Anti-Trump press bias has become so routine that it’s now taken for granted. But much of what’s wrong with the press was on full display in one question at the president’s recent news conference at the G-7 meeting in France.
One hour into the press conference, the president stated that “President Putin outsmarted President Obama,” referring to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor took exception, interrupting the president to defend President Obama: “Why have you been using the misleading statement that Russia outsmarted President Obama when other countries have said that the reason Russia was kicked out [of the G-8] was very clearly because they annexed Crimea? Why keep repeating what some people would see as a clear lie?”
There you have it. A member of the White House press corps rising to protect President Obama while calling President Trump’s perfectly reasonable assertion a lie.
For eight years, the press was soft on President Obama and for four years, they have been brutal to Trump. Yet most reporters don’t see themselves as biased. In August 2017, a Morning Consult/Politico poll showed 54 percent of registered voters say the national press is very or somewhat liberal. Sixteen percent say it’s very or somewhat conservative. Only 7 percent say it’s centrist/non-partisan. That’s a problem, but it’s one that too many in the press ignore.
Bias isn’t the press’s only issue. So too is agenda-driven news and its lack of accuracy.
A Gallup poll in 2016 showed an all-time low, 32 percent, of respondents have a great deal or fair amount of trust and confidence that mass media will “report the news fully, accurately and fairly.” Only 14 percent of Republicans trust the media. Independents came in at 30 percent and Democrats barely, with 51 percent, had a great deal or fair amount of trust that the press would do its job right.
In any other business, when customers are this disgruntled, the business would re-evaluate what it’s doing and change. But, as the question to President Trump showed, too many reporters live in a self-reinforcing, anti-Trump bubble where they praise one another for confronting the president, ignoring that they’re doing immense damage to their institutions.
I’m a traditionalist and worked for several establishment Republicans. I want a press corps I can believe in. I want neutrality in coverage, not bias. I want to be able to pick up the paper and watch news shows (not the opinion shows) and know that I’m being told what took place and then I can form my own opinions.
But the line between reporting and analysis has become so blurred, my hope for fairness is quaint. Many reporters get offended when they hear me say their job is to stop being analysists and instead tell their readers and viewers what happened. That would turn them into stenographers, they argue. In an era of instant news, they say they need to provide context and analysis.
Well, whose context is it? Context in the hands of the Washington press corps too often is context born of liberal thinking. It’s why much of the press gave President Obama an eight-year pass yet gang up on President Trump, sounding more like the resistance than neutral reporters.
In 2013, The Atlantic magazine reported that at least 24 journalists—not columnists or editorial writers—took jobs within the Obama administration. It wasn’t uncommon for journalists who didn’t work for President Obama to fawn over him.
“Obama seemed the political equivalent of a rainbow – a sudden preternatural event inspiring awe and ecstasy. He transcends the racial divide so effortlessly that it seems reasonable to expect that he can bridge all the other divisions – and answer all the impossible questions,” wrote Time’s Joe Klein in 2006.
“Between workouts during his Hawaii vacation this week, [Obama] was photographed looking like the paradigm of a new kind of presidential fitness, one geared less toward preventing heart attacks than winning swimsuit competitions. The sun glinted off chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions,” Eli Saslow of the Washington Post told his readers in 2008 about the president-elect.
The softness extended throughout President Obama’s tenure. When Obama flip-flopped on gay marriage, CNN praised his “historic” stance. Senator Obama filibustered President Bush’s appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. But the press seldom pointed out President Obama’s hypocrisy when he criticized the GOP over its handling of Obama’s judicial nominees. Obama voted against raising the debt limit as a senator, but most reporters went easy on him when he faulted the GOP Congress for opposing debt limit hikes.
When Attorney General Eric Holder declared himself President Obama’s “wingman” in 2013, there was no feeding frenzy. Imagine if Attorney General William Barr said that today.
President Obama twice intervened in Department of Justice criminal investigations. He opined that Lois Lerner’s improper IRS audits of conservative organizations didn’t rise to “even a smidgen of corruption.” On “60 Minutes” in 2015, he dismissed Hillary Clinton’s email server as a “mistake,” adding it “is not a situation in which America’s national security was endangered.”
These inappropriate interventions were treated as one-day stories. When President Trump gives his opinions about ongoing Justice Department investigations, much of the media spend days, if not years, pounding him for crossing ethical lines and going beyond the norms.
I would have loved to have been President Obama’s press secretary. It would have been easy. Not so for President Trump. The press never gave him a chance. I readily admit President Trump has been rough on the press. But as of the chicken and the egg, I don’t know which came first.
Since the day he was elected, many in the press pursued with reckless abandon the now bogus storyline that President Trump colluded with Russia. CNN, in its zeal to criticize the president, ran numerous false stories, including that former FBI director James Comey wouldn’t corroborate the president’s statement that he was told three times he wasn’t under investigation; that Donald Trump Jr. knew in advance that WikiLeaks had Hillary’s emails; and that candidate Trump knew about Natalia Veselnitskaya’s meeting in Trump Tower with Trump campaign staff.
CNN doctored a video to make it look like President Trump didn’t know how to feed Koi fish during his visit to Japan. How much bias does CNN harbor to misleadingly edit a video so they turn something inconsequential into an international incident that implies what an oaf the president is?
Too much of the coverage today begins and ends with the question What’s wrong with Trump? In her 2019 book, “Merchants of Truth,” The New York Times’ former executive editor, Jill Abramson, wrote, “Though [current Executive Editor Dean Baquet] said publicly that he didn’t want the Times to be the opposition party, his news pages were unmistakably anti-Trump, as were the [Washington] Post’s. Some headlines contained raw opinion, as did some of the stories that were labeled as news analysis.”
That brings me back to Alcindor’s question. No doubt, she earnestly believes President Obama was not outsmarted by President Putin and that President Trump is a liar. The fact that neither she, nor apparently the rest of the White House press corps, thought her question was out of line, and an example of bias, shows how deep the bias runs.
This article has been updated since publication.