Imagine Brian Stelter’s shock when someone informs him of the existence of MSNBC. Or for that matter, Time Magazine, CBS News, and even CNN. Just before this clip, the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources played a succession of clips from conservative commentators attacking Joe Biden’s compos mentis-ness, so to speak, and asked, “What the heck is going on with these programs?” He then marveled at the attack-Biden media industry and wondered aloud whether the Left had any analog.
Are you kidding?
.@brianstelter: "When you see entire media companies essentially exist to tear down Joe Biden, is there an equivalent of that on the left, tearing down Trump?"@emarvelous: "There really isn’t." pic.twitter.com/JlMkqAQeIW
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) August 9, 2020
STELTER: Let’s talk more about it with David Zurawik, “The Baltimore Sun” media critic. He’s here with me. Along with Columbia University scholar Nicole Hemmer, she’s the author of “Messenger of Right”, all about conservative media and American politics. And also with us, Errin Haines, editor-at-large for “The 19th”, the brand-new website covering the intersection of gender and politics.
Nicole, first to you, negative partisanship, it kind of explains everything about what is broken in our media environment because there’s all of these media outlet, all of these talk radio stars and TV shows that are just constantly attacking, fueling hatred of the other side. Am I right to say this happens on the left and the right but it’s more severe on the right currently?
NICOLE HEMMER, AUTHOR, “MESSENGERS OF THE RIGHT”: Yes. I would say it’s more severe on the right currently, in part because the right just has a longer tradition of these overtly ideological media outlets, right? There is this sort of habit of attacking Democrats that goes pretty far back. If you look at like the 1990s and the way that Rush Limbaugh and others sort of sharpened their teeth on Bill Clinton, this is the way they built audiences for these decades now.
STELTER: Yeah, I don’t want to claim it’s new, I just — I’m arguing that it’s getting worse, it’s more severe. Errin, your view of this, you know, when you see entire media companies essentially exist to tear down Joe Biden, is there an equivalent of that on the left, tearing down Trump?
ERRIN HAINES, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, THE 19TH: There really isn’t. What I would say is it’s really a diet of this type of information that a lot of these voters are getting. A lot of the voters I talk to, I can — when I interview them, I do hear them saying a lot of the talking points that sound very familiar from some of these shows which I try to listen to when I’m out on the campaign trail or when I’m home, watching TV.
So now questioning the mental acuity of a presidential contender is off limits? Well, let’s just take a brief, non-comprehensive walk down non compos mentis Memory Lane. Apparently CNN’s expert media analysis has forgotten all about the cottage industry that mainstream media outlets made of the 25th Amendment option, even before Donald Trump took office:
- January 2017: Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen urged the incoming Cabinet to state their openness to a “constitutional coup” on the basis of poor character.
- February 2017: CNN’s Brianna Keilar asks Rep. Jackie Speier if she believes Trump is incapacitated, in response to Speier’s declaration that the 25th Amendment should be invoked because Trump was “unhinged” at a press conference. Not once does Keilar offer a critical word about the idea.
- March 2017: Time Magazine publishes a column from two Yale Law students demanding that Congress invoke the 25th Amendment themselves.
- August 2017: CNN’s Don Lemon declares Trump “unhinged,” and then asks former DNI James Clapper whether Trump is “unfit,” and Clapper responds by suggesting Trump will nuke North Korea as an answer to the question.
- October 2017: Jeff Flake — Jeff frickin’ Flake — has to talk CBS anchor Norah O’Donnell off of her 25th Amendment/impeachment ledge. “If he is dangerous to democracy as you say,” O’Donnell asks, “should he be removed from office?”
- November 2017: CNN analyst Stephen Collinson questions whether Trump has become incompetent and unfit for office. “Conversations about Trump’s fitness and mental state have percolated in Washington for months,” which is at least true among media outlets, as outlined above.
- Also November 2017: MSNBC host Joe Scarborough demands that the Cabinet invoke the 25th Amendment.
- January 2018: Scarborough complains publicly that the Washington Post wouldn’t allow him to diagnose Trump with dementia in a column.
This doesn’t even take into consideration all of the media hubbub around Andrew McCabe’s claims last year that he pushed for a 25th Amendment action to remove Trump from office, and that it had some agreement among Trump officials. McCabe later walked that claim back, but at least he sold some books. Oