CNN’s Anderson Cooper brought together his usual panel of political experts earlier this week to discuss Kellyanne Conway’s contentious interview with Jake Tapper. Conway asserted that several media outlets broadcast fake news about the Trump Administration.
During the discussion, Jeffrey Lord had an exchange with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker, in which Lord claimed the media’s approval ratings were lower than the notoriously bad congressional approval numbers. The typically oblivious Lizza responded that Trump is, “the President of the United States. We [the media] can get things wrong. We’re just journalists […] But he should be held to the highest standard.”
Earlier, Lizza had delivered an elegant soliloquy about the supposed sacrosanct role journalism plays in a free society. Aside from its sanctimony, this claim is also painfully inaccurate. When you think about it, journalism has almost always been a rather disreputable pursuit. John Wayne as Tom Doniphon in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance delivered the best answer to these kinds of specious speeches:
From yellow journalism to sensational tabloids, the news media has always been closer to the world’s oldest profession (as the great Bobby Knight once asserted) than it has been to fighting for The People. Indeed, terms like “yellow journalism” or the phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads” are more than just fanciful descriptions for an otherwise worthy pursuit. They offer fairly accurate to descriptions of the generally sordid history of American journalism.
How can Lizza explain let alone justify the New York Times opinion editor, Jim Rutenberg, calling for all journalists to abandon their purported objectivity during the 2016 campaign and write stories that were explicitly anti-Trump?
Then again, lies and inaccuracies have defined journalism going back to the times of George Washington. While Washington began his presidency widely revered, by the end of his administration, America’s first president faced a fairly hostile partisan press corps. The reason for Washington’s fall from universal acclaim? He wanted to avert a war with France in 1794 and he wanted to avoid allowing factionalism to dominate the politics of the young American republic.
As Michael Beschloss documents in his phenomenal book, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789-1989, Washington sent John Jay to negotiate a secret treaty with the French in 1794. This was in order to prevent all-out war with the far superior forces of France. It was also to avoid having to turn the U.S. into a quasi-vassal state of the British Empire (the United States, being weaker militarily than France was, would have had to beg for British help in the event of war).
After the treaty was made public, the furor from its opponents was so great that many newspapers ran cartoons of President Washington being marched to the guillotine. Many newsmen wrote accusatory screeds claiming Washington had been bribed by the French to make the treaty.
In fact, one newspaper ran an op-ed penned by veterans of the Revolutionary War that read, “A speedy death to General Washington!” Still more columnists of the day accused the president of an historical version of stolen valor: these journalists said that he didn’t do all that he claimed to have done during the Revolutionary War.
The news media was so partisan during the Civil War that Abraham Lincoln identified several newspapers as serving the interests of the Confederacy. Indeed, the press was so overtly one-sided that Lincoln jailed several reporters who, he claimed, posed a security threat to the Union during the course of the Civil War. As Union General Ambrose Burnside famously quipped, “newspapers are full of treasonous expression.”
On the flipside, the American news media covered up the sexual indiscretions of their two liberal darlings, FDR and JFK. They also covered up accusations that JFK was taking a potent cocktail of drugs for undisclosed medical conditions. Where was the hard-hitting reporting that Lizza claims is so crucial to free government and that Trump, in his hostility for the press, threatens to undo?
The CNN crowd laments the loss of access to the Trump Administration. Tell me, where was this concern when President Obama shunned certain press during his time in office?
Lizza may wring his hands over CNN and several other preferred Leftist news organizations being “called out” by Trump for their biased reporting, but the faux outrage of these Leftists (along with the Never Trump Republicans, such as Matt Lewis and David Brooks) amounts to this single lament: “How dare Trump defend himself!” As it happens, I don’t seem to remember CNN lambasting President Obama when he constantly blamed his political woes on what he considered to be the twin-relics of retrograde political opinion: Rush Limbaugh and FOX News.
The fact of the matter is that Big Media—just like any endeavor—involves Big Money. It is therefore, above all other things, a profit-seeking industry. It is not in the business of seeking the untarnished public good. The media companies that operate these news organizations want a return on their investment. Oddly enough, after decades of declining profit margins, the major networks and newspapers still seem confused about the nature of their woes. There are good reasons why their audience is passing them up in favor of newer forms of reporting, yet Big Media soothes itself by lashing out against New Media and labels all of it “Fake News.” It’s a little too transparent. But that won’t stop them.
The traditional news media limps on. With the rise of Trump and with the prevalence of social media, however, this status quo may no longer hold for them. The Old Media is dying and its servants—like Lizza—know it. And they’re scared. Their Leftism only one item on the list of reasons as to why people like Lizza are so apoplectic right now.
Reporters such as Lizza will still insist that their work is beyond reproach. They will claim that they are always in pursuit of the capital-T Truth. But the public is not going to return to a time when it accepts these claims uncritically. Too much wreckage from their reckless disregard for the truth litters our collective memories.The Duke lacrosse rape case? That time when Dan Rather spread false reports about President George W. Bush lying about serving in the National Guard? Brian Williams’ fall from grace? The case of Maggie Haberman, who was being used by the Clinton campaign to “tee up stories” for them? Lest we not forget all of the eye-raising links between ABC’s George Stephanopoulos and the Clinton Foundation? Donna Brazile anyone? The list goes on and on. Needless to say, for an attentive public, the media has done a thorough enough job of discrediting themselves. They did not need the assistance of President Trump to do that, but his calling them out on it is, understandably, refreshing to many. Americans aren’t going to go back to the days of unquestioned respect for a reporter just because he speaks well and has his face plastered nightly on TV.
To all of this Lizza would say that even when the media is wrong, it’s nowhere near as awful as when the president and his spokespeople misstate a fact. But let’s be real. When Trump or his surrogates misspeak, they cause confusion. Lizza and his people are there to correct them. But when the media gets it wrong, people’s lives are ruined.