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How the Mainstream Media Traded Trust for Spite
The religious anti-Trump zeal was costly.
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I hate the mainstream media.
I mean, I really, really don’t like these people. If you have to ask why, I have a succinct answer: Nothing so much drives Americans apart. The MSM’s small-minded, myopic approach to its job and its disparagement of conservative and populist thought is a key contributor to our nation’s divisions, breeding resentment and polarization among even the politically disinclined by promoting content specifically intended to enrage, balkanize, and embitter—all for more clicks and views.
And the people of whom the mainstream media is comprised are a reflection of the contemporary Democratic Party’s base: White, affluent, college-educated liberals increasingly untethered from reality.1 A 2019 national survey published by the think tank More in Common found that the more educated a Democrat is, the less he or she understands the Republican worldview. “This effect,” the report says, “is so strong that Democrats without a high school diploma are three times more accurate [in their Republican perceptions] than those with a postgraduate degree.” And the more politically engaged a Democrat is, the greater the distortion.
It makes sense, then, why the mainstream media’s punditocracy and commentariat are largely seen as affluent liberal-oriented folx2 who understand fellow Democrats but tend to be intellectually dismissive of Republicans, conservatives, and working class Americans living in flyover country. It’s an accurate perception. According to a 2020 study by Pew Research Center, the only group of Americans who say the press understands them are college-educated Democrats. Nearly 75% of Republicans say the news media “don’t understand people like them.”
How this came to be is relatively simple to understand. Harken back to 2012, the zenith of Obamamerica. Despite once having historic advantages with both poor and middle-class white voters, at the start of Obama’s second term Democrats possessed only a 2-point advantage among poor white voters—the result of six decades of slowly hemorrhaging working class support. By 2016, among white voters making between $30,000 and $75,000 per year, the GOP had taken a 17-point lead.
When laborers left, today’s Democratic Party is what remained—liberalism, but with a shifted intellectual center of gravity. Vox’s Emmett Rensin said it well:
“A movement once fleshed out in union halls and little magazines shifted into universities and major press, from the center of the country to its cities and elite enclaves. Minority voters remained, but bereft of the material and social capital required to dominate elite decision-making, they were largely excluded from an agenda driven by the new Democratic core: the educated, the coastal, and the professional.”
Blue Through and Through
As Ari Fleischer details in Suppression, Deception, Snobbery, and Bias, back in 2013, three college professors conducted an in-depth research project called “The American Journalist in the Digital Age: Another Look at U.S. News People.” The study, later published in 2018, found that journalists were four times more likely to be Democrats than Republicans, and that only 7% of reporters identified as the latter.
As a group, the White House press corps has a tremendous influence on the national political agenda by telling voters what to care about, which issues matter, and which issues must be redressed. These 49 reporters and their editors basically decide what is and is not news, and how, or if, the information will be shared. On June 7, 2021, every seat was filled for the first time in over a year as pandemic social distancing rules were relaxed. Fleischer hired a Washington, DC–based research firm, Delve, to look through public registration information of the 49 reporters present, most of whom are registered to vote in Washington, DC or Maryland, where people register by party if they choose. She found that by a ratio of 12:1, the seats were occupied by Democrats. The only Republican present was from Newsmax.
The Columbia Journalism Review reported in 2016 that, “People identified in federal campaign finance filings as journalists, reporters, news editors or television anchors — as well as other donors known to be working in journalism — have combined to give more than $396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Clinton and Trump, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis.” A whopping 96% of that total went to Clinton; just $14,000 went to Trump.
What’s more, Hillary Clinton was endorsed by 229 daily newspapers and 131 weeklies, while Trump received the endorsement of just 9 dailies and 4 weeklies, per a study done by the Nieman Lab.3 The most recent election wasn’t any less lopsided. The American Presidency Project at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that of the nation’s largest newspapers, 47 endorsed Biden in 2020; only 7 endorsed Trump.
Jane Coaston, host and editor of the New York Times’ opinion podcast The Argument, appeared on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show in May 2021, where she was asked a series of questions about the makeup of her fellow mainstream journalists, an estimated 5,000 elites. When she was asked how many of these people voted for Trump in 2020, her reply was 2%. She put the number at 4% for 2016.
