This November, Americans will likely have to choose as their president one of the two most reviled and polarizing people in American politics.
Putting aside straight up Democrat vs Republican politics, the media should take the blame for two things they hate to acknowledge and likely won’t remedy; lack of trust by the public and their own bias. Both issues have some bearing on how this election has gone so far.
In September 2015, Gallup released its regular Trust in Media poll. What it showed was troubling. Trust in media was at an all-time low of 40%.
And it’s not only Republicans who aren’t feeling the love, where under a third (32%) trust media. Independents are at 33%. Democrats’ trust in media has plummeted from a high of 70% in 2005 to just 54% when the survey was conducted. And in what should be a loud wake-up call, only 35% of those under 50 trust media.
When you don’t trust the messenger, you don’t trust the message.
A more recent Rasmussen Report poll about media bias in election coverage helps us understand a little more about what’s happening. Voters believe, by a wide margin, that the media are biased against Donald Trump and favor Hillary Clinton.
Almost half (49%) believe media are biased against Trump, while only 15% think media are against Clinton. The survey also reminds us that voters believed media was biased for Barack Obama.
And just the other week Gallup dropped this little bomb on the self-righteous newspaper industry. Only 20% have a great deal of confidence in newspapers. Even Democrats and “young adults” have lost confidence in newspapers.
The people are right. Media were in the tank for Obama, and they’re in the tank for Hillary this time around. Think JournoList during the 2008 election.
But forget 2008 for now. A look at how more recent events played out in the news media are revealing.
In early May the NY Times Magazine published a story where Ben Rhodes, Deputy National Security Advisor to the White House, admitted he and the president’s operatives lied about Iranian moderates to create an echo chamber with reporters (essentially a situation in which opposing viewpoints are suppressed, while the favorable position is constantly reiterated) to help secure the Iran Deal in Congress and influence public opinion. Rhodes also insulted the same reporters calling them a bunch of 27 year olds “[who] literally know nothing.”
Instead of holding the Obama administration accountable for lying, most news media reacted with speed and fury to trash the author, David Samuels. One criticism was that the author should have stated his politics on the issue. Predictably, the story got little traction except for in conservative media. Liberal media tried hard to refute it. After a few days the story died. Here’s how Samuels defended himself.
Weeks later, Michael Barbaro and Megan Twohey, of the New York Times, did a piece about Donald Trump’s past behavior with women. The story made little or no real news, yet every morsel was lapped up, analyzed, and Trump criticized and harrumphed over for days on cable shows.
The horrible facts? Trump was a playboy rake, and often a boor, who liked pretty women in bikinis – yet was far ahead of the curve in promoting women in the construction trade despite taking heat for it. Shockingly, at times some women felt Trump was inappropriate.
Despite Barbaro being a frequent Trump Twitter tormenter, no one in media seemed concerned with his political leanings.
The Trump story got many news cycles. The admission by an administration official that one of the main selling points of the Iran Nuclear Deal was bull, got a big “meh.”
How about the media treatment of the long awaited State Department Inspector General’s report about Hillary’s email server?
The IG said that Clinton having a private email server violated federal standards.
When department officials approached Hillary staffers about the server they were sent packing and told never to bring up the subject again.
Not only that, Clinton lied about having permission to use the server. The report said she never even asked to use a private server.
We also know that despite her assurances that she was cooperating with the Inspector General, she refused to be interviewed for the investigation. The only former Secretary of State to not cooperate.
I figured this was curtains for Hillary. I figured wrong.
I don’t mean to single out Jake Tapper, since he usually holds all sides accountable. That’s why I found his May 31 interview with Hillary Clinton frustrating.
I happened to be watching CNN the afternoon Tapper teased us through an hour of waiting for Hillary to call in. I waited because Tapper is usually a no-BS tough interviewer, known to go for the jugular.
Instead, Tapper asked a throw away question citing a USA Today editorial that said of the former Secretary of State, “she is going to have to convince voters that she can put the national security above her short-term self-interest.”
Here’s Tapper’s question: “Do you see this as a challenge that you have to face to convince voters you’ll put national security ahead of your own interests?”
Clinton’s stammering answer: “Well, I have — I think that is obvious. I always have.”
Did anyone believe she’d answer, “Jake, the editorial is correct. It was my intention to hide things from public scrutiny that made me look bad, the national interest be damned.”
Tapper let Clinton ramble on for a while and never pushed her on the issue. Here’s the transcript. Decide for yourself.
Maybe Tapper was having a bad day.
How about a simple, “The Inspector General’s report says you never asked for permission to have a private server. You said you had permission. Which is it?
Or, “You’ve said you were fully cooperating with the Inspector General’s investigation, but the report says you’re the only Secretary of State who refused to be interviewed.” Again, which is it?
Compare and contrast (I’ve always wanted to say that) Tapper’s questioning of Donald Trump about his criticism of Judge Gonzalo Curiel during the latest Trump storm.
To be sure, the way Tapper interviewed Trump should be, and is, the standard. Obviously, Tapper has the brains and skill to hold The Donald accountable. What people at home rightfully ask is, why didn’t Hillary get the same treatment?
And, more recently it appears Tapper does get it. He seems to understand that people have a right to expect equal treatment of the candidates in going after the truth. So what happened?
