of the people, but it usually requires a specific enemy to mobilize supporters. The primary indicator of the rise of authoritarian populism is an attack on the sources of criticism and information, such as free media and academic institutions. The road to populist power in democracies is paved by a system’s failure to achieve the goals or preferences of the majority. Jean-Marie Le Pen employed slogans like, “The voice of the people,” or “We say what you think!” to equate himself with the people (Mudde, 2018). President Barack Obama’s slogan “Yes, we can!” is an example of democratic populism, arguing for policy changes. The rhetoric of populism is on the rise among Western democratic leaders as chronicled by Paul Lewis and colleagues at The Guardian (2019). While populist rhetoric has been rampant in Latin America, other nations around the world have embraced the language of populism, if not the policies. The Guardian categorized even Theresa May in Britain and Donald Trump in the U.S. as “somewhat populist” (but not Angela Merkel or Tony Blair). Populist leaders sometimes use vulgar language, to emphasize their connection to the mass of people. Michael Signer, former mayor of Charlottesville, VA, and author/lecturer writes that, “critics think demagogues hurt themselves politically by violating the standards of polite society, they’re doing the opposite: They’re doubling down on an unorthodox but potent politics” (Signer, 2019). Populism is often combined with a “host ideology (Mudde 2004). Leftwing populism identifies class as the major dividing line between the majority and minority, with business on the side of the wealthy. In right-wing populism, some version of national ethnic group identity or religious na- 2. Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy 127 tionalism is a common denominator of “the people.” Many right-wing populists oppose new immigrants who do not look or speak the same language, arguing that they diminish national “purity.” Minorities are an easy target for political bullies to use as scapegoats when an economic situation compromises the security or expectations of members of the majority group. The current concern about the impact of populist leaders on democracy stems from the tendency of authoritarian populist leaders to mobilize the majority against minorities and to weaken legal and constitutional obstacles to their goals. Populist leaders (regardless of whether they are on the authoritarian right or authoritarian left) attack the laws, procedures, and norms that hinder their legitimacy. In particular, democratic protections of individual liberty come under attack. As Yascha Mounk writes: “In countries from Venezuela to Hungary, attacks by populists on independent institutions and the rule of law ultimately erode the conditions for free and fair elections to such an extent that populist leaders cease to be effectively constrained by the will of the people” (2018, p. 99). The rise of authoritarianism is often subtle, occurring as a sliding away from democratic norms in pursuit of majoritarian goals. These goals may be an assertion of nationalism at the expense of minorities or the promotion of the poor against personal or corporate wealth. In this chapter, we examine an authoritarian populist of the left, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, several from the right, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Viktor Orban of Hungary, and other European authoritarian populists in various stages of institutionalization, and a faux populist, Donald Trump of the United States. In each case, we emphasize the attacks on constitutional structure and the media system, as well as other kinds of critics. The Case of Venezuela The populist leader of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez represented a typical classbased movement. Chavez, himself, whose rhetoric The Guardian studies places at the highest end of the populist scale, rose to power on the promise to use the country’s vast oil wealth to fund major social programs. The poor flocked to his cause and he was democratically elected with the support of his popular party and movement. He convinced his supporters at home and abroad that his Bolivarian movement was successful in redistributing wealth. It is important to note that “Chaveznomics” was not without its detractors, as critics have pointed out that economic benefit to the poor following the Cuban model did not yield the kind of success the 3. Marion Just & Ann Crigler 128 government claimed. Rather, some economists have argued that the improvements on most measures tracked the rise of oil prices (Rodriguez, 2008). The government used command economic policies, especially food price controls, to maintain the impression of progress. Unfortunately, when oil prices fell, the population expressed its displeasure with the illusion of progress at the ballot box. The opposition attempted to seize power by a coup (encouraged by the national and international oil interests), which only served to escalate Chavez’s wrath and