You get the point. The mainstream media is virtually monolithic in ideology. For decades now, journalism schools throughout the country have churned out overwhelmingly like-minded liberal-oriented scribes who tailor the news for mostly liberal-oriented, college-educated readers and viewers who consume more mainstream media news than the average American. These individuals tend to be very similar in one key way: They lack any theory of mind that might allow them to place themselves in the shoes of Trump supporters.
All of the above is explanatory. It is not, however, a justification for why the solipsistic navel-gazers who think of themselves as an elite clerisy scuttled their credibility in service to the “Resistance” movement, the purpose of which was to undermine and oust a legally elected president. Dislike for a president — justified or not — doesn’t give reporters license to editorialize and misinform the public for psychological satisfaction, nor does it make it okay to be intellectually dismissive of people who don’t vote the same way as you do.
I find myself presented with the unique problem of how best to drive home the blatantly biased and dishonest coverage during Trump’s presidency and the lengths the mainstream media went to subvert his tenure. Obviously, we all know it was bad. I’m just not sure everyone realizes how bad.
The Trump-is-at-Fault Narrative Begins
In early 2017, not long after Trump was officially on the job, a wave of bomb threats was called into more than 100 Jewish community centers across the U.S. In an entirely foreseeable move, the media immediately linked the threats to Trump.
Without citing a single piece of corroborating evidence, the New York Times wrote, “the calls have stoked fears that a virulent anti-Semitism has increasingly taken hold in the early days of the Trump administration.” A laundry list of talking heads and columnists condemned Trump for suggesting it was possible that the threats had been called in by someone trying to “make others look bad.” A headline from the Daily Beast read, “Trump Appears to Suggest Bomb Threats Against Jews Are False Flags.” The Democratic National Committee condemned Trump’s implying that the attacks might not have come from anti-Semites.
Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) appeared on CNN’s New Day with Chris Cuomo and was asked about the bomb threats and the president’s handling of them. “Maybe [Trump] doesn’t want to denounce his own supporters because some of his own supporters are responsible for this,” Nadler said. Cuomo, of course, did not ask what evidence pointed toward Trump’s supporters being responsible.
It turned out that the source of the threats was a mentally unstable Israeli teenager and a liberal American journalist—neither of whom was inspired by Trump. Not that it mattered. Orange Man Bad meshed quite well with what would become the preferred narrative of Trump-is-at-fault.
The Koi Fish Lie
This one is my favorite. In November 2017, Trump traveled to Japan for a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which entailed some sort of “ceremonial feeding” of koi fish. Demonstrating the feeding technique to Trump, Abe took a small scoop from his box of fish food and dropped it into the water. Trump followed his lead and did the same. Abe dropped a few more scoops. Again, Trump followed. Then Abe poured the full contents of his box into the water, which Trump also did.
That's what really happened. But CNN edited the video so that it showed Abe dump a spoonful into the koi pond, followed by Trump as he dumped his entire box into the water. The network neglected to show or report that Abe had poured the contents of his fish food box into the pond before Trump followed suit.
“Trump feeds fish, winds up pouring entire box of food into koi pond,” read a headline by CNN's Veronica Rocha.
According to a report in the Washington Examiner, “CNN was given an assist in getting this bogus story rolling by Bloomberg White House correspondent Justin Sink, who tweeted that Trump and Abe were ‘spooning fish food into the pond’ when the U.S. president, ‘decided to just dump the whole box in for the fish.’”
Here’s NBC’s White House correspondent, Monica Alba, clearly a sparkling practitioner of twisting the truth:
Not wanting to be outdone, the Guardian threw its own hat in the ring for moronic news purveyor of the year by publishing a story warning that overfeeding fish is extremely dangerous for their health, adding that, “Some speculated that a poor palace employee would be dispatched to the scene to clean up the mess as soon as the two leaders disappeared inside.”
And Jezebel happily contributed with a very professional headline: “Big stupid baby dumps a load of fish food on Japanese koi pond.”
It's important to note that in no way was any of this “accidental.” Nor was it based on an “innocent mistake.” As Time White House reporter Alana Abramson pointed out:
“[The White House] pool report explicitly notes that both Trump and Abe—not just the president—initially took portions of the fish food from the box before tossing out the remnants: ‘The two leaders then leaned out and began throwing spoonfuls of the food into the water, before eventually turning over the bowls and dumping the rest out,’ the pool report reads.”
In other words, the truth was never difficult to ascertain, especially considering full video of the ceremonial feeding also documented Trump following the Prime Minister's lead.
