The Cost of the MSM's Anti-Trump Crusade
As someone whose career was largely spent in promoting and defending freedom of speech and of the press, the damage done in the Trump era by so much of the mainstream media seems almost surreal to me. By their journalistic conduct they have opened the eyes of vast numbers of people to their leftward political and cultural mindset; they have accelerated the collapse of their own credibility; and worst of all, they have demolished both the practice and the ideal of objective journalism, the only kind that’s truly needed in a democracy.
Smaller groups of people, most notably conservatives and libertarians, have known for many years about the ideological and cultural views of broadcasters and major newspapers, as well as the recording industry and Hollywood. But until the election of Donald Trump most such practiced their craft in ways and language that passed for most people as the product of honest labor.
Not so now. From the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, to the on-air performances at MSNBC and CNN, and from Hollywood actors to recording artists, large numbers of the mainstream media and entertainers seem more like crass propagandists, determined to trash anything and everything Trumpian, without regard to truthfulness or fairness.
Ironies abound in this, but the biggest one is the seeming indifference of all such to the damage they’ve done to themselves. Despite having thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Trump and his supporters, the president has survived and even prospered in consequence.
As reported in recent days, Trump has now taken the lead over the Democratic field in the tossup states as well as in some of the national opinion polls, and for the first time bookmakers now have installed him as the favorite in the presidential race. And then there’s the matter of the president’s and the Republican National Committee’s fundraising, both of which are off the charts.
And what about the media? At a time when their erstwhile business models have been undone by internet companies like Google and Facebook, the media have found this to be the perfect time to distance themselves from roughly half the people in the country. And the people have noticed.
In a report issued on December 12, the Pew Research Center finds that among all adults, 76 percent of Democrats, but only 30 percent of Republicans, have a great deal/fair amount of confidence that journalists will act in the best interests of the public.
One wonders if the MSM, in their rush to promote a transparently political impeachment, thought through the downside of acquainting large numbers of people with their resolute, not to say fanatical, political and cultural fixations? Did they contemplate the diminished respect for their own brands? Did they have any qualms about abandoning entirely the journalistic standard of objectivity in news and feature stories?
They should have. It’s one thing to trash your own journalistic product, and something else again to trash journalism itself. Other than the employees and stockholders of media companies, few people care much about what happens to TV networks and newspapers as businesses. But lots of people, including those treated most badly by the media, understand the importance of objective news gathering and reporting.
We live at a time when people require at least the opportunity to get a full understanding of sometimes complex issues. Issues, for instance, like economics and finance, the environment, education, and foreign affairs. But to which media could one go today with confidence that they were getting value-free reporting about such things? Sorry to say, I think it’s a very short list, and one that would most certainly not include papers like the Times or the Post, both of which have spent the last three years relentlessly promoting anti-Trump stories ranging from the dishonest to the ridiculous and back again.
As ever, nothing in the performance of the media, however dreadful, either warrants or justifies any governmental sway over the way they gather or report the news. As Einstein said, science itself can flourish only in an atmosphere of free speech. But the media are now at a tipping point in their command of the respect of the people, and absent that respect anything can happen.
Patrick Maines is President Emeritus of The Media Institute, one of the country’s leading First Amendment think tanks.