• President Trump and the Politicized Press

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Two comments

    1.  To call the press “the enemy of the people,” as President Trump has, is damaging to our country’s democracy. Stop it.

    ◊ That is true even if the mainstream press is biased against Trump, as it certainly is.

    2. The mainstream press has earned its low public esteem by its politically-biased coverage for many years. 

    The mainstream media is a target-rich environment and should be held accountable by the public. Generalized attacks by the President himself or his spokesmen undermine a vibrant free press.

    1. Trump’s attacks on the Press

    The First Amendment guarantees a free press for a vital reason: citizens can only hold their government accountable if they know what it is doing and know what is happening in the country and the world. That is why a free press is essential to democracy and why authoritarian governments suppress it.

    It is understandable that Presidents loathe the media . . . for leaks, misreporting, bias, and, in general, for making it harder for them to sell and implement policies. All of them do. Nothing new here.

    The appropriate response is to voice that generalized loathing behind closed doors and, in public, excoriate particular outlets for particular stories. It is perfectly appropriate to say, “This particular story by this particular news organization is false.” Make the case concrete. That is not what President Trump has done.

    Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s exclusion of some press outlets from his on-the-record gaggle was wrong and deserves criticism, even though it was not quite as bad as it initially appeared.

    • It was wrong because specific outlets were targeted for their negative coverage of the Trump Administration.
    • It was not quite as bad as some thought because it was not the main press briefing and because everything said at the gaggle was recorded and available to all outlets.
    • Still, the White House communications office serves not only the president but the public. We pay for it. This is not the political campaign’s press office. It harms the public to exclude some outlets for political reasons.

    2. The Press’s Self-Inflicted Damage

    America’s  trust in the media has sunk to historic lows. That’s the key finding of a comprehensive survey conducted in April 2016, before the general election contest.

    Only 6 percent of people say they have a great deal of confidence in the press, about the same level of trust Americans have in Congress . . . .

    The study mirrors past reports that found the public’s trust in mass media has reached historic lows, according to data gathered by the Media Insight Project, a partnership between The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the American Press Institute. The report found faith in the press was just slightly higher than the 4 percent of people who said they trusted Congress. –Huffington Post report on American Press Institute Survey 

    The full survey is available here.

    Why such low levels of trust in the press?

    For two reasons, I think.

    ⇒ First, the country is very deeply divided–and nearly all reporters and news organizations fall on one side of that divide and are perceived as such.

    Although the country has been increasingly divided for some time, the divisions are growing ever deeper. The trend was clear during the Obama presidency, and so was the media’s favoritism. The trend is even starker under Trump, and so is the media’s opposition.

    The country’s divisions are not only political. They are social, cultural, and religious. Again, the press in Manhattan and Washington are overwhelmingly on one side of that divide.

    Those divisions can be seen in a recent poll, conducted by Fox News and reported here by Politico

    The results were vastly skewed along partisan lines, with 81 percent of Republicans trusting the [Trump] administration over the media and 79 percent of Democrats deferring to news organizations over the White House. Twice as many independents trusted the president’s team over the press, 52 percent to 26 percent. Sixteen percent of independents trusted neither. –Politico

    ⇒ Second, although the mainstream media has been center-left for decades, its political orientation is now more obvious because 

    ♦ Internet sites that monitor the media and call them out for bias, and

    Alternative sources, led by Fox News and Drudge, that highlight different stories, different commentators, and different opinions

    Still others, such as the prominent aggregator Real Clear Politics, include both conservative and liberal viewpoints, allowing readers to compare and contrast.

    The first major blow against mainstream media in the digital age came when CBS anchor Dan Rather used false documents to attack the military service record of then-candidate George W. Bush. An unorganized but tenacious posse of internet users conclusively showed the documents were not authentic. When CBS stuck to its false story, the media’s reputation for honesty suffered a serious blow.

    It was the first of many, dealt by citizen sleuths and news sites with conservative viewpoints, ready to call out mistakes at the New York Times, Washington Post, or major networks, and to emphasize different stories and perspectives, missing from the mainstream press.

    Since the country is so divided politically, more and more readers are caught in an echo chamber, often voluntarily. Conservatives listen to Fox News and read the Wall Street Journal opinion pages. Liberals listen to MSNBC and read the Huffington Post, Slate, and the New York Times editorial page.

    In this divided, contentious environment, some sites deserve special praise.

    • Fox News’ main evening newscast, Special Report with Bret Baier, is excellent. The discussion panel at the end tilts conservative, but no more so that most TV panels tilt the other way. In any case, the straight news for the first 40 minutes is thorough and serious, often covering stories missed on other channels.
    • The Wall Street Journal deserves a special hat tip for doing what so few other national media organizations do: it keeps its news section completely separate from its opinion pages.  The New York Times does not, and it shows. That gets a big thumbs up on the Upper West Side, Lake Shore Drive, and Brentwood, but the rest of the country just sees bias.