Since Donald Trump’s election, the mainstream media have been by turns hysterical and condescending. Whether it’s Trump’s rebuke of the cast of “Hamilton or his phone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, the press seems to think we’re already on the verge of a constitutional crisis at the hands of a dangerous yet idiotic president-elect.
Same goes for the media’s coverage of Trump supporters. Last week, a clip of CNN’s Alisyn Camerota speaking with Trump supporters made the rounds, in part because the supporters insisted that millions of illegal immigrants voted, and in part because Camerota reacted to them with the utmost disdain.
As Mollie Hemingway noted here last week, the mainstream media’s kneejerk response was to hold the exchange up as an example of how “fake news” stories duped gullible Trump voters. Instead of trying to understand why some Trump voters might be concerned about Obama’s seeming nonchalance about voter fraud, Camerota Googled a news story that confirmed her bias: “Fox Deceptively Edits Obama Interview to Falsely Claim He Told Illegal Immigrants to Vote.” See? Stupid Trump voters.
The incident underscores a troubling lack of curiosity in the press that Trump’s election has done nothing to mitigate. Right now, the media should be asking themselves: Why did Trump win white college graduates? Why did he outperform Mitt Romney among blacks and Hispanics? Why did lifelong Democrats in the Rust Belt vote for him?
If the mainstream press wanted to understand and explain Trump’s appeal, they could talk to any one of the millions of ordinary Americans with non-crazy views who voted for him. Instead, the media have gravitated toward fringe supporters and conspiracy theorists—the New Hampshire lawmakers who claimed that millions of people voted illegally, the handful of white supremacists who praised Trump at a recent conference in Washington DC, the malign influence of Alex Jones and readers of Infowars.
By insisting on an ideological narrative at the expense of honest reporting, and by reacting with hysterics every time Trump tweets something provocative, journalists are undermining their credibility. As fun as it is to laugh at hysterical journalists, we actually need them to be credible because they have an important job to do: hold the incoming Trump administration accountable for real abuses of power.
The Media Lost Its Credibility A Long Time Ago
Arguably, the media long ago lost all credibility with its fawning coverage of the Obama White House. Faced with the task of covering a president who shared all their favorite progressive narratives, biases, and priorities, the press abdicated its responsibility to hold political leaders accountable.
From the collapse of Obamacare to the ginned-up narrative undergirding the Iran deal, the Washington media establishment balked every time it should have held the Obama administration’s feet to the fire.
Instead, it went after anyone who dared to question the administration’s policies. Just ask Roger Pielke Jr., an academic who had the temerity to express the wrong sort of views about climate change. In an essay for the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, Pielke tells how he was singled out and attacked, not just by left-wing academics and Obama White House advisors, but by prominent journalists and news outlets.
Pielke is no extremist. He doesn’t deny climate change and even supports a carbon tax. But his research led him to conclude that extreme weather events like hurricanes and floods haven’t become more frequent or intense because of climate change.
For publicaly stating this rather dry fact, and calling out reporters for their inaccuracies regarding it, he was singled out by writers at major publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, and others. Reporters blocked him on Twitter and launched a media campaign to get him fired.
Americans Need A Media Establishment They Can Trust
That’s just one example out of thousands during Obama’s tenure in office. Now that the tables have turned, we have a somewhat different problem on our hands. Instead of enforcing progressive orthodoxy and towing the White House line, the media will be tempted to cover Trump the way they have been since November 8, with feigned outrage, hysteria, and condescension. In both cases, the media are abdicating their duty.
For a media establishment with only slightly better approval ratings than Congress, that’s a problem for all of us. If Americans don’t believe the press because journalists automatically denounce everything Trump does in the misguided belief that it’s their duty, then who will be able to credibly report on the Trump administration’s actual mistakes and abuses of power?
Arguably, it falls to the already divided conservative media, which now has a responsibility to resist the temptations that bedeviled the mainstream media during the Obama administration. Absent some radical change in how they cover Trump, the national press simply won’t have the credibility they need to do their job.
Last week, Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Nolan McCaskill reported that an enraged army of former Hillary Clinton aides and operatives are plotting an anti-Trump movement. Groups like the Center for American Progress are also exploring ways to discredit Trump, “possibly by disseminating reports on the president’s record directly to voters and media into swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan that swung surprisingly to Trump.”
These groups are likely to feed their “reports” to reporters like Thrush, whose penchant for clearing stories with high-placed sources was one of the more egregious examples of journalistic malfeasance in the hacked John Podesta emails released by WikiLeaks. Thrush wasn’t alone, of course. He was simply caught doing what appears to be standard practice in Washington.
The problem will look like this: Thrush or one of his colleagues will report on some abuse of power or shady dealings in the Trump White House. Whether there is merit to the report won’t matter, because half the country won’t care. They will assume that it comes from Clinton’s anti-Trump movement or the Center for American Progress, and they will dismiss it as mere partisanship—a politically motivated hit job from a hostile press corps.
That’s too bad, because as a political novice with authoritarian tendencies, Trump will doubtless need to be checked. Just don’t count on the mainstream media to do it.