The media are not immune to one of the basic reactions of human nature. When people lose faith in anything they seek what they’re looking for elsewhere.
We now have lots of media that will confirm your bias no matter what you believe. Liberals don’t seek news on conservative sites and conservatives won’t go to liberal sites. Neither side finds the other’s media credible. Each sides abuses the other on social media.
The problem is while folks may be reading, watching, or listening, no one is hearing anything they don’t want to hear. This is true for those on the left and the right.
Try confronting a Clinton supporter with the recent IG’s report. When finally conceding to facts, Clinton supporters inevitably go with, “all politicians lie.” You get the same from Trump supporters.
Try telling a Bernie Sanders supporter his ideas are nice, but pie-in-the-sky socialism hasn’t worked anywhere ever. Be prepared to get blasted.
No matter who a voter supports in 2016, truth is expendable in defense of that position. The argument has become “the other guy’s lies are worse.” Theater of the Absurd, anyone?
The news media are a vital public institution that rely on buy-in from the public to be effective. When more than half the people don’t trust you, and your only capital is trust, it’s a problem.
A few commentators have already mentioned the lack of conservatives in newsrooms leading to groupthink bias. It’s even been said that reporters are out of touch with the people they write about. Both allegations are true.
Media can dismiss this as an old complaint, but dismiss at your own peril.
How else to explain the rise of a phenomenon like Donald Trump that media never even saw coming?
Journalism, at its core, is a conversation with the people. How do you have that conversation when you don’t even know who the people are?
How do have that conversation with people you look down on? Elitism is a problem.
If the people believe media’s approach to covering news is slanted and tell them so, isn’t media obliged to have that conversation? Instead, what people get is mockery and derision. Look at the rage from the punditry directed at supporters of a guy they didn’t take seriously.
It feels like the rage of impotence.
Most journalists don’t intentionally set out to do biased news, even though that’s exactly what they wind up doing. Stories are conceived and executed from a liberal point of view whether it be conscience clearing “social justice” stories or political reporting. Everything is framed in a politically correct way because the majority of people who work in the news media now see things that way. Everything seems reasonable when those around you agree.
[Note: The only thing that beats political correctness in newsrooms is money. A subject for another time.]
And while journalism has rightfully made great strides in many types of diversity – newsrooms look very different from when I started in the early 1970’s – diversity of thought remains the lone outcast.
If you were in journalism when Fox News started, you know there was great gnashing of teeth from the journalism establishment about a channel with a conservative slant. The notion that a profession devoted to ideas would be worried about more ideas was telling. Some journalists went out of their way to try and discredit the new cable network.
The free market spoke and Fox News has all but destroyed their cable competition by simply offering another point of view. Some call it choice.
Look at the May 2016 ratings. Despite some recent gains by CNN, it’s a Fox News ass kicking.
In business terms it was an underserved audience the big brains in media either didn’t know or care about. How do you know an audience you won’t even acknowledge exists?
CNN’s reaction to the new network was a lesson in how not to respond to competition. They didn’t take Fox seriously.
Many of the raging pundits (band name?) have complained that this has become a post truth election because of Donald Trump. Nothing could be further from the truth. The press and pundits are the reason.
Anyone who payed attention watched the media give Barack Obama an easy ride into the White House in 2008. There were even reporters who conspired to attack Obama critics as racist. Not because they were racists, but because it was part of a strategy to discredit Obama’s critics and get him elected. I referred to JournoList earlier. Check out this hot mess.
All that needs to be said about the 2012 election is GloZell. Great vetting job. No really, great job.
What many news consumers saw is a media reluctant to go after both parties equally.
The people saw a president who did his best to squelch, and even prosecute news coverage, despite continuing to claim to be “the most transparent administration.” The transparency president went after reporters and their parents. Ask Fox News’ James Rosen and the AP.
Where’s the self-respect in the “rock star” worshiping press when Pulitzer Prize winner James Risen of the New York Times wrote that Obama is “the greatest enemy to the press freedom in a generation.”
Maybe Jack Shafer of Politico put it best when writing about the irony of Barack Obama, enemy of the press, being chosen to give out press awards.
Despite Barack Obama’s antipathy for the press, media continues to lay off real critical coverage. Criticism of Obama hurts his legacy and reflects poorly on Hillary.
Why should the people trust the media about Trump when they couldn’t trust the media about Obama or Hillary?
Think the fun and games are over? In this election cycle (so far), some of Hillary Clinton’s released emails revealed reporters from CNN and Politico helping her with coverage. Transactional journalism or something.
There is a danger to our way of life when the news media aren’t trusted.
That danger comes when a really bad actor shows up and the people ignore the press. If you’re on the right you believe the media have already ignored the current “emperor and the empress wannabe.” If you’re on the left, you believe the media haven’t hit the next potential “emperor” hard enough.
I frequently say I love this election. I love it because the people have sent the news media a loud and unmistakable message we’ve heard before: “I’m angry and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
So, Samuel Taylor Coleridge? Yes.
Almost 200 years ago Coleridge came up with the concept of the, “willing suspension of disbelief.” That is to say, if one could make a story, or narrative, so appealing through “human interest and the semblance of truth” people would believe even the most fantastic stories. The problem is Coleridge was writing about fiction.
Thanks to Josh Gottlieb for the second pair of eyes. You too MF.
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