One may have hoped that the media would respond to their 2016 failures and resulting lack of credibility by reforming. Instead, it seems that many in political media are quadrupling down on the mistakes that served them and their readers and viewers so poorly in the lead-up to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November.
It’s impossible to track all the ways in which the media are leaning into their bias, their unnecessary hostility, and their abandonment of journalistic principles. So let’s just look at a few examples from the last few hours.
Many members of the media would like to imagine themselves as brave heroes who will valiantly fight the excesses of the Trump administration. These examples show why people do not trust the media to tell the truth, much less hold anyone accountable for anything.
1) This Unsubstantiated New York Times Hit On Rick Perry
The New York Times ran a story by Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger that claimed, without any sourcing or substantiation, that Rick Perry thought the secretary of Energy job he was about to take was as “a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry” but then he “discovered that he would be no such thing.” The reporters claimed, again with zero evidence to substantiate their claims, that he only then learned “he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.”
These odd allegations went on and on, followed by a vague quote from an energy lobbyist who may have been around the transition for the first few days, but was apparently let go nearly a month before Perry was even named, saying that Perry cared about energy advocacy and is now focused on the challenges of the nuclear complex. To be clear, Perry was nominated on December 13, 2016. The man with the boring quote in The New York Times piece speaking to Perry’s knowledge was let go by November 18.
That this guy and his quote are the source for that incendiary lede is utterly and completely disqualifying for Davenport and Sanger.
The story then goes back to more generic hits on Perry being a dumb-dumb compared to the perfect current Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, whose wisdom extends to helping, uh, negotiate that perfect Iran deal that’s not a disaster in any way. This is a real paragraph that appears in a story that was written and edited for publication:
For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.
Speaking of stupid cheerleaders, many, many, many reporters — the ones you’re supposed to trust to cover the Trump administration in a tough but fair manner — loved this story and started spreading it even though it lacked any substantiation.
I could list dozens upon dozens of more examples, sadly, including quite a few people who should know a lot better than to spread this silliness. And I’ll also note that a few liberal journalists did note that the story did not back up its claims:
Even apart from the problems with the lackluster sourcing for the dramatic claims, the story runs completely counter to the facts. As John Davidson wrote here last month, “[A]s governor of Texas Perry actually has some experience dealing with [the nuclear] issue. After all, the largest nuclear maintenance facility in the country is just outside Amarillo. Nearly every nuke in the country makes its way through the Pantex Plant in northern Texas, which ensures their continued capability and functionality. Perry worked with National Nuclear Security Administration for more than a decade, ensuring the security of Pantex and every piece of freight into and out of it.”
Here’s Perry’s statement specifically discussing the nuclear arsenal that your media betters would like you to believe he knew nothing about on the day he accepted the nomination:
“I look forward to engaging in a conversation about the development, stewardship and regulation of our energy resources, safeguarding our nuclear arsenal, and promoting an American energy policy that creates jobs and puts America first.”
To quote a wise man, “Oops.”
The Texas Tribune has a much more knowledgeable and nuanced take than the one the super-smart New York Times and its super-smart readers in journalism cheered on.
Times reporters Coral Davenport and David E. Sanger failed to substantiate their outlandish claims. Their editors failed the most basic task of making sure they backed up their rather insane claim or took it out of the story. And reporters who pushed the story despite its failure to back up its claim in any meaningful way should be ashamed of themselves. This is why people don’t trust the media. And while stories such as these help whip partisans on one side into even more of a frenzy than they’re in, they also serve to confirm the distrust for the media that many partisans on the other side experience. Do better.
2)Washington Post Mocking A Nominee For Praying
The Washington Post had a heck of a night Wednesday night, mostly in the headline and social media departments.
This is how the folks at the Washington Post chose to frame the news that Donald Trump had nominated Gov. Sonny Perdue to be secretary of Agriculture. In so doing, they lost any claim to be able to objectively cover the man.
It wasn’t that long ago that The New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet admitted that his paper doesn’t get religion at all. “We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better,” he claimed to believe. Obviously things aren’t tremendously better at other major media.
If the Post employed at least one person in their publishing chain of command last night who a) had been inside a Christian church at any point in his or her lifetime or simply b) was not unduly hostile to people of faith, this gaffe may have been prevented. Yes, Christians regularly pray about weather. Here’s a snippet from a prayer that Lutherans such as myself might pray:
We are grateful for the gifts You give us from Your work of creation and Your continuing work to care for us and all You have made. Bless and prosper the harvest in our land at this time of the year and all year long. Suppress the spread of disease among animals, and provide health and strength to the crops, that weather, flooding, drought, and parasites may not hinder the bounty You give from being a blessing far beyond the farms and ranches where our food is grown and raised.
In this land of plenty, help us to remember those who are unable to provide for themselves. Teach us to use all of Your blessings to serve those You have entrusted to us according to our vocations. Remind us of the importance of sharing our material wealth, our time, our skills and talents, our possessions, and the wisdom of Your Holy Word. Grant us thankful hearts, observant minds, and generous action to care for our neighbors in need.
