Column | The media are making Trump’s case
I’ll begin by getting the familiar disclaimers out of the way.
Reporters aren’t robots.
No thinking human being is capable of total objectivity.
Finding enough news to fill a 24-hour programming scheduling is a daunting task.
All true. And the media should still be embarrassed.
News organizations nationwide made a dog’s breakfast out of the Mueller/Russia collusion story and accomplished something even Donald Trump himself would have once considered impossible – they turned the president into a sympathetic character.
They also proved Trump right.
All of Trump’s barbs and tweets about how the media hate him, how CNN and the rest have an agenda, how they peddle “fake news,” how they’re part of the Democratic propaganda machine, and how the media establishment is out to get him are difficult to refute.
More than anything else, this is a shame because we want to trust someone. We want to believe that our media is engaged in an earnest search for truth. But the evidence – and the Mueller story can serve as Exhibit A – suggests otherwise.
“The political media, especially on TV, now has a template it can apply whenever a scandal looms into view, to hook viewers into the speculative story line,” wrote New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Two solid years of panel discussions, pundits and conjecture. How could Trump not be guilty of collusion?
Two years of telling America the president of the United States committed treason. Except there’s no evidence that he did and the special prosecutor now says so.
“This is a terrible moment for us as journalists,” former CBS correspondent Lara Logan told Fox’s Laura Ingraham Monday. Logan said she’s “ashamed” of the coverage of the Russia collusion story.
If only her former colleagues were capable of shame.
But alas, no time for regret when there are other narratives to advance. Here’s a sampling of Monday’s headlines after a court filing in which the Justice Department argued that the Affordable Care Act should be invalidated:
• CNN: “Donald Trump just made sure health care will decide the 2020 election”
• Politico: “Trump hands Democrats a gift with new effort to kill Obamacare”
• Vox: “Trump’s 2020 reelection record: cutting health care for millions of Americans”
• MSNBC: An “all-out war on Obamacare”
There’s almost no mention of any GOP replacement plan, of which there are several, including one sponsored by Arkansas Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman, which would retain some components of Obamacare, including coverage of pre-existing conditions.
“We want to take the things that are working and can be improved and keep the stuff that is good for consumers,” Westerman told the Washington Examiner last month.
Instead, you got a spate of stories loaded with quotes from the usual suspects, including those who have spent months telling constituents that Trump colluded with the Russians to throw the election.
“Trump and his administration are trying to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans - again,” said Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, who is running for president and is a proponent of a “Medicare-for-all” system.
So, we’ve quickly moved on from Trump colluding with the Russians to Trump killing sick people.
Tuesday morning, the top three stories on CNN’s website were headlined, “Why ending Obamacare now would be terrifying,” “Obamacare’s return puts Trump in a political hole,” and “The real reason Trump wants to get rid of Obamacare.”
The interesting thing about these three pieces is that none of them are actually news. The first two are labeled “analysis,” the third “opinion.”
Here’s a dumb question: Whatever happened to just reporting the news? The answer is fairly obvious. If you confine yourself to facts, there’s no room for commentary.
If, indeed, Brooks is correct when he points out that politics since Watergate has been defined by scandals - actual and conjured – then the media is complicit in our rapidly deteriorating political discourse.
I was discussing this issue with my students in a journalism class the other day when one young man asked a question.
“So, what national news organizations would you say are objective and just reporting news? What are the rest of us supposed to do?”
Thirty years ago, that would have been an easy question to handle.
Today, my silence will have to suffice as an answer.