counter-attack. He succeeded in revising the constitution to remain in power. This is a common story. Leaders often project their own interests onto the public interest. They see threats everywhere and build defenses. In Chavez’s case, the external threats were real. The U.S. was opposed to his socialist regime and Chavez found friends among authoritarian states such as Russia. His anti-American stance shored up his popularity when the economy began to fail. At that point Chavez and his international allies refused to surrender. Chavez began his leadership as a democratic economic populist and became an authoritarian nationalist to maintain power. His story is a cautionary tale. Populist typology is not immutable. The desire to hold onto power, coupled with unanticipated changes in the environment can transform a populist leader of one kind into another. Following Chavez’s illness and death, he was succeeded by the much-less popular Maduro regime. Among laws passed to strengthen the government, the Chavez regime particularly targeted the media. It is important to recognize that prior to Chavez’s rise, the media were dominated by pro-business, anti-populist forces, which were heavily involved in an attempted coup. The Chavez government established countervailing government-controlled media and required all channels to carry his weekly addresses and other government content. Most of these public media could not compete with the established private channels, but the government supported a variety of locally based and community-oriented outlets. The Internet was largely untrammeled and has been an area in which the highly partisan conflict in Venezuela has played out. The Venezuelan example highlights the difficulties a populist regime may have in overcoming an imbalance of media resources and attempting to provide fact-based news in a deeply divided political society. The pre-Chavez media were not trusted to provide unbiased political information. After the Chavez revolution and the establishment of state media, the public could choose their version of events, but the possibility of an objective press retreated further as the economic and political situation collapsed. Another lesson of the Venezuelan case is that the his- Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy 129 torical media system shapes how populist leaders seek and consolidate power. The case of Turkey With an eye to joining the EU, Turkey was a fairly robust democracy. During the early years of the 21st Century, the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, AKP) rose to power in 2002 under a system of “tutelary democracy” in which a collaboration of military and high-level, secular-republican elites shaped democratic competition (Aytaç & Elçi, 2018). In 2003, campaigning as the true representative of the people, many of whom were religious Muslims, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became Prime Minister. He had gained populist credibility when he had taken on the incumbent elites by reciting a pro-militant Islamic poem. He was imprisoned (and barred from politics) for 10 months in the mid-1990s (Aytaç & Elçi, 2018). As a result, Erdoğan began his populist push to power expressing values of majoritarian democracy and direct connections between leaders and citizens while also expressing suspicions of secular elites. In the post-2011 period, as Erdoğan consolidated power and subdued other elite institutions, Turkey’s chances of joining the EU diminished and his populist us/them appeals shifted to anti-Western messages conveyed through media outlets increasingly controlled by Erdoğan’s supporters. Erdoğan and the AKP used a number of techniques to advance their “populist” goals and restrict opposition. They employed tactics including legislation, referenda, regulatory oversight, economic pressure, control over media ownership and management, favoritism in appointments to public media positions, allocation of government advertising accounts to supporter controlled media, limiting access to government officials, and, finally, intimidation of and violent attacks on journalists. Through public referenda, constitutional amendments were passed to strengthen the executive branch’s power over the other branches of government. Legislation reduced press freedom through more restrictive penal codes and anti-terrorism measures that criminalized certain content including making “denigration of Turkishness” illegal (which was open to different interpretations) and dissemination of terrorist propaganda (Somogyi, 2018). For example, these revisions were used to prosecute and intimidate journalists who wrote critically about Turkish security forces or covered activities of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). Over the years, hundreds of journalists have been tried and imprisoned. Legislation also increased the oversight and regulatory powers of the Supreme Council of Radio and Television, 4. Marion Just & Ann Crigler 130 which has used licensing and fines to shut down or censor opposition