It’s a subject we’ve covered here in the past repeatedly, but since nothing seems to be changing it’s worth keeping an eye on. Even when you take into consideration the national media’s overwhelming bias in favor of Democrats and against any suggestions of conservative policy, the outright assault on Donald Trump on cable news and in the country’s largest newspapers has been nothing short of breathtaking. Even when Harvard put out a study showing that more than 80% of the MSM coverage President Trump has received clearly vilified him, that didn’t’ seem to slow the roll at any of the largest papers or on CNN and MSNBC.
Chief among the actors in this passion play is, of course, the Washington Post. As I’ve pointed out before, the fastest way to get a feel for this phenomenon is to sign up for some of their daily digest newsletters. Their morning summary of opinion pieces tells you all you need to know about the editorial board and their idea of balanced coverage, but their roundup of basic news headlines isn’t much different. It doesn’t matter how much may be going on in the rest of the country and the world, nearly every headline contains Trump’s name and they are uniformly stark in accusing him of every sin imaginable. So the bias isn’t just on the editorial side. It’s fully permeated the newsroom.
Should we expect that to change? Not if you go by the latest offering from the WaPo’s own Margaret Sullivan. The title of this piece really says it all… Is media coverage of Trump too negative? You’re asking the wrong question. After as much as admitting the incredibly one sided nature of their coverage and even citing the Harvard study I linked above, Sullivan offers her “defense.”
Looked at through this lens, Trump’s press coverage has been a political nightmare. Isn’t that terribly unfair?
Here’s my carefully nuanced answer: Hell no.
That’s because when we consider negative vs. positive coverage of an elected official, we’re asking the wrong question.
The president’s supporters often say his accomplishments get short shrift. But let’s face it: Politicians have no right to expect equally balanced positive and negative coverage, or anything close to it. If a president is doing a rotten job, it’s the duty of the press to report how and why he’s doing a rotten job.
Sullivan goes on to claim that, “The idea of balance is suspect on its face.” And for this I honestly believe that America owes the author a debt of gratitude. You didn’t need to know much more about Sullivan than could be gleamed from a quick glance at her bio page. She’s a dedicated liberal and supporter of the Democrats, so she’s clearly a good fit at her publication. But there are so few of them who are willing to come out in the open and simply say, “Hell no.” We don’t owe anyone any balanced coverage. We don’t like this guy and we will continue to make any claim we like about him, including daily rants about accusations which have yet to be proven and in several case most likely never will. (I’d love to get a private poll of all WaPo staffers to see how many of them said that Trump lied when he claimed that Comey told him he wasn’t under investigation.)
What makes both Sullivan and the rest of her colleagues stand out is the complete lack of pretense on this subject. Compare that, just for one example, to some of the efforts put forward by the New York Times Public Editor, Liz Spayd. Last summer she published a lengthy piece in which she examined the question of, “Why Readers See The Times as Liberal.” Unlike Sullivan, Spayd actually dug into the question, interviewed people in the newsroom and took the time to read some of the feedback their paper receives from the vast wasteland of flyover country between the coasts. The results seemed to be shocking even to her.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that anything has changed at the New York Times, either, but at least they’ve got someone there who is thinking about the question and engaging the public on it. At the Washington Post you are simply told to stop asking “the wrong questions” and pretty please get back to buying their fish wrap so you can be instructed on the proper way of thinking. But at some point you’d think that the former gatekeepers of political news would pay attention to the response they’re receiving. For one example, everyone at the Washington Post loves to talk about Donald Trumps horrible approval ratings and “trusted” numbers which continue to hover in the mid to upper 30’s. What you hear them discuss less is the Gallup annual tracking poll of public trust in all institutions, where Americans rate the media’s trustworthiness at… 32 percent.
Physician, heal thyself.