Their ineptitude, bias, childishness, and outright stupidity have become a genuine danger to the health of the republic.
Here are some of the public figures and institutions that Americans hold in higher esteem than the media according to Gallup:
Their child’s school and daycare centers
CDC and NIH
Only one institution that Gallup asked about, the media, had negative approval rating — sitting 19 points behind its archenemy Donald Trump. And there are likely many other people and places that the public has more trust in than journalists.
This reality is a disaster for a liberal democracy, and much of it is brought on by the press’s own blinkered, sanctimonious, and transparently partisan temperament. On this topic, I could provide a book-length list of grievances. Every day brings an exasperating number of misleading and bad-faith takes by political journalists and “fact-checkers.”
But for now, I’ll just note that it’s not merely a problem of traditional bias among reporters and cable news networks, which preach exclusively to their choirs (no one is innocent on that count.) I’ve long read major newspapers, whose nonpolitical product is often amazing, through a filter. The institutional bias at the Washington Post and the New York Times certainly isn’t new. But there used to be a corresponding level of professional gravitas that engendered reader trust.
Some of that trust has been corroded over years of Obama adulation, echo chambers, conspiracy mongering, and knee-jerk partisanship. Some of that trust has also been corroded by the litany of Trump-slaying “bombshells” that have fizzled over the past years. I don’t know how many times I’ve recently heard people affix “if it turns out to be true” to a breaking news story.
Sorry, it’s difficult to trust a newspaper that allows its headline writing to be controlled by left-wing Twitter mobs or one that sends a senior editor from the Washington Post to write a piece on some Twitter rando with 400 followers to own Trump — and then track down his poor parents for good measure. How do we trust producers who believe Dan Rather — a man who pushed multiple forged documents, which smeared Bush 43, on the American public — is the perfect guest to lecture Americans about accuracy?
All three of those things happened this week.
Worse than all that — or maybe it’s for the best — everyone can now see the hive mind of political journalism at work on Twitter.
For years, media organizations have whined about the lack of White House press briefings, which were mostly childish spectacles that pitted pompous media personalities against disingenuous government personalities.
Once the coronavirus crisis hit, the White House began daily press briefings with the president and his task force. These have featured Trump’s usual braggadocio and exaggerations, but they have also been quite informative — especially when Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have spoken. The briefings bring in big ratings.
From the start, the ostensibly serious press often focused on frivolous gotchas rather than pertinent questions — why is the president calling a virus unleashed by the Chinese communists a “Chinese virus?” and so on. At yesterday’s White House briefing, a reporter — I couldn’t track down the name or publication of the journalist, but he had all the pretensions of serious reporter — asked the president of the United States, “How many deaths are acceptable?”
This stupid query might have seemed strange to anyone who didn’t exists in Twitter’s zeitgeist, where mainstream journalism’s agenda is dictated by left-wing punditry. But the question was a manifestation of a talking point pushed by leftist pundits: Their hot take is that Trump wants to sacrifice your grandparents to pump up the Dow.
Trump — who had never once told anyone to stop social distancing or ordered people to go back to work (as if he even could) — mentioned his perhaps unrealistic hope of the economy beginning to open by Easter. A legitimate question regarding societal balance, one inherent in nearly every debate over public policy, was quickly reduced to a childish false choice.
Here is how CNN covers it now:
Obama urges Americans to continue social distancing, despite President Trump’s wishes about opening up the country https://t.co/pV41rHyPPR pic.twitter.com/grnNhOsqTQ
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) March 26, 2020
In any event, the media’s inane and badgering questions may well have helped Trump’s poll numbers. As soon as the media organizations saw that public wasn’t reacting in the way they had hoped, stations such as NBC and CNN began debating whether they should cover the pandemic press briefings at all. This is, of course, their prerogative. It also is the latest example of why so many Americans don’t trust them.
The media’s ineptitude and malfeasance — merely damaging and divisive during an impeachment hearing or a Supreme Court nomination fight — are dangerous during a pandemic.