NBC News’s Chuck Todd wrote an op-ed in The Atlantic titled “It’s Time for the Press to Stop Complaining – and to Start Fighting Back.” Much of it wasn’t about the urgency for journalists to defend their work, as the headline suggests; it was mostly focused on how Roger Ailes and Fox News are to blame for growing American animosity towards the news media.
Todd starts by explaining there’s a “new kind of campaign,” a campaign meant to destroy the legitimacy of the American news media.” He quickly pivots to prominent figures in conservative media, accusing Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge, and Fox News hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson of attaining wealth and power by “exploiting the fears of older white people.”
However, he admits that President Donald Trump “didn’t start this fire” of people hating the mainstream media. That honor, according to Todd, belongs to Fox News founder Ailes. The “Meet The Press” host gave Ailes the title of “the godfather of the Trump presidency.”
“Take the word balanced. It sounded harmless enough. But how does one balance facts?” Todd asks. “A reporting-driven news organization might promise to be accurate, or honest, or comprehensive, or to report stories for an underserved community. But Ailes wasn’t building a reporting-driven news organization. The promise to be ‘balanced’ was a coded pledge to offer alternative explanations, putting commentary ahead of reporting; it was an attack on the integrity of the rest of the media. Fox intended to build its brand the same way Ailes had built the brands of political candidates: by making the public hate the other choice more.”
He acknowledges that Fox News has “some great journalists,” such as Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, and Shepard Smith, but believes Fox News doesn’t “showcase” or “emphasize its reporting and journalism. Instead, he says, it “focuses on attacking the ‘liberal media’ whose ‘liberal bias’ was ruining America.”
This is how Todd explains the Fox News business model:
Almost any big story that was potentially devastating to a conservative was ‘balanced’ with some form of whataboutism. The Ailes construction has been so effective that these days, I often get mail from viewers who say: Now that you’ve focused on all of President Trump’s misdeeds, you are biased if you don’t dedicate the same amount of time to Hillary Clinton’s misdeeds. It seems completely lost on this segment of the population that one person is the leader of the free world, and the other is a retiree living in the suburbs of New York City.
Todd did acknowledge that reporters “bring their own biases to their work” and that those who pay more attention to some issues and not others are “real issues” that most journalists try to correct. But here is Todd’s biggest mistake: “At the other extreme, critics may be accusing journalists of having deliberately and consciously shaped their reporting to serve some political end. That sort of overt bias is far rarer. Ironically, the best example of this kind of bias airs regularly in prime time on Fox News.”
For starters, that sort of “overt bias” is not rare. On the contrary, the deliberate and conscious effort to shape reporting to advance political narratives has become more and more common, especially in the age of social media where misleading headlines and images taken out of context go viral and corrections are rarely made. People are no longer just reading newspapers and watching the news on TV, they look at their Facebook feeds and see what’s being retweeted thousands of times.
The fact that Todd thinks the “best example” of such bias can be found on the Fox News primetime lineup is comical since Hannity, Ingraham, and Carlson host opinion shows, something they don’t pretend to hide. Compare that to CNN, where every anchor and host identifies himself or herself as a straight journalist but constantly trashes President Trump, advocates his or her own political positions, and openly mocks this administration. Fox News does a solid job in separating what shows are actual news programs and what shows are opinion-driven, and other news companies do not.
Todd lacks self-awareness on the subject of media bias, since MSNBC has proudly built a reputation of being a liberal news network. Its stars are Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Lawrence O’Donnell, Joe Scarborough, and Mika Brzezinski, who are essentially political opposites to the stars of Fox News.
But we should give them credit. At least MSNBC doesn’t attempt to portray itself as fair and objective, unlike CNN. All you have to do is ask Todd what pro-Trump pundits are on NBC’s payroll. The answer: there aren’t any. You’ll find plenty of Never Trumpers, but you won’t find any Republican who will defend this president. To CNN’s credit, they actually do have pro-Trump commentators, albeit ones often greatly outnumbered by Trump haters.
On a side note, Todd has a lot of gall to question the journalistic standards of Fox News right as his own network is being accused of killing the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault story. In fact, on the night Todd’s piece was published, Ronan Farrow accused his former employer of blocking him from further reporting. So while he craps on a competing network, his own network’s credibility is being burned to the ground.
What Todd resents the most about Fox News is the fact they’re the first to highlight media bias and profit from it. They’ve dominated in ratings for almost 20 years. A huge audience is sick and tired of being informed about current events with a liberal slant. Fox News became the anecdote, the counterweight to the rest of the mainstream media, who shield Democrats and demonize Republicans.
So, what’s the solution to his Fox News problem? Todd argues that journalists need to “start fighting back” and defend their reporting from conservative critics.
“I’m not advocating for a more activist press in the political sense, but for a more aggressive one,” Todd writes. “That means having a lower tolerance for talking points, and a greater willingness to speak plain truths. It means not allowing ourselves to be spun, and not giving guests or sources a platform to spin our readers and viewers, even if that angers them. Access isn’t journalism’s holy grail—facts are.”
That sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Let’s just end the talking points and the spin and simply “speak plain truths.” Well, if Todd wants to become the warrior in this battle and make journalism great again, he ought to first practice what he’s preaching.