media. Erdoğan and his supporters have also used considerable economic pressure to control media coverage. In 2009, for example, the Doğan media group was charged with tax evasion and fined $3.4 billion, which forced them into a protracted legal battle and the sale of two of their newspapers and a TV station (Baydar, 2015). By 2016, Doğan was sold to a holding company owned by supporters of Erdoğan. Even before the attempted coup and subsequent state of emergency declaration, the president had total control over a media sector that was already dominated by state interference. The expiration of the state of emergency in July 2018 had not seen any restitution of press freedom (Schenkkan, 2018). The Hungarian Case The democratic Hungarian regime was preceded by a Soviet-style authoritarian government, including a government-controlled press. The successful overthrow of the communist regime restored freedom of the press and of the academy. The Hungarian American financier George Soros established a new university to promote the freedom of ideas. Hungary is a case of creeping authoritarianism, often backed by electoral imprimatur. In fact, Anna Lührmann and Staffan I. Lindberg (2019) identify “electoral autocracy” as the most common form of authoritarianism today. The researchers argue that democratic elections bring authoritarians to power and continue to shore up that power with periodic returns to the polls. The actual freedom of those elections is threatened by restrictions on the press and threats to the opposition (Fisher & Taub, 2019). Viktor Orban came to power democratically, pursuing a nationalist form of right-wing populism. The rise of his neo-fascist Fidesz Party emanated from the failure of the preceding liberal democratic regime to preserve the economic status of the middle and lower classes and benefitted from the existential threat of non-European immigrants (Becker, 2010). Orban emphasized the role of the Hungarian Church and closed the borders to immigrants, which were popular measures. He proceeded to strengthen his authoritarian regime by suppressing the press, reorganizing the courts, and disbanding the new university, and most notably, by instituting a new constitutional regime, which can only be amended by a super-majority. Andrew Bozoki and Daniel Hegadus (2018) describe the Orban “hybrid” regime as “illiberal, anti-pluralist, homogenizing populism” (i.e., monism), which has derailed democracy in Hungary. Like Poland, the Hungarian regime is situated in the European Union and its major par- 5. Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy 131 ty was in coalition with other European People’s parties, including the German Christian Democratic Union. Its continued membership in the EU and its participation in a European party group, gives the regime some cover in terms of its democratic credentials. Recently, however, Orban’s Fidesz Party was suspended from the group. There is no doubt that Hungary has become an authoritarian populist democracy, with none of the institutional protections of minorities associated with liberal democracy. Weakening of Other European Democracies The situation in Hungary is the most egregious example of democratic backsliding in the E.U. Poland is not far behind, considering the recent replacement of Constitutional Court justices and revision of the Court’s powers. Poland was eventually reprimanded by the EU. In Italy, the Five Star populist party came to power and threatened to take the country out of the EU. The Movement was outvoted by another right-wing party in the 2019 European elections and is now facing a resurgence of the left. In France, the Yellow Vest movement and Marie LePen’s National Rally/ National Front are on-going threats to the Macron government and the stability of the liberal order in France. All of these movements in Europe have a common theme of populist rejection of non-European immigration. Despite the ominous rise of right-wing populists, the European Parliamentary elections saw improvement on the left. The Case of Donald Trump in the U.S. The U.S. has also experienced a rejection of immigration, although the perceived threat is attributed to Latin America rather than Africa. Donald Trump rode the immigration issue to the White House in 2016. The slogan of his candidacy was “Build the Wall,” i.e., on the U.S. southern border with Mexico. He additionally promised that Mexico would pay for the wall and was wildly popular with a particular segment of the electorate. The media described Trump as a populist. During the nominating phase to the election, Trump had “populist” competition from a left-wing populist candidate, Bernie Sanders, running in the Democratic Party. Sanders lost the party nomination to Hillary Clinton. For a time, however, the U.S. presented an unusual example of competing populist ideas and candidates, one class-based (Sanders) and the other, we argue, a faux populist, with a 6. 