America lost an irreplaceable voice last week with the passing of Aretha Franklin. If your knowledge of her music is limited to popular hits like “Respect,” “Think,” and “Chain of Fools,” I recommend reading the New York Times’ obituary of the Queen of Soul.
The yin to the passing of Ms. Franklin’s yang was the Times’ support to The Boston Globe’s call to arms to counter President Trump’s “fake news” campaign. August 16th was the day chosen for newspapers across the nation to cry out in unison against this Trump tweet: “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
The president clearly called out specific news organizations, but the press has consistently reported it as an attack on all journalists. The same reporters who couldn’t roust themselves to defend colleagues targeted by the Obama administration (James Rosen, Sharyl Attkisson, the entire AP) flew into high dudgeon.
With few exceptions, today’s media midgets stand on the backs of giants and think they’ve earned the view. A less self-aware group is hard to imagine. In the first 20 seconds of a cable news interview, a contributing editorialist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune compared the plight of journalists in America with Jews under the Nazis. Her editor’s next two words to her should have been “You’re fired.”
When it comes to the respect of the American people, the Fourth Estate is held in low regard. Two months before America elected Trump president, Gallup reported that “Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media ‘to report the news fully, accurately and fairly’ has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history,” at 32%.
Real news becomes editorialized “fake news” through error, omission, and mendaciously-selective coverage. The Funny Pages used to refer to the comic strips, but today it’s more accurately applied to the corrections pages. The corrections mostly favor Trump or the Right because the initial coverage is overwhelmingly negative and hostile. A few recent howlers from the New York Times:
– In a hit-piece against the Trump tax cuts, the Times produced a “What-If Worksheet” projecting a typical couple’s tax bill would rise $3,896. The correction: It would decline by $43.
– After woefully under-reporting crowd size at a Trump rally in Nashville, the reporter tweeted “President @realDonaldTrump is correct about his crowd last night. My estimate was way off…” She guessed (low, naturally), instead of reporting the fire marshall’s number.
– In an article about “the sort of far-right conspiracy stories that have plagued Facebook” the Times admitted that, in fact, “Palestinian officials have acknowledged providing payments to the families of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis…that is not a conspiracy theory.”
Two New Hampshire media outlets answering the Globe’s call were The Forum, “serving the towns in the shadow of Pawtuckaway,” and the Union Leader.
The Forum dishonestly conflated the president’s “cries of ‘fake news’ and the press being named an enemy of the American people” with “Milo Yiannopolous (sic), a right wing celebrity,” who commented about “gunning down” journalists days before a gunman killed five staff at the Annapolis Capital Gazette.
Yiannopoulos, a British political commentator and rhetorical bomb-thrower, hardly represents the right wing of American politics. While his timing – not to mention his comment – was unfortunate, the shooter had a long-standing disagreement with the Gazette. It turned deadly, but not because of anything Yiannopoulos said.
The Forum’s editorial didn’t mention CNN reporter Chris Cuomo (brother of NY Governor Andrew “America was Never Great” Cuomo) declaring that things he doesn’t like “should be stamped out.” Cuomo supports one-sided violence because “people who show up to fight against bigots are not to be judged the same as the bigots, even if they do resort to the same kinds of petty violence.” Perhaps he was referring to the “petty” violence that forced UC Berkeley to cancel a talk by…Milo Yiannopoulos.
The Union Leader, a misshapen shadow of the paper helmed by William Loeb, supported Trump’s point in its contribution to journalistic resistance by repeating the falsehood that the president’s “enemy of the people” tweet was aimed at the entire press corps.
The editors repeated the trite truism that “A free press is vital to our democracy” but was silent on a free press’ responsibility to present facts free of bias. Watch any of the Election Night 2016 greatest hits videos to see how badly the mainstream media failed that test.
America needs journalists who write cogently and thoughtfully, with the intellectual curiosity and honesty to follow stories where they lead, not where their political dogma directs them. But we don’t have that.
President Trump is right: The mainstream media outlets he named have become an enemy of the American people. Last week, the Boston Globe helped prove his point.