Total Media Failure
The last 36 hours have highlighted the significant media failures that have been evident ever since Trump appeared on the political scene. It was bad enough that the national networks gave Trump a prime-time slot for an address that broke no news, offered no new policy, and effectively was used as a fundraiser for Trump’s 2020 campaign. Worse was the supposed analysis that followed.
The AP won the day with an all-time great in both-siderism, tweeting, “AP FACT CHECK: Democrats put the blame for the shutdown on Trump. But it takes two to tango. Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his border wall is one reason for the budget impasse. The Democrats refusal to approve the money is another”. The fact that it was the Republican-controlled Congress that ultimately refused to approve the money for Trump’s wall, precipitating the shutdown, is the least of the problems with this supposed “fact-check”.
The New York Times followed with this pathetic critique of Chuck Schumer’s response that his claim the shutdown “was hurting millions of Americans who are treated as leverage” required “context” because only 800,000 federal employees are currently furloughed. It is simply undeniable that millions of Americans are effected by the reduction or cessation of government services caused by the shutdown. And you really have to question the objectivity of a reporter or news organization that pretends otherwise.
But neither of those was actually the biggest media failure of the day. That belonged to the obsessive focus on Trump’s entirely unnewsworthy speech and the rampant speculation that he would declare a national emergency which totally overshadowed that fact that Trump’s entire defense of “NO COLLUSION!” has completely collapsed. The news that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were supplying Konstantin Kilimnik with public and private polling information about the election is the “smoking gun” proof of collusion and conspiracy. Remarkably, this story, broken by the NY Times, managed to only appear as a one bar left column headliner in my physical paper and was not even the top story on the Times’ website.
Of course, this is not the first time that the Times has made some interesting editorial decisions regarding its coverage of Trump. There was that critical and still yet to be explained story about the FBI seeing no connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians that was published less than two weeks before the election. We all now know that story was completely false. Of course, the Times was not the only news outlet to apparently spike stories about Trump’s Kremlin connections. The Wall Street Journal killed an editorial about Trump’s mafia connections and made other publishing decisions that were questioned by its own staff. When it came to Trump’s “bimbo eruptions”, we also now know Trump was paying the National Enquirer to “catch and kill” stories that women had about their liaisons with the now President. Michael Cohen threatened a Daily Beast reporter over his story about Trump raping his wife.
Trump received more free media than any other candidate in history. The AP’s coverage was especially egregious, to the point where they admitted they were printing lies and were forced to retract a particularly misleading story about the Clinton Foundation. Even to this day, CNN and other outlets continue to bring on former White House officials as commentators without informing the public that they are constrained by an employment agreement that does not allow them to criticize Trump or the administration.
Initially, it seemed that the reason that Trump was treated so royally by the media was that he brought great ratings. As Les Moonves at CBS notoriously stated, “It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.… Bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” Of course, that statement takes on a completely different light now that we know that, like Donald Trump, Moonves was a serial sexual predator. Beyond Trump’s history as a racketeer and his closeness to David Pecker at the National Enquirer, who collected sordid stories of the rich and famous, Trump’s team also included Peter Thiel who had sued Gawker into oblivion and Roger Ailes, another serial sexual predator and a more upscale version of David Pecker in collecting stories about powerful figures. Whether all that factored into editorial decisions made by certain media outlets is unknown. (The revelation that the National Enquirer has been chasing Trump nemesis Jeff Bezos for months raises similar questions.)
Both-siderism is so baked into the media now that the dire threat that Trump and his administration pose to our country and democracy is needlessly and recklessly diminished. As David Frum noted, “Relative to the truth, the prestige press in this country has a pro-Trump bias. Relative to the truth, Trump gets easier coverage than he deserves. The surest way onto the op-ed page of a prestigious paper is to come up with some angle to explain why something the president has done is less crazy or dangerous than it seems. Networks, like this one, give a lot of airtime to people who normally would be working on the Home Shopping Network, who wouldn’t be on at all”.
We are over two years into the Trump phenomenon and the media still has not figured out how to cover Trump accurately. Yes, the pure stenography has been reduced and fact-checking has increased and become more real-time so his lies don’t sit out there unrefuted. But, as shown above, even that fact-checking is tainted by the need to present “both sides”. And, far too often, the media is still distracted by a shiny new object, usually another outrage, that Trump dangles over there and underreports the critical story in front of them, as best illustrated by the Manafort revelation above. Sadly, it does not appear that things will get much better.