The Press Is The Last To Know Why No One Trusts Their Work Anymore
A judge has thrown out Sarah Palin’s libel lawsuit against the New York Times. Even though the Times admitted it lied about saying she caused the Gabby Gifford shooting with her talk. Even though the paper admitted its editing process had failed. This judge still figured the Grey Lady had not acted with malicious intent in saying Palin was accessory to a near-murder.
In less fevered times, this breakdown of fair comment might have been a scandal. But in the days since the Trump election last November, it’s more like the cost of doing business for the mainstream media.
In June, the same New York Times was forced to retract a sensational story on its website— dutifully repeated on CNN— that a Russian bank linked to a close ally of President Trump was under Senate investigation.
Somehow this fake story, too, had worked its way through all the levels of NYT editors to reach publication. At a time when nerves over Trump were raw, the fail-safes at the bastion of American journalism had failed miserably. In its zeal to disqualify the loss of its candidate Hillary Clinton, the Times had overreached, drawing dozens of other gullible publications or networks— all slathering to nail Trump— into repeating their lie.
Over at FOX News, the conservative outlet was wiping egg off its face, too. It had to publicly retract a story linking the murder of a Democratic National Committee staff member Seth Rich with the email hacks that aided President Trump’s campaign.
Even foreign press ensnarled itself. The Daily Mail of London had to apologize and pay a settlement to Trump’s wife Melania for suggesting a modeling agency she worked for was also an escort service. And on it goes as the race to the bottom guts the reputation of media.
These are just a few of the dozens of false stories on both sides of the Trump issue that made air or publication, hoping to stake out a scoop on POTUS 45. (http://thehill.com/homenews/media/340564-media-errors-fuel-trump-attacks)
The anti-Trump zealots don’t care about the veracity of critical stories where weasel words (“Trump associate” or “source close to the White House”) are stretched to impute authority. Trump loyalists like FOX’s Sean Hannity, meanwhile, see a conspiracy in even the most benign stories about the president.
Trump naturally has jumped into this void with both feet, repeating his #Fakenews claim that puts the media on a level somewhere below the bivalves on the evolutionary scale. The adversarial poison stirred by his election was providing him with potent material. And media has only itself to blame.
The question is, has the media hurt itself irrevocably?
While many in the media gleefully point to Trump’s mediocre 38 percent approval rating, polls in the U.S. also show that only 36 percent of respondents approve of the mainstream media while a majority 50 percent say they disapprove of the press. While on-air figures regularly lecture Trump on his behaviors, approval for their own actions is as low or lower than his, begging where they get their moral authority (https://goo.gl/H8z6SL).
It’s safe to say that, while Trump will go someday, the damage done to the media’s credibility will not return as easily. A great deal of the polarity in American discourse has been created, nurtured and perpetuated by partisans masquerading as objective sources. Opinion is now lodged within news copy. Distinctions between fact and spin are gone. Editorial restraint is gone.
See former ESPN/MSNBC figure Keith Olbermann who seems Caps-lock deranged about Trump. “@keitholbermann This psychopath @realDonaldTrump is a clear and present danger to this nation, its freedoms, and its citizens. He must be REMOVED TODAY”
Here are some of the ways that, in seeking to push its agenda, once-respected media have lost the plot with the public.
1) False Equivalence. This is the “whattabout” technique. When Muslim extremists commit a heinous crime like World Trade Center, San Bernadino or the Pulse night club, liberal media chime in with “Whattabout right winger Timothy McVeigh killing 168 people in a 1995 Oklahoma City bombing?” Indeed McVeigh was executed for this crime. But the analogy fails when you consider that, even if body counts left vs right are equal, Muslims represent just six percent of American population. If media were being honest they’d recognize that Muslim terror has been far out of proportion to their popularity.
The classic in this vein is Black Lives Matter’s claim (endorsed by Barack Obama) that blacks are discriminated against by being stopped by police at a rate greater than their 12 percent percentage of the population. And that they are treated differently in encounters with police. But blacks are involved in murder, assault and other major crime at a rate far greater than their percentage of population.
As criminologist Heather Mac donald told me on The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin (https://goo.gl/vax7xH), liberal media ignore that young blacks are seven times more likely to commit murder than whites and latinos combined. They have bad outcomes with cops because they encounter them so often in commission of crime. When this fact emerges it’s called racist by the pet sources of the paper or network.