Let’s pause for a moment here to reflect on how the media perpetrated one of the most petty, pointless, mean girl-ish lies you could possibly think of because. . . why, exactly? These outlets, which have long billed themselves as Doric columns of probity and righteous chamberlains of veracity, essentially let the world know that they were willing to blatantly lie about something so trivial that it almost beggars belief. Why in God’s name should anyone ever give them credence again thereafter? In a crude attempt to embarrass the president, you lied about him “boorishly” feeding some fish, and in so doing, you effectively confirmed that yes, your coverage is adversarial and dishonest. Moreover, you quite literally proved in one fell swoop Trump’s “fake news” euphemism was accurate. Did you guys, like, walk around with a little more pep in your step the rest of the day, or? I’m sorry, I’m just not seeing the tradeoff here.
The Mailbox Hullabaloo
Just when you thought the Trump era couldn’t possibly see stupidity taken to new heights, the mailbox thing happened in August 2020. That is, the mainstream media-propagated conspiracy theory that the Trump campaign was snagging people’s mailboxes by the truckload in a bid to take mail-in votes away from Biden.
It all started when a random but impressively daft Democratic activist tweeted a photo of mailboxes stacked together in Wisconsin. According to the tweet (which of course went viral) it was the result of “voter suppression” by the Trump administration.
Like moths to a flame, morons tend to gravitate toward other morons, and the idea that Trump was trying to steal the election by stealing mailboxes was soon all the rage. Even Taylor Swift got in on the action.
You’d think the media couldn’t possibly be so stupid as to believe something like this, something very QAnon-like indeed, but you’d be wrong.
“USPS Mailboxes Removed in Some New York Area Neighborhoods,” reported NBC News in New York City, speculating that it was politically motivated.
“Postal service removes Oakland collection boxes; leaders warn of election interference,” said a headline from the San Francisco Chronicle.
“Never Trumper” Rick Wilson of the Lincoln Project compared the “White House and Trump campaign connection to the USPS shutdown” to Watergate, saying, “This is too sweeping and organized to just be some random play.”
Ana Navarro, the ABC/CNN commentator who recently insisted that Roe v. Wade and abortion rights were necessary for families who might want to terminate special needs children in the womb, also perpetuated the conspiracy by posting pictures of USPS moving aging mailboxes with a caption suggesting that the Trump White House was behind it.4
This is too perfect not to show (Pelosi being asked if she tips her Husband off about trades):
Even Biden couldn’t help himself. “They’re going around literally with tractor trailers picking up mailboxes,” he said at a virtual fundraiser, according to reporter Holly Otterbein. “You oughta go online and check out what they’re doing in Oregon. I mean, it’s bizarre!”
A simple Google search would’ve revealed to this credulous lot that the removal of postal boxes is a routine procedure carried out before and after elections, a practice going all the way back to 1833 in New York City, where the very first street corner mailbox was placed. The original viral tweet about Wisconsin was based on a photo of a yard operated by a company that routinely refurbishes mailboxes for the U.S. Postal Service.
It costs money to travel to and check a collection box that sits empty or collects very few envelopes, and there may come a point in time when it makes sense to get rid of it. Collection boxes are also moved all the time to adjust to the ebb and flow of mail volume. According to a 2016 notice issued by the USPS’s inspector general, “Nationally, the number of collection boxes declined by more than 12,000 in the past 5 years.”
Richard Muncher Facility for Demonstrably Incorrigible Imbeciles Panel Discussion
Examples of the mainstream media doing a fantastic job of butchering credibility just to spite Trump are legion, but he wasn’t the only one that they knowingly maligned, caricatured, and lied about.
On January 25, 2020, CNN’s Don Lemon — he of the Richard Muncher Facility for Demonstrably Incorrigible Imbeciles — hosted a classic conversation (if you can call it that; self-affirming therapy sesh might be more appropriate) with political commentators Rick Wilson and Wajahat Ali — both also of the RMFDII — to talk about the “latest news.” Unsurprisingly, the focus was on Trump. Only this time, they got a little carried away.
“This is an administration defined by ignorance of the world,” said Wilson. “That’s partly him playing to their base and playing to their audience, the credulous, boomer rube demo that backs Donald Trump.” It was then that Wilson put on a crude impression of a Trump supporter with a southern accent. “Donald Trump’s the smart one—and y’all elitists are dumb!”
