I’m a liberal Democrat who didn’t realize for a long time that our mainstream media is biased. For years, I consumed news and commentary from my favorite media sites uncritically: CNN, MSNBC, The New York Times. From time to time, I watched Fox News to see what “the other side” was saying.
I lived in a kind of information bubble, but like most bubble-dwellers I didn’t know I was living in one. Ironically, the 2016 election opened my eyes to this “Truman Show”-like media universe we’ve all been inhabiting.
My awakening came accidentally when I realized in 2016 that I just couldn’t support Hillary Clinton (I ended up protest-voting for Gary Johnson). I thought Clinton was arrogant, entitled, corrupt, and dishonest. I couldn’t believe the Democratic Party would nominate someone who was the subject of an FBI investigation.
But as 2016 rolled on, I became quietly incensed. I couldn’t help noticing repeatedly that the mainstream media was shielding and enabling Clinton in her dissembling and media avoidance. I noticed that the commentators at CNN, MSNBC, and the NYT either ignored or made light of Clinton’s many problem areas: the private email server, compromising of state secrets, and the questionable multimillion-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation. (Yes, the Times broke the story in 2015 about Clinton’s personal email account, but I’m talking here about its 2016 treatment of her candidacy.)
Ironically, had I been a Clinton supporter, I’d have likely been blind to the media bias. To be clear, I’m not talking about individual reporting, which is usually great, but a persistent institutional bias that colors almost all coverage and commentary.
Then I Couldn’t Un-See the Bias
Once you become aware of something, you keep seeing it all the time. So, almost every time I watched or read something, I saw the media bias: in the way headlines were framed, in what they chose to cover, in the way they devoted the barest minimum time to Clinton’s problems.
To be sure, the media on the Right is often biased as well. The degree to which Sean Hannity carries water for Trump is often amusing to watch. But the mainstream media’s bias is something else, and it affects me personally. It leaves me feeling angry, betrayed, frustrated.
As an immigrant from India who didn’t know much about the politics of this country 15 or 16 years ago, for years I trusted many mainstream outlets to give me an honest view of current events. It is now apparent to me that they haven’t presented an objective picture of current events, but a slanted, curated version that serves their purposes.
As an avid media consumer, I expect from journalists objective, honest, fair-minded presentation, and analysis of all the facts available in any situation without taking sides. Commentators and pundits, of course, can take sides, but they’re still expected to be fair, honest and rational. It is what I, as a part-time opinion columnist, try to do when I write for my city paper.
The minute journalists take sides and favor one side over the other, and try to actively effect a desired outcome, they lose credibility with their viewers and readers. Once lost, that credibility can’t be regained.
The 2016 Election Was a Blizzard of Bias
Throughout 2016, I watched with increasing trepidation what was happening to American journalism. Many media organizations decided to suspend normal journalistic practices to save the republic from Donald Trump, whom they believed was a danger to democracy. I agree that Trump is a danger to democratic norms, but think journalists seriously harmed their institutions by entering the fray.
Some examples: The Times’ left-leaning columnists wrote mostly anti-Trump columns for much of 2016, and acted like Hillary’s problems were happening in a galaxy faraway. Paul Krugman, especially, lost credibility in my eyes for literally becoming a Hillary shill in 2016, insisting repeatedly that her email troubles were overblown and a right-wing concoction.
I couldn’t bear to watch Rachel Maddow in 2016 and still can’t. She’s a fine journalist who has wide knowledge and command of the facts, but her relentless, overdone partisanship was and is too much for me.
Things got so bad that The New York Times issued a post-election letter to its subscribers, saying they looked forward to “rededicat[ing] ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism.” But it was too late, at least for me. The damage was done, and I’ll never look at the paper the same way again.
Preening Is Not the Job of a Reporter
Things got even worse after the election. The mainstream media, shamed and humbled by Trump’s election victory, decided to attack him with a vengeance on everything he said and did.
They didn’t actually have to overdo it. By virtue of his personality, President Trump gave them a lot of material, and they’d have been fine if they’d covered his flaws and missteps straight up. But they overplayed their hand, and not a little. Many mainstream journalists have become a little grandiose. They’ve joined the “Resistance,” and see themselves as grand defenders of democracy, as brave protectors of norms and institutions.
The result is, you see a lot of preening, grandstanding, boundary-crossing journalism. It is painful to watch CNN’s Jim Acosta often preen and editorialize on-air even though he is a White House correspondent and his job is to report. It is painful to watch White House reporter April Ryan ask an overwrought question, such as “Does this [presidential] administration think that slavery is wrong?”
It is equally painful to see that these shenanigans play well with Democratic viewers. Unfortunately, liberal audiences have become so conditioned, so bubble-oriented that they don’t recognize the journalistic malpractice going on before their very eyes.
Donna Brazile’s Accusations Were Big News
What actually prompted me to write this article was something that seemed to me like the last straw. It was the Donna Brazile story—her recent explosive allegations that the 2016 Democratic Party primary was riddled with malpractice, that Hillary had secretly taken over the Democratic National Committee a year before becoming the Democratic nominee.
You’d think this was a huge news story, but not if you were following CBS, NBC, ABC, or The New York Times. In the crucial initial days, these outlets devoted little or no time to it. They covered the story days after Politico broke the story, and Brazile appeared subsequently on “Morning Joe,” ABC’s “This Week,” and so on, but it was too late.
The Times especially outdid itself. It buried the Brazile story deep within a story titled, “Hillary Clinton Gets an Award and Tears are Shed.” In the first couple days when the story broke, I got a better sense of the story when I watched “Tucker Carlson Tonight” and read Glenn Greenwald’s commentary.
By not giving this story the coverage it deserved in the initial days, the mainstream media, in some ways, confirmed to me what President Trump has been saying for some time: that they are often dishonest and biased. Commentators like Michael Kinsley and Glenn Greenwald have written about this general bias. I still watch CNN and enjoy the Times’ non-political articles. But I watch and read their political coverage with cynical, distrusting eyes.
It’s not just our politics that is broken; our media is broken too, and hopelessly. The bias used to be hidden, but now it is open, glaring, and shameless. Our media outlets have become very tribal and are openly rooting for or against the party and politician of their choice—truth, fairness, honesty, justice, and journalistic principles be damned.
I didn’t go to a fancy journalism school, and don’t even have a journalism degree, but I know enough to realize that what is happening is bad, and that when the media self-divide into rabidly partisan camps, citizens suffer and democracy suffers. When Sean Hannity says “journalism has died in America,” I agree with him.