The Jussie Smollett Hoax Wouldn’t Have Worked Without A Complicit Media

The Jussie Smollett Hoax Wouldn’t Have Worked Without A Complicit Media

Hearing what they already 'knew,' the establishment media ignored everything that ran counter to the 'proper' narrative—especially the facts. 
J.T. Young
By

The establishment media has an unusual business philosophy: The customer is always wrong. This unique reversal of conventional business practice is unavoidable when considering the public’s persistent belief of their anti-conservative bias. Anywhere else, the automatic reaction to such perception would be to fix it, yet the establishment media’s reaction is to revel in it. 

The latest evidence of establishment media bias comes from their devouring of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s claimed victimhood in a hate crime attack. They could not eat it up fast enough. It was just oh-so-tasty: Prejudice aplenty that all could be blamed on President Trump. Alas, as so often happens in overindulgence, they appear on the verge of having to regurgitate it.  

Instead of the establishment media’s intended story of hateful bias, it has become a story of their own bias. Hearing what they already knew, they ignored everything that ran counter to it—especially the facts. 

The retraction, if there ever is any, will be muted compared to the headlines they so gleefully generated—what was shouted from their rooftop, will be “corrected” in their basement. The blame will go to Smollett. The prejudice that made them such ready dupes for a hoax will go unacknowledged, as always. And because their prejudices won’t be admitted or corrected, it will happen again and again, just as it’s been for a long time.  

No Shortage of Evidence

There is no shortage of evidence of the public’s valid perception of establishment media bias, just as there is no shortage of evidence of the bias itself. The Smollett incident simply personifies and updates it. Any quick internet search of polling on establishment media bias reveals the depth and duration of America’s perception. And all point the same way—against conservatives.

In just one example, Rasmussen released a pre-election poll showing that 56 percent of Americans thought reporters attempted to influence the election when writing about a congressional race. By four to one, they believed the attempt was to aid the Democrat.  

No wonder such perception exists. Only those sharing the same anti-conservative bias cannot see the establishment media’s. Ignoring larger liberal failings and harping on, if not concocting, even picayune conservative ones were obvious through the Obama administration, the 2016 presidential campaign, and the Trump administration’s two years. Labeling any episode as the establishment media’s low point of professionalism means only having it beaten by the next.

For any normal business operation, such a perception would provoke frenzied responses to address it. Either the fault itself would be fixed or the perception of it would be fixed (or perhaps both would be addressed).

This is not the case with the establishment media, despite their bias being hardly new. As Nicole Hemmer traces in her history of conservative media, “Messengers of the Right,” the charge of bias has stood against the establishment media since the late 1940s.  It has only grown stronger over seven decades, reaching a fever pitch in the latest.

This prolonged perception underscores the obvious: It is not so much that the establishment media are biased, but that they simply neither care that they are, nor that they are perceived to be. If anything, the establishment media increasingly wears the charge as a badge of honor. Their former attempts at denial have been replaced with blaming the consumer: Refusal to accept or ignore their bias is due to racism, sexism, chauvinism—fill in the pejorative.

The pressing question regarding the establishment media is not discerning if they are biased, but why. The establishment media have paid a high price for their prejudice.

The Loss of Standards

First is the lost illusion of being unbiased. For a long time, the establishment media reaped substantial benefit—most notably, credibility—from public perception of fairness. It was analogous to a shop staying open 24 hours a day. A particular consumer likely only goes to that shop during a consistently limited time. However, its 24-hour policy removes any consumer doubt — she knows “it will always be open for me” and feels always confident going.

Second is journalistic ethics. Formerly, the public felt confident that “news” was gathered according to certain basic standards, including fairness. As with the shop, this is akin to health standards. The consumer wants to know that what she purchases meets accepted health and safety standards. This is basic to winning her trade and without it, she becomes a wary (or former) customer. 

Third is simple economics. Biased reporting has cost the establishment media money. Just as with the shop, violating basic rules of trade costs customers. Alienating conservatives alone (37 percent of November’s voters) is a substantial market to cavalierly write off. Beyond just conservatives, bias alienates those simply desiring trustworthy news. 

The economic price is high and ripples throughout the establishment media. The conservative Fox News began in 1996 and topped its cable news competitors in just its fifth year. This August, it recorded its 26th consecutive month as the most-watched network on basic cable and surpassed cable news competitors for a 200th consecutive month. Having ceded a lucrative market share, establishment media now has fewer resources for its job, reinforcing its descent.

There can be only one reason for having taken all these hits: The establishment media are more interested in influencing outcomes than just reporting them.  

Unquestionably, they have had some success. As proof, imagine where public perception would be without the bias. Monday’s Rasmussen tracking poll of presidential approval had Trump at 50 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval. Even just a 10 percent change in approval and disapproval from the establishment media’s unrelentingly negative coverage could influence the electorate, which could result in changes at the ballot box.  

Yet despite the establishment media’s increasingly strenuous efforts, their results have been a rearguard action. No longer calling the tune, any Republican’s victory is viewed as more than refutation, it is an affront; Donald Trump’s in 2016 was particularly so.  This frustration has manifested as an unmatched, unmitigated, undisguised—at times, unhinged—increase in bias. 

The more the establishment media desires to influence, the less they do so. Their self-reinforcing cycle of self-imposed descent will only become more vicious and their audience smaller. The establishment media are well on their way to being a closed shop with a sign on their window reading “Liberals only.”

J.T. Young served in the Treasury Department and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.

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