7. Marion Just & Ann Crigler 132 nationalist agenda (“Make America Great Again” and “America First”). It is difficult to categorize Trump with right-wing populists, although he has a strong commitment to business interests and has appointed mostly corporate leaders and lobbyists to his cabinet. During the election, Trump supported several left-leaning economic positions including lower drug prices and an improved national health care policy, as well as infrastructure investment. Once in office, he did not ardently pursue any of these economic populist measures, but vigorously pursued his anti-immigrant agenda, along with business-oriented policies such as weakened government regulation over industries and the environment, and huge tax reductions for businesses and wealthy individuals. With Trump’s lack of experience in politics, the press initially regarded him merely as a celebrity candidate rather than a serious contender. Trump did not receive the kind of press scrutiny given to insider candidates such as Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Hillary Clinton. Trump had no political record for the press to critique and he stone-walled inquiries into his businesses. During the primary season, Trump made controversial remarks, as populists generally do, which made him the focus of press attention (Mazzoleni, 2003; Wettstein et al., 2018). Candidate Trump ignored norms of political discourse and launched personal attacks on his Republican opponents and the media itself. These attacks resulted in even greater news coverage (Just, Crigler, & Hua, 2018). Trump was a media goldmine from a commercial perspective. In fact, Leslie Moonves, then head of a leading U.S. broadcast network, said of the Trump candidacy: “It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS" (Weprin, 2016). When Trump became the Republican nominee, the press was obliged to cover him extensively. It is impossible to underestimate the difference between Trump's running as one of the two major U.S. party candidates vs. running as a minor party candidate (such as the 2016 Green Party candidate, Jill Stein). Trump would have been frozen out of political consideration had he run as a third party candidate, but as the Republican standardbearer he had the attention of all of the media. In addition to the news media’s laser-like focus, he had a built-in megaphone on the pro-Republican Fox News outlet (Grossman & Hopkins, 2019). Fox News in the U.S. is essentially a mouthpiece for political conservatism and the Republican Party (Mayer, 2019). Fox network has a loyal audience consisting of about onethird of the electorate who rely on it exclusively. Forty percent of Trump voters watched Fox (Mitchell et al., 2017). Minor party candidates in the U.S. did not have the news outlets promoting their candidacies to the public, nor did they even appear in candidate debates. Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy 133 In addition to Fox, Trump was a dominant figure on Twitter; one could almost say that Twitter was made for him. He naturally spoke in slogans, easily adapted to the character-limit of Twitter. Although social media can be a channel for direct communication between candidates and the public, most people are not active on Twitter. The platform draws its power from the large base of verified journalist-users. Reporters monitor the Twitter messages of politicians and campaigns and write about them. What politicians say on Twitter can quickly be conveyed to the audience for mainstream news. News coverage of candidates, however, tends to skew negative. From the beginning of the campaign, Trump attacked journalists and their coverage of him. An analysis of 2016 news content showed that Trump received the lion’s share of the coverage (Patterson, 2016). Even his tweets received far more media coverage than those of his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that she tweeted more frequently than he did (Just, Crigler, & Hua, 2018). Trump was newsworthy in every medium. While he received massive coverage, media attention for Trump was overwhelmingly negative (as was the coverage of Clinton). During the campaign and again as president, Trump threatened to “open up the libel laws” so that he could sue the press for its reporting about him. In a public Cabinet meeting carried by the TV networks, he argued “Our current libel laws are a sham and a disgrace and do not represent American values or American fairness” (Grynbaum, 2018). Trump complained that the reported size of his rallies and of his inauguration crowd were too low. Over time, Trump escalated his attacks, calling the media “the opposition party” and describing news organizations as “the enemy of the American people” (Grynbaum, 2017). At his rallies, Trump restricted the press to a penned-in area at the back of the venue and called on the audience to vilify the journalists present. On some occasions, reporters were physically attacked. Trump employed intimidation and ridicule of the press, as well as withdrawal of access. He favored Fox News with interviews and praised their coverage. Trump paid his lawyer to squelch a story about his marital infidelity that