Another major false equivalence gaining steam is the concept that free speech equates to assault. The Charlottesville riot has been the Trojan Horse for this concept in the media. Colleges and universities have enshrined this connection as a seminal issue. Progressive press eager to pander are now looking to use it as a wedge against their enemies.
Sadly, Canada has already crossed its Rubicon with punitive Hate Speech laws. As Canadians discovered in the Mark Steyn/ Macleans complaint, hate-speech laws create less free speech, more fear of Big Brother and a handy cudgel for activists to punish their enemies through the one-sided process.
American liberals now want the same applied to right-wing dissent, destroying the First Amendment protections of the Constitution.
2) Disproportionality. The weighing of a story’s importance should not always be linked to a community’s impact. But a cursory glance at the time devoted by American and Canadian media to pet causes reveals a fetish for obscurity. The transgendered issue— being portrayed as the next great civil-rights threshold— is instructive.
Transgendered people represent about 0.06 percent of the U.S. population. But in the past two years you’d have assumed they were about 20 percent based on media coverage of their struggles. While there are compelling stories about Chelsea Manning being the next Rosa Parks, this spin is disproportionate and distorts its impact on society. The military, for instance, is not an all-inclusive spa for dreamers (http://thefederalist.com/2017/08/28/dear-trans-lobby-military-not-social-experiment/)
Likewise, the reported gay/ lesbian population of America ranges from 1.6 to 3 percent of population. You’d be hard-pressed to square that with the saturation of gay culture/ issues/ grievances on news lineups or front pages of newspapers. Almost all of which promote the idea that, blanket coverage notwithstanding, LGBTQ issues are being ignored, and they are discriminated against.
Media disproportionality extends to the climate debate— an issue that many otherwise objective reporters regard as a settled fact. Taking even the most extreme readings of warming zealots as gospel, we are only looking at hundredths of a degree of warmth in these stories. (And there are plenty who will say that the first-tranche disaster estimates of Al Gore in the 90s— still repeated daily by MSNBC or CBC— were hysterical.)
The earth is not melting. But that hasn’t stopped a panicked media from already trying to marry the tragedy of the Texas floods with their pet cause. “Harvey is What Climate Change Looks Like” activist Eric Holthaus frothed in Politico.
3) Bunkering. Put simply, the rush to re-litigate the November election via Russia conspiracies and other sinister fantasies has produced bunker mentality in media at just the time it needs to be its most open minded. Journalism has been replaced by a cultural debate about the elites versus the Trump’s “despicable” voters. (https://goo.gl/3tc9sU)
Despite the president’s win, CNN panels still feature disproportionately left/ progressives from the bicoastal silos arguing the issues that lost them the election or whipping up Russian conspiracies. The few GOP supporters on CNN are almost all NeverTrump scolds. MSNBC does a little better with conservatives like Hugh Hewitt, but even their news slant screams Kill The Warlock!
While FOX has red-meat Hannity, it does balance its panels better. Many of the Trump-skeptical figures on the network, such as Shep Smith, Charles Krauthammer and Chris Hayes— diverge from the party line in a way that CNN would never tolerate.
No media is more bunkered than Canada’s. Outside the Financial Post, conservative thought is actively suppressed and mocked. While polling shows Canadians are tepid on immigration and strong on law and order, you won’t see that reflected in the media’s progressive urban Toronto mindset.
Intellectual curiosity at CBC disappeared years ago in its rush to advocacy sainthood. One veteran radio hand at CBC inadvertently spilled the beans in an online rant about the current vapid programming. "Many journalists from my generation, starting work during the 1960s and 70s, entered media because they had a strong social conscience,” wrote Nick Filmore. (http://www.canadalandshow.com/whats-wrong-with-cbc-radio-one/)
In other words, they were interested in causes more than traditional news reporting, which is just too boring for the current progressive CBC culture.
The punch line here is that the media in both countries feel they’re fooling the public. They’re not. Yes, ratings for the rabid Trump chase have briefly buoyed ratings on Cable news. But that will soon pass as Trump either falls or endures. Leaving behind a traditional pillar of democracy in rubble. Good luck rebuilding that trust.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy.is the host of the podcast The Full Count with Bruce Dowbiggin on anticanetwork.com. He’s also a regular contributor three-times-a-week to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. His website is Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com)