Want to mock us, Washington Post?
Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, and Christians of all stripes pray for rain. So do Jews. So do Hindus.
The beauty of this headline/social media hit on Perdue is that it manages to raise questions about the paper’s ability to fairly cover both conservative politicians and religious people, in one fell swoop.
3) Calling David Gelernter Anti-Intellectual
Also coming in under the unnecessarily hostile banner at the Washington Post was this headline for a piece written by Sarah Kaplan:
Once again, the story about the Yale University genius professor does not substantiate the claim made in the headline. It says he decries current trends in academia and the influence of liberal intellectuals, but that’s not the same thing.
“Gelernter is profoundly eccentric and often wrong, but to call him ‘anti-intellectual’ is astonishingly stupid,” Alan Jacobs writes. “But then the Post may be unable to tell the difference between ‘anti-intellectual’ and ‘[decrying] the influence of liberal intellectuals.'”
The story interviews only one person — a member of a far-left advocacy group who admits he has no knowledge of Gelernter. Here’s a discussion of his emergence “as one of the seminal thinkers in the field known as parallel, or distributed, computing” from 1992, the year before the Unabomber tried to kill him (presumably not for being “fiercely anti-intellectual”).
Rather than speak to people who know Gelernter, his tremendous work, and even his controversies, the Post went for an uninformed hit.
4) CNN’s Jim Acosta Badgering MLK III For a Trump Hit
This one was from Monday afternoon, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The video is pulled from Media Research Center, a conservative media criticism site. It shows reporters repeatedly trying to get Martin Luther King III, to speak against Trump.
It’s worth watching to see how the reporters pose leading questions in an attempt to provoke King to say something harsh in response. He repeatedly and deftly declines. I’m not sure a less media-savvy person would have been able to take the onslaught so diplomatically.
Let’s look particularly at the question posed by CNN’s Jim Acosta:
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) January 17, 2017
“[I]sn’t there something that cuts to your core when you hear the president-elect refer to John Lewis as all talk and no action? I mean, nothing could be further from the truth, isn’t that right? John Lewis is not all talk and no action.”
This isn’t asking someone for their view, it’s telling you theirs and insisting that they agree. Here’s how it comes off to normal people:
- Acosta should have just said: “Look into the camera say say ‘this cuts me to the core'”
- It was horrible. He wanted MLKIII to be as fake outraged as he was, but it wasn’t happening.
- The problem is that journalists don’t see this as leading; they think it’s truth-telling that will elicit more truth.
- That’s trying to put his words in another’s mouth by bullying the premise in three times.
- If this was asked in a court of law, it would be overruled by about 8 different objections. Fake news!
- Objection! Leading the witness. Counselor, if you keep this up, this court will hold you in contempt.
- Wow…did he even wait for a response?
- In fact, it’s not really journalism. It’s advocacy. Subject’s own views aren’t being solicited; a particular answer is.
- Why won’t you answer the way I want you to answer?!?!
- A prime example of a talking head trying to make news as opposed to reporting it.
- Horrible question to start with but holy cow at trying to lead someone to a specific reply. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just stamp his name to a reply you’ve written up already?
Comes off more like a spox for Lewis than a journalist.
- Isn’t this Journalism 101: ask question, then immediately answer you own question, then ask to confirm you’re right.
- That’s not even a leading question. That’s an escape room question, with only one way out.
- Maybe Acosta wanted to answer that question himself. Because he’s obviously the story, right?
- In a nutshell this is the MSM demonstrating why we disrespect and ignore them.
If you’re curious, here is Costa’s takeaway of what transpired:
Trump declines to come to cameras following meeting with MLK III. King disagrees with Trump tweet that Rep. Lewis is all talk, no action. pic.twitter.com/lUJ8Yo2pY6
Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 16, 2017
For those curious if this is just Acosta’s style, no matter who is being interviewed, here’s one memorable comparison. It’s Acosta asking Obama about his “best week ever.” Acosta was the reporter that Trump told to be quiet in the aftermath of the “dossier” story when he repeatedly tried to ask a question over other reporters. This is his pinned tweet:
Jim Acosta (@Acosta) January 14, 2017
If the media would like to understand why they’re not viewed as the innocent victims they believe themselves to be in their war against Trump, this tiny little sample is a good place to start.
If the media can’t be trusted to fairly report on successful governors, genius Yale professors, or Martin Luther King III, they can’t be trusted to have the emotional distance, objective aims, respect, tolerance, journalistic skills, or sanity to cover Trump himself.
A strong media is required to hold politicians accountable and help preserve a functioning republic. Our media, who are swinging wildly from eight years of sycophancy into an era of cartoonish hostility, are in no position to hold anyone accountable. This is a crisis, and one that nearly everyone except those in the media establishment and the political movement they support seems to recognize.