had been sold exclusively to the National Enquirer in a process known as “catch and kill,” i.e., buying the rights to a story and then intentionally not publishing it (ProPublica, 2018). His bad press in pursuit of his treatment of applicants seeking asylum at the U.S. Southern Border resulted in strict monitoring of journalists covering the story, even resulting in reporters being searched and detained for questioning (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2018; NPR, 2019). The government instituted a secret database of names of journalists, lawyers, and advocates for asylum seekers (NBC News, 2019) and harassed them when they traveled. Marion Just & Ann Crigler 134 Trump’s attacks on the free press are accompanied by attacks on other democratic institutions. He targeted the judiciary when it overturned his executive actions, particularly in relation to his anti-immigration policies. His attacks on the courts elicited a rare response from Chief Justice John Roberts of the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump had characterized a judge who ruled against him as a Mexican (even though he was a U.S. born citizen) and another as an “Obama judge.” Roberts particularly took issue with Trump’s assertion that judges were partisan (although people across the political spectrum suspect that judges have a political ideology that is compatible with the president who appoints them, at least at the time of appointment). Roberts schooled Trump in the concept of the independence of the judiciary. Trump responded by insulting the Chief Justice. Trump has attacked the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit as a “disgrace,” claiming that “In every case that gets filed in the Ninth Circuit we get beaten” (Liptak, 2018). Trump’s remarks are quite telling. He sees every encounter as a personal success or failure and every critique as a personal attack (Just, Crigler, & Hua, 2017). It helps to explain why his attacks on institutions, such as the courts and the press, are so personalized. He even refers to his critics as “Trump haters,” which is a meme he adopted from Fox News. Perhaps most frightening for democracy, Trump has also attacked other agencies and processes, including the U.S. Constitution. Trump has attacked his own national security advisors as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In a response to the FBI/Department of Justice investigation into Trump’s suspected collusion with Russia, Trump tweeted a request for an investigation of the Obama FBI/DOJ for “surveying and infiltrating” his campaign “for Political Purposes” (sic; Cost, 2018). He has questioned the Congress’ constitutional power of governmental oversight. Critics have noted his disregard for the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom inherent in his attempts to ban Muslim immigrants from entering into the U.S. and his hints that mosques should be shut down. The Courts overturned his various immigration bans until he came up with one that included two non-Muslim nations—North Korea and Venezuela—so that his immigration ban could pass constitutional muster. Trump is notably unfamiliar with the Constitution and has displayed his ignorance on many occasions (Liptak, 2016). For example, he referred once to the 12th Article of the Constitution, which does not exist (Milbank, 2018). No doubt, among the most serious of Trump’s challenges to American democracy so far is his declaring a national emergency to get the funds to build a wall on the Southern border. A state of emergency has been a precursor to historical autocratic seizures of power. By invoking emergency Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy 135 powers, Trump threatens the exclusive Constitutional power of the House of Representatives to initiate tax bills and authorize funding (Tribe, 2019) —a concept the U.S. inherited from Britain. Although many presidents have declared emergencies, these have been restricted to war, civil war, or other imminent disasters. The president not getting his way on policy is not a national emergency, although it appears to be for Trump. (It is significant that the invocation of a state of emergency removes all protections of individual liberty and eliminates other centers of power at the discretion of the executive. Power is then transferred to the president.) Trump succeeded in shutting down the government to pressure Congress to fund his wall, but in the end he was forced to retreat. Conclusion Populists come in all ideological flavors, including no ideology at all. The threat of populists to democracies is that they may undermine liberal democratic institutions and become authoritarians. We argue that the first and key indicator of a slide towards authoritarianism is an attack on centers of criticism, especially the press, but also on the judiciary and the academy. Unfortunately, the press cannot be relied upon to constrain authoritarian populist leaders. The partisan press is no safeguard, because the leader’s preferred press functions as a propaganda outlet. The