Ali, never one to miss out on an opportunity to remind people why he’s not a particularly likeable fellow, also did an imitation: “You elitists with your geography and your maps and your spelling!”
Lemon busted out laughing—like, authentically so, not because he felt obliged. The dude even pulled out a tissue to dab at his eyes. Encouraged, his guests continued their bit:
“Your math and your reading,” Wilson said.
“Your geography, knowing other countries, sipping your latte,” Ali continued, as all three giggled in mirth. “Only them elitists know where Ukraine is.”
Collecting his breath and recomposing himself, Lemon said, “That was a good one. I needed that.”
The grating snobbery here is particularly illuminating because it doesn’t make sense. Trump won the 2016 election thanks to swing voters in the Midwest, from Michigan to Wisconsin, not because of reliably Republican southern states. More pertinently, among white college graduates, Trump beat Hillary Clinton 49% to 45%. Clinton even under-performed among white women with a college degree, winning only 51% of their vote. So, according to Donny and friends, white college graduates and Americans from the Midwest fall under the dumb Southern rube stereotype?
Negative, as we all know well. The insufferable RMFDII panel discussion perfectly encapsulates the very same socio-political dynamics that gave rise to the Bad Orange Man w/Mean Tweets in the first place. Moreover, this example highlights the fact that the mainstream media, and the Left in general, rather than taking the time to ponder how Donald Trump could’ve won and Hillary Clinton lost, chose instead to attribute the former’s victory to a more understandable, sinister reason: Collusion. (Gasp!)
They spent the next four years waiting with bated breath for the smoking gun to be found. Even today, many are still absolutely positive of two contradictory beliefs: It’s only a matter of time before collusion is discovered; and it already has been (the press has argued this repeatedly, it’s just that son of a bitch Mueller dropped the ball).
It should be understood that it’s not specifically because of the skewed treatment of Trump, his supporters, and conservatives in general that I despise the mainstream media. I despise them because they’ve fully abrogated their responsibility to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information needed to function in a free society. This commitment should be honored by presenting a representative picture of all constituent groups in society; to ignore, let alone disparage, certain citizens is akin to disenfranchising them.
Additionally, the mainstream media has wholly dispensed with its responsibility to interrogate power and ask basic questions. Particularly within legacy media, journalists have protections, both personal and institutional, to specifically fulfill this obligation. There was a time not too long ago when the only entity to which journalism was supposed to be biased against was power. Though it’s almost laughable to think journalists were once considered the “watchdogs of Democracy,” it’s true. They were supposed to be above partisan struggle and serve as a check against corruption.
But now, after journalism went from a blue-collar trade to a priestly caste, they are the powerful, and they bring their journalistic authority to bear on partisan, activist agitprop. We shouldn’t hesitate to withhold our trust so long as the mainstream media remains the ideological messaging appendage it has become.
This doesn’t mean I hate Democrats. To so broadly condemn a swath of society that large based on voting preference is small-minded in and of itself. People are rarely reducible to a single animating political consideration, nor should they be subject to a simple moral judgment. Motives are complicated.
Also, I don’t consider Fox News to be part of the MSM. Do I think they’re blameless in the perpetuation of division? Far from it. But it’s not an exaggeration to say it’s basically Fox News vs. everyone: NYT, WaPo, the Atlantic, New Yorker, Huffington Post, the Guardian, Time, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, etc. etc. (Though it’s certainly true that the Daily Wire seems to have really picked up steam.)
Writes Batya Ungar-Sargon in Bad News, “While the average pay for a journalism job is quite low at around $40,000 a year, that’s because entry-level jobs pay so little; at the higher levels, journalists now make quite a bit more than the average American. More importantly, journalists now have social and cultural power, and they are overwhelming the children of economic elites. After all, to even be able to make it on $30,000 a year while living in the most expensive cities in America (the only ones left with a functioning journalism industry, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the collapse of local newspapers), you have to come from a family with enormous economic privilege who can help you out.”
Hillary Clinton received endorsements from 57 newspaper editorial boards across the country. Four more did not endorse Clinton, but explicitly advised readers to vote against Trump.
You have to be a special kind of stupid to think that the Trump administration would undertake a mailbox-removal voter suppression strategy in Portland and Manhattan, among the most heavily Democratic cities in the country. Do you really think that removing some mailboxes would flip either of these two cities, let alone states, from Blue to Red?