Those Who Cry Wolf

by Francis Maindl

A leaked document containing over 100 hours of audio recorded within America’s CNN newsroom was released this week by journalist James O’Keefe, who is now orchestrating a crusade against America’s mainstream media. The tapes were recorded back in 2009 by an anonymous employee identified as ‘Miss X’ and they expose various CNN journalists’ efforts to shape the news through the lens of their own opinion. The clips exposed CNN employees voluntary misrepresentation of polling data on two occasions and current CNN’s Vice President and Senior Editorial Director Richard Griffiths’ ‘making a very activism-like statement as he was caught saying to his colleagues that he thought the role of a journalist was to “aid the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. A quote that could well have been plucked out of Che Guevarra’s personal diary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xf-0_dFnl-Y

Although the comments in the leaked document are not as incendiary as conspiracy theorists hoped it would be, it certainly strengthens the growing narrative supporting the idea that the mainstream media in the United States is very biased. This narrative emerges from what we have seen during the last campaign in America and since the election of Donald Trump as the new President.

If you look at how media organizations like CNN, NBC, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post have been treating the election campaign and the first few weeks of the Trump Presidency, it clearly shows that a disproportionate amount of actors in the media sphere tend to proactively push forward the Democratic Party’s agenda and to go after Trump.

mainstream-media

In the book published in 2011 ‘Left Turn: How Liberal Bias Distorts the American Mind’, Timothy Groseclose concludes that despite having some conservative outlets like Fox News and the Drudge Report, “the media aggregate slant is leftward” in a way that doesn’t reflect the normal composition of the Congress. A more recent study conducted by Jack Beckwith and Nick Sorscher looked at thousands of articles whose headlines contained ‘Trump’ or ‘Clinton’ and tried to draw parallels between media organizations and political bias. The research demonstrated that major news outlets like the Washington Post, New York Times and Slate all showed a systemic pattern of partisanship towards Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton. And it appears that the public would also support this claim. According to the Pew Research Center, 77% of the American public believe that news organizations tend to favor one side, a number one the rise since 1985 at 53%.

While that phenomenon might not strike as particularly surprising to anybody who follows only a little bit American media, it still seems that the ideological gap between the mainstream media and conservatives has never looked so wide since the arrival of Trump in the political arena.

 

Fake News

January 11, 2017. At his first press conference following the election, Donald Trump was ranting about the CNN news story that attempted to draw a connection between the President-elect and Russia— a story that turned out to contain several inaccurate elements. Once he was done, Trump pointed his finger at CNN’s Jim Acosta, who was shouting and insistingly asking Trump for a question, and told the reporter: “No, I’m not gonna give you a question. You are fake news”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZmqhe_8jA0

Since then, the term has been used all over the place and has become part of the daily news wire. What Trump calls fake news appears to be either stories that hold untrue facts, that blow out of proportion certain events or that are shaped by blind ideological partisanship lacking in argumentative value. They have been part of the electoral campaign and are still on the menu today.

During the electoral campaign, Trump rallies throughout America often faced violent protesters whose aim was to disrupt the event. The Media Research Center looked at ABC, CBS and NBC news coverage for 3 days following violent protests that occurred in Chicago during a Trump rally—45 segments totaling about 85 minutes of airtime—and found out that 94% of the coverage clearly put the blame on Trump and not on the protesters.

NBC’s Andea Mitchell: “Trump’s rhetoric now being compared to George Wallace, who split from the Democratic Party in 1968”. ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “This is absolutely astounding but I have to say it’s also not entirely surprising… Often you feel like there is incitement that is coming from the candidate himself”.

One of the few media commentator who defended Trump, media critic Steven Brill said about the double standard in media: “I do think that if Trump supporters, by the dozens or hundreds, planted themselves at a Hillary Clinton rally or a Bernie Sanders rally and stood up and disrupted it, and that was their intent, that the press would cover that differently. So in that sense, I think Trump has a point”.

More recently this week, CNN and the New York Times complained about being excluded from a White House press gaggle, after other conservative media were allowed in. The executive director of the New York Times Dean Baqeut said: “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties. However, Breitbart news investigated and only had to go back to 2015 to find the Obama administration enacting the same practices. The New York Times itself reported that liberal-leaning columnists tend to dominate at President Obama’s secret meetings.

The current President has been accused of being a misogynist, a racist, a dictator, an islamophobe, antisemite and a fascist by journalists who have stopped making arguments and instead started engaging in a name-calling rhetoric. They also seem to find anything that can be turned into a negative story too good to fact check. Since Trump entered the Oval Office, the Washington Examiner has been monitoring the media and have found 33 stories that turned out to be false or inaccurate. Here are some of them:

– A Time reporter tweeted that Trump removed the Martin Luther King Jr. bust from the White House. That wasn’t true.

– His immigration order was criticized by the media for not targeting nations where Trump had business interests. The countries were the same affected by the Obama administration.

– The Washington Post hit Trump for giving a speech in front of the “sacrosanct” CIA Memorial Wall. It didn’t mention that Obama had done the same thing.

– The AP reported that Trump’s voter fraud expert was registered to vote in three states. His registration was actually active in only 1 state and inactive in the two others.

– Longtime Hillary Clinton adviser Sydney Blumenthal wrote up a story in the London Review of Books about a racial political ad by Trump’s father. It was a fake.

The result of this masquerade is that the public is now losing trust in media. A Fox news poll from two weeks ago suggests that Americans now trust the White House more than they trust the media by a 45-42 margin, a steep increase since a 2006 similar poll (25-40 margin). Another recent poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News showed that 51% of Americans think the media has been too critical of Trump while 41% think news coverage was fair and objective.

 

Outside of the U.S.

As somebody who can read English, French and Chinese and who follows foreign major news outlets, there is really no doubt that their editorial line coincides with their American counterparts. The tone used by media actors typically depicts Trump negatively and often try to portray him as somebody who has a racist, misogynist and dictatorial agenda.

Trump is in line with other populist and conservative political forces that are growing in other countries. Brexit in the United Kingdom, Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands all stand on common grounds with Trump and all stir similar reactions in their respective country’s media organizations.

These mainstream media organizations who stand against this new wave of popular politicians have led to the astounding success of websites like Breitbart whose foundation was built around the necessity to act as a counter-balance to the mainstream media. Breitbart can be described as a conservative outlet and is openly pro-Trump. Breitbart has a bureau in London now and plans to open others in France and Germany. Last year, they were ranked 1st in the world for political social media, ahead of Huffington Post, CNN, New York Times and Fox News.

The emergence of Breitbart reminds us that media are fundamentally subjective entities. However, for the sake of the public and for the sake of the democratic system, all media need to be both factual and fair. If not, then it inevitably leads the population to distrust the media. With the recent American political turmoil and the upcoming elections in France and the Netherlands, then it would beneficial to all of us if all those who are crying wolf got out there and started looking for some real howling.

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