commercial press may contribute to the rise of populists because the norms of newsworthiness can actually propel populist leaders to the forefront. Populists make good “copy,” i.e., they are newsworthy because they break with traditional styles and norms of political discourse and so qualify as new, surprising, or different. Because they rage against “enemies” of the public, and they create conflict, which is one of the most common news tropes. Furthermore, populist leaders are impassioned and they employ emotional language (Etzioni, 2019, p. 4) that connects them with their audiences, making them even more newsworthy. Scholars find that novelty, conflict, and drama are some of the key—though not necessarily beneficial—aspects of newsworthiness (Graber & Dunaway, 2018). Some researchers argue that when populist leaders emerge in democracies, the press singles them out for negative coverage, as was the case for Hugo Chavez (Dineen, 2012). The opposition parties may also take extraordinary measures to remove populists from office, which occurred in both Venezuela and Argentina. The argument is that populist leaders attack the press and opposition parties in reaction to their anti-populist actions and not from the outset. We are not convinced that this is the case. 8. Marion Just & Ann Crigler 136 In the U.S., at least, the norms of independent journalism encourage intense scrutiny of all candidates for office and the coverage overall tends to be negative. When candidates attack each other in an effort to win voters, the news media emphasize the conflict to attract the audience. One study found that candidate tweets that attacked other candidates were the most likely ones to be quoted in newspapers (Just, Crigler, & Hua, 2018). Increasing political polarization is a guaranty of increased conflict among political parties or party groups and conflict is played out in the press. While political polarization has many negative effects, perhaps the most dangerous is that it may lead to legislative gridlock. When societies are unable to solve their most urgent problems democratically, they provide the essential conditions for both populist leaders and authoritarian government. One of the cruelest examples from the historical record is the declining ability of the German Weimar Regime to rule by legislation. Gridlock made it impossible to deal with the Great Depression when it arrived. The Weimar government was ruling essentially by decree for many months before Hitler seized power. After the 1933 Reichstag Fire, Hitler convinced President von Hindenburg to pass a special order for state security, which eventually led to the Enabling Act, tragically handing power over to Hitler. The lesson for people today is that extreme political polarization in the face of economic privation is fertile ground for proponents of extreme ideologies, including personal autocratic figures. William Galston (2018) argues that in order to fight an authoritarian breakdown of democracy, we must “restore the ability of liberal-democratic institutions to act effectively.” This is a tall order. Solving the effectiveness problem means tackling the polarization that results in gridlock. One of the culprits in polarization is a partisan news system. It is important, therefore, to expose propaganda, both foreign and domestic. By the time the government takes over the media altogether, it is too late. The judiciary, the academy and the press are the barriers to authoritarian rule. The press, in particular, can publicize authoritarian moves on the part of the executive and help to organize resistance. The watchdog role of the press in free systems is essential to identify deviation from democratic norms that may be invisible to the public. Citizens have to be reminded about the dangers and threats to democracy, such as interference in the courts, restrictions on voting, changes in voting procedures, and attacks on the independence of the judiciary. Partisan news, which is in the pocket of the executive, will not have the necessary integrity to carry out these functions. Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy 137 We may like to believe that the commercial press is a complete protector of democratic actions. As we have seen, however, in the American case, a commercial press can easily be high-jacked by a colorful populist with authoritarian tendencies. The more “newsworthy,” i.e., different from the norm, the more a populist leader will be the focus of news, expanding the leader’s popular support. Furthermore, a commercial press, which is preoccupied with “newsworthiness,” will eventually cease to report “old” news. If, for example, a leader promotes a “big lie,” the same lie will not make news after the first several instances. Even the commercial press may not challenge obvious improbable pronouncements, such as “Mexico will pay for the Wall,” in fear of being accused of taking sides in a partisan debate. That is one reason why a commercial press during elections prefers to report “the horserace” rather than evaluate