CNN’s Self-Congratulation Orgy After Trump’s Latest Attack Only Illustrates His Point

CNN’s Self-Congratulation Orgy After Trump’s Latest Attack Only Illustrates His Point

The network responded to President Trump’s gibe by portraying it as the home of hero journalists, but that doesn’t answer questions about its biased reporting and panels.
Jonathan S. Tobin
By

During the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, Fox News was a constant and public focus of his disdain. Yet the negative attention didn’t daunt the network, which largely took the abuse as validation not only of many of their viewers’ desire to hold the administration accountable but also of journalists’ traditional mission to keep the party in power honest. But now that another news channel is in the crosshairs of Obama’s successor, the response is very different.

After months of attacks from Trump on what he terms CNN’s “fake news,” the president finally seemed to hit a nerve when one of his tweets over the holiday weekend targeted CNN International: “.@FoxNews is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

Rather than take it in stride, CNN responded with an orgy of self-congratulation. In a video lead news anchor Wolf Blitzer first presented on his midday show, the network proclaimed itself as the home of journalist heroes braving bullets, natural disasters, and angry mobs to bring the news to the public.

CNN International correspondents like Ben Wedeman and Clarissa Ward testified to the risks they run pursuing stories. War correspondent Christiane Amanpour not only boasted of the bullets she had dodged but mentioned a colleague who took a bullet in the face covering the conflict in Bosnia.

This Is All Beside the Point, CNN

While CNN’s efforts to highlight its achievements were as truthful as Trump’s gibe was hyperbolic, their riposte also didn’t speak to the reason so many on the Right have no problem with the president’s attack. The network generally remains a good source of up-to-date information on natural disasters, terrorist incidents, and wars, which accounts for the uptick in their ratings during such crises.

But as anyone who watches CNN daily knows, its political reporting regarding the Trump administration, panels of talking heads, and some of its prime-time hosts betray an obvious leftward tilt that is hard for even the network’s most dedicated fans to deny. In the age of Trump, CNN is a channel with an agenda to oppose if not actually “resist” the administration. That’s why liberals like CNN and Trump feels entitled to attack it, knowing full well that many who back him agree with the general meaning of his barbs, if not every detail.

To acknowledge CNN’s bias is not the same thing as condoning the labeling of everything they do as “fake news.” Just as liberals won’t acknowledge the solid news reporting done by Fox News correspondents and hosts like Brett Baier, who are primarily interested in the news and not purveyors of opinion, it would be wrong for conservatives to deny that a lot of what CNN produces is valuable.

Sure, There Are Fair Points to Critique

The timing of Trump’s latest brickbat aimed at the network was also bad since it coincided with the Russian government’s latest effort to crack down on foreign media that report about the Putin regime’s human rights violations. CNN’s attempt to claim Trump endangered its reporters was as hyperbolic as anything the president says since neither Vladimir Putin nor any other foreign dictator needs any encouragement from Trump to launch physical attacks or deny freedom to the press. Mere criticism of the media, even of the harshest variety, is not comparable to what happens in Russia, but it is nonetheless bad optics for Trump to invite the comparison.

The constant refrain of “fake news” has contributed to a political culture in which liberals and conservatives tend to view everything they read, hear, and see as a form of political propaganda. In our bifurcated media culture, that means many in the audience judge the validity of news solely by whether it confirms their pre-existing biases.

We saw the toxic nature of such constant accusations when James O’Keefe and his Project Veritas provocateurs tried to execute a sting against the Washington Post. While O’Keefe’s efforts to expose the depraved cynicism of Planned Parenthood executives were successful, what is being reported as his attempt to plant a false story about Roy Moore committing a sexual offense — presumably to then debunk it and demonstrate the Post’s eagerness to defame a conservative — backfired. Rather than feed the conservative narrative of media bias that has allowed the Republican senatorial candidate’s defenders to dismiss the accusations against him, O’Keefe wound up highlighting the reliability of the Post’s investigation.

But even if we concede that, like the Post’s scrupulousness in seeking to verify its stories on Moore, CNN and its international reporters generate a lot of accurate news stories, that doesn’t get the network off the hook for much of its programming bias against Trump.

CNN Is Essentially an Anti-Trump Pile-On

Since the inauguration, CNN has largely given up any pretense of objectivity about the Trump presidency. Its panels of commentators heard throughout a typical day rarely contain even a token Trump supporter to balance liberal critics and conservatives who also despise the president. Most news stories about Trump come in as an outrage a day featuring whatever outrageous tweet or utterance (on Monday it was his ill-timed reference to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahantas” during a ceremony honoring Native American World War Two vets).

But early on the network’s reporters and on-air personalities decided that they were not prepared to treat anything the president did or said as defensible or even a matter of opinion. Most CNN discussions of Trump consist of reporters, guest commentators, and hosts agreeing with each other about the awful nature of whatever he has done or said. They frame most stories about Trump and his administration as an outrage about which decent people cannot agree to disagree.

Were this limited to the network’s opinionated hosts, especially those in prime time like Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, who compete with the even more liberal personalities on MSNBC as well as the conservative talkers on Fox, it might be considered defensible in this hyper-partisan age. But the same spirit extends into the work of its on-air reporters, who might otherwise be expected to give us, as the graphic behind Blitzer on Monday proclaimed, “facts first.”

Example Numero Uno: Jim Acosta

A prime example is CNN White House Correspondent Jim Acosta. He routinely frames his reports as accusations against Trump, generously sprinkling his negative opinions about administration policies in with the “facts” he reports.

One especially egregious incident took place last summer when, during a White House presser where Senior Advisor Stephen Miller discussed immigration policy. Acosta didn’t question Miller about Trump’s stands. He debated him, citing the poem on the Statue of Liberty as proof of the wrongful nature of Trump’s policy. Speaking like one of Stalin’s prosecutors during the great purge trials rather than a reporter seeking to elicit information, his question was an accusation that he dared Miller to deny.

At a news organization where the church-state divide between news and opinion was given even a modicum of respect, Acosta might have faced discipline for that particular exhibition of blatant bias and been reassigned. But he remains in his post, more or less constantly adding to his litany of opinionated reports that are, in effect, jeremiads against all things Trump rather than facts.

Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that many conservatives are wary of anything CNN reports even if it is, like the accusations against Moore, highly credible

Serious news consumers read or watch everything with a critical mind, always seeking to discount for possible biases. That means accepting that any network may sometimes produce solid stories. But so long as CNN continues to tilt its news as well as its opinion segments against Trump, their complaints about their virtue will continue to ring hollow.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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