This week mainstream media reporters nationwide took a posture against President Donald Trump and asserted they act with integrity and objectivity and that his attacks on them are attacks on democracy itself.
Hook people in the mainstream media up to polygraph machines and ask them if they really believe that. They’ll pass with flying colors.
But as someone who spent nearly 10 years in the mainstream press, I witnessed things that tell me people in the media aren’t necessarily looking out for you and your best interests.
The year was 2006, and I had a newspaper job in Central Florida.
The Congressional mid-term elections were coming. That election was a topic at one morning staff meeting.
One reporter said far more Democrats than Republicans in the county were voting early, obviously a bad sign for the GOP. He wanted to do a story. Our editor shot him down flat.
“If you publish that story then it might prompt more Republicans to get out and vote early, and I don’t want to see that happen,” our editor, who is now deceased, said at the time.
This was a corporate-owned daily newspaper that served thousands of people every day.
A few weeks later Democrats won big in those mid-terms. The morning after, my editor and my city editor congratulated one another for their big win and high-fived each other in the newsroom.
Having right-of-center views and working in the mainstream media is a sometimes-lonely expedition. You must keep your political views to yourself while you listen to your colleagues prattle on about how all Republicans are stupid and how all Tea Partiers are Nazis. If your views somehow get revealed then you get asked why you don’t have a Hitler moustache.
During one job interview in 2003, at another corporate-owned paper — a corporation you’ve heard of — my potential boss made clear his disdain for all Republicans.
He even asked me the following:
“Don’t you think Dick Cheney and John Ashcroft deserve to get lined up in front of a firing squad and shot to death?”
Yeah, that really happened. No exaggeration.
Thank goodness I didn’t get that job.
Newsbusters.org, by the way, does a great job documenting media bias at the national level every day.
The science of why so many people in the press lean left eludes me and I’m not qualified to comment on it. I just believe it’s a real phenomenon.
Years later, while working for the old Tennessee Watchdog, I learned media bias has less to do with one’s political beliefs and more to do with the questions a reporter does or does not ask.
Case in point — in 2013 I covered a press conference in Memphis where then-Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius promoted Obamacare.
The reporters, from a variety of television, radio, and newspaper outlets, lodged softballs, asking her, among other things, “What can you do to make sure as many people as possible get the benefits as quickly as possible?”
Another question — “Has all the criticism of this law from people on the right taken a toll on you personally?”
When it was my turn, I asked Sebelius what she would say to all the people whose health insurance costs were going up as a direct result of this law?
Clearly, I didn’t get the memo that I was only supposed to ask friendly questions. Pardon me for looking out for the folks.
Sebelius gazed at me with a deer-in-the-headlights look for the better part of 30 seconds, not at all knowing what to say. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, brushed her away from the podium and let me know I was out of line for asking that question.
If reporters don’t ask questions you want asked then they aren’t looking out for you.
If half the country didn’t already perceive that these reporters hold Republicans to a higher standard than Democrats then maybe we could consider their complaints about Trump more credible.
A lot of their bias is a result of groupthink — or reporters and editors fraternizing only with people who think like them.
People in the mainstream media have a right to defend themselves against Trump’s attacks. Conversely, Trump, if he doesn’t use his power to bully or intimidate anyone, has a right to defend himself against a media that treats him unfairly.
But Trump should also take a scalpel and refer to the mainstream media not as fake, but, instead, as biased or slanted.
By using that more precise terminology he might force mainstream media reporters to evaluate their own conduct and serve not as a watchdog on anyone in government — but on themselves and all their colleagues.
There’s no balance in the supposedly objective mainstream media.
The press withholds certain information from the voters.
The press, it is widely believed, looks out for the best interests of one political party over the other.
That, in and of itself, is the true attack on democracy.
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