the policy proposals of each side. The commercial press is also in awe of election results and other indications that the public is on the side of the authoritarian leaders. This is also one of the reasons why semi-authoritarian systems continue to hold elections, as in Hungary, Poland, and Venezuela. Populist authoritarians seek the imprimatur of electoral outcomes to defend their regimes and also to dominate the press. For a long time, partisan divisions in the electorate promoted evenhanded coverage in the commercial press. Wire services and large newspapers and television networks cannot afford to alienate large segments of their audiences, so they maintain a neutral stance. At some point, however, an audience can readily be found by catering to one side or the other, as Fox News discovered in the US. Fox News, in turn, gave rise to the leftleaning cable network MSNBC in the U.S., which also found a liberal audience. In fact, on at least one occasion during the Trump presidency, MSNBC drew a larger prime time audience than Fox News (Knight, 2018). A partisan press and the partisan Internet contribute to a lack of faith in the press. It is no surprise that many people on the left and right distrust the press as a whole because what they believe to be true is not reflected in a local news outlet. Unless the public can trust the press, journalists will be powerless to defend democracy. Marion Just & Ann Crigler 138 The free press is necessary to secure democracy. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” (Jefferson, 1787). When the press is under attack, it is essential to promote solidarity among journalists and media outlets. When authoritarian populists go after a particular press critic, rival journalists and media across the political spectrum must support those under attack. Making common causes across the political spectrum preserves the political system where the press can flourish. We can hope that journalists can see what de Tocqueville called, “self-interest rightly understood.” Populism: The Achilles Heel of Democracy 139 References Aytaç, S. E., & Elçi, E. (2018). Populism in Turkey, chapter 6. Retrieved from https:// Baydar, Y. (2015, February). 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This volume assembles a wide range of perspectives on populism and the media, bringing together various disciplinary and theoretical approaches, authors and examples from different continents and a wide range of topical issues. The chapters discuss the contexts of populist communication, communication by populist actors, different types of populist messages (populist communication in traditional and new media, populist criticism of the media, populist discourses related to different topics, etc.), the effects and consequences of populist communication, populist media policy and anti-populist discourses. The contributions synthesise existing research on this subject, propose new approaches to it or present new findings on the relationship between populism and the media. With contibutions by Caroline Avila, Eleonora Benecchi, Florin Büchel, Donatella Campus, María Esperanza Casullo, Nicoleta Corbu, Ann Crigler, Benjamin De Cleen, Sven Engesser, Nicole Ernst, Frank Esser, Nayla Fawzi, Jana Goyvaerts, André Haller, Kristoffer Holt, Christina Holtz-Bacha, Marion Just, Philip Kitzberger, Magdalena Klingler, Benjamin Krämer, Katharina Lobinger, Philipp Müller, Elena Negrea-Busuioc, Carsten Reinemann, Christian Schemer, Anne Schulz, Christian Schwarzenegger, Torgeir Uberg Nærland, Rebecca Venema, Anna Wagner, Martin Wettstein, Werner Wirth, Dominique Stefanie Wirz


Der Band vereint ein breites Spektrum von Perspektiven auf das Thema Populismus und Medien. Er bringt verschiedene fachliche und theoretische Ansätze, Beitragende und Beispiele von mehreren Kontinenten und ein breites Spektrum aktueller Themen und Herausforderungen zusammen. Die Kapitel behandeln den Kontext populistischer Kommunikation, Kommunikation durch populistische Akteure, verschiedene Typen populistischer Botschaften (populistische Kommunikation in traditionellen und neuen Medien, populistische Medienkritik, populistische Diskurse zu verschiedenen Themen), Wirkungen und Konsequenzen populistischer Kommunikation, populistische Medienpolitik, aber auch antipopulistische Diskurse. Die Beiträge systematisieren vorhandene Forschung, schlagen neue Ansätze vor oder präsentieren neue Befunde zum Verhältnis von Populismus und Medien. Mit Beiträgen von Caroline Avila, Eleonora Benecchi, Florin Büchel, Donatella Campus, María Esperanza Casullo, Nicoleta Corbu, Ann Crigler, Benjamin De Cleen, Sven Engesser, Nicole Ernst, Frank Esser, Nayla Fawzi, Jana Goyvaerts, André Haller, Kristoffer Holt, Christina Holtz-Bacha, Marion Just, Philip Kitzberger, Magdalena Klingler, Benjamin Krämer, Katharina Lobinger, Philipp Müller, Elena Negrea-Busuioc, Carsten Reinemann, Christian Schemer, Anne Schulz, Christian Schwarzenegger, Torgeir Uberg Nærland, Rebecca Venema, Anna Wagner, Martin Wettstein, Werner Wirth, Dominique Stefanie Wirz