Mediator: Criticism of the News Media Takes On a More Sinister Tone

2016-10-17 18:32:12

 

Mediator: Criticism of the News Media Takes On a More Sinister Tone

It sure does get exhausting working for the global corporate media conspiracy.

The hours are horrible (my kingdom for a weekend off). You never know what the puppet masters are going to order up next. (I wish that guy from Mexico, What’s-His-Face Slim, would get off my back.) And there’s no extra combat pay when, at this point, there clearly should be.

I probably shouldn’t joke (and yes, Twitter, that’s what I’m doing). The anger being directed at the news media has become dangerous enough that some news organizations are providing security for staff members covering Trump rallies. “Someone’s going to get hurt” has become a common refrain in American newsrooms.

On Thursday, Jim Acosta of CNN held up a sign left in the press section of Donald J. Trump’s rally in West Palm Beach that featured a swastika next to the word “Media.” Later, in Cincinnati, the crowd met reporters with sustained boos, curses and chants of, “Tell the truth, tell the truth.”

It was as tense as anyone had seen it since the candidacy of George Wallace, and yet it was almost understandable given what Mr. Trump had been telling them: The news media was trying to “poison the minds” of voters with “lies, lies, lies.” All of it, he said, is part of a “conspiracy against you, the American people” that also includes “global financial interests.”

The idea that the press is part of some grand conspiracy against the people, presented in such incendiary terms, goes well beyond the longstanding Republican complaints about liberal bias. You’d more expect to hear it from Lenin or the pages of the anti-Semitic publication American Free Press than from the standard-bearer of the Republican Party.

But it is resonating with a large portion of the American electorate. There are many reasons, some of which should cause the news media to make good on its promises to examine its own disconnect from the cross section of Americans whose support for Mr. Trump it never saw coming.

We can debate whether the “corporate” news media is as left-leaning as critics claim. The answer, as I see it, is more than they’ll admit to themselves and less than conservatives claim.

But there is little question that it is out of step with Mr. Trump’s die-hards on the issues upon which Mr. Trump won them over, especially immigration and trade. And this tracks across the ideological divide in the mainstream media.

For all their many differences, the right-leaning editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and the left-leaning editorial boards of The New York Times and The Washington Post share the beliefs that global free trade is generally beneficial and that the United States needs to create ways to legalize the undocumented immigrant work force.

The newsrooms of The Times, The Journal and The Post operate independently from their editorial pages. But their coverage certainly does not start from the premise that an immigration overhaul would unduly reward the original sin of illegal border crossing or that free trade deals threaten our national sovereignty.

Then there are big attitudinal differences that come from the fact that the biggest American newsrooms are in major cities.

“One of the reasons the national media initially missed the rise of Trump was because so much of it is based on the coasts,” said Joanne Lipman, editor in chief of the USA Today Network, which Gannett formed in December, in part, to combine the sensibilities of the 110 newspapers it owns throughout red-state and blue-state America.

There also tends to be a shared sense of noble mission across the news media that can preclude journalists from questioning their own potential biases.

“The people who run American journalism, and who staff the newsrooms, think of themselves as sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and, culturally speaking, on the right side of history,” Rod Dreher, a senior editor at The American Conservative, told me. “They don’t know what they don’t know and they don’t care to know it.”

Mr. Dreher lives in Louisiana and has worked at five major city newspapers across the country. He does not support Mr. Trump but says he understands why his supporters are so frustrated. As far as he’s concerned, mainstream journalists are “interested in every kind of diversity, except the kind that would challenge their own prejudices.” Those include, “bigotry against conservative religion, bigotry against rural folks and bigotry against working-class and poor white people.”

It’s a pretty sweeping generalization. But a considerable percentage of the country believes it. An even larger percentage of Mr. Trump’s voters do.

No matter what happens on Nov. 8, the notion isn’t going away. American newsrooms will be making a big mistake — and missing a huge continuing story — if they fail to adjust their coverage to better illuminate the concerns of Mr. Trump’s supporters well beyond Election Day.

Doing so might begin to build up trust in the news media, which the Gallup Organization reported as hitting a new low in September.

But there is something else that will help: a far more assertive defense from the news media, of what it does well and honestly, and against the sustained attempts to impugn its motives through the many false and misleading political-style attacks that too often are mixed in with the valid criticism.

Just look at this past week, starting with the trove of Clinton campaign emails released by WikiLeaks — possibly aided by Russian-sponsored hackers, according to United States intelligence officials. Mr. Trump seized upon them as proof of media bias favoring Hillary Clinton.

Citing their provenance — purloined from the personal account of Mrs. Clinton’s adviser John Podesta — campaign officials have refused to verify them publicly. But they have not disputed emails that lay bare the back-channel communication between reporters and political operatives.

An email chain that purported to show the Democratic Party official Donna Brazile sharing with the Clinton campaign a question from a coming primary season town hall was particularly disturbing. (CNN has denied sharing any questions with Ms. Brazile, who denied having access to them.)

But most of the emails show reporters, including some at The Times, trying to: Get permission to use quotations from an off-the-record interview; run details in a coming story past political aides to make sure they are correct (called fact-checking), or alert Mr. Podesta that his name was to come up in a critical article (the opposite of which is to ambush). That’s standard interplay between reporters and political aides.

It isn’t always pretty. Reporters can make mistakes, become overly chummy with sources and fall into traps that give the campaigns too much power over their reporting. Much as they should resist it, that happens on a bipartisan basis. It is not evidence that the news media, including The New York Times, is working in tandem with “globalists” and Mrs. Clinton’s campaign to deliver her the presidency.

In the case of The Times, Mr. Trump has made its largest individual shareholder, Carlos Slim, of Mexico, part of the conspiracy. The Times’s publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. — whose family controls the company’s voting shares — said in a statement that Mr. Slim “has never sought to influence what we report.” The Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, recently told me that he had never even met Mr. Slim.

Mr. Trump apparently had no problems doing media business with Mr. Slim — “a good guy,” he had called him on David Letterman’s show — before the election. It was just 2015 when a production company Mr. Slim controls, Ora TV, announced it was canceling a television project it said it had in the works with Mr. Trump, citing his comments about Mexicans.

Previously, I had mostly noticed suggestions of a Slim-Times conspiracy on sites like Breitbart and alt-right Twitter accounts.

In giving those allegations prominence, the standard-bearer of the Republican Party is adding a sinister, false twist to his press criticism that arguably puts the reporters covering his rallies in danger. In effect, he is painting them as traitors.

Now, who’s poisoning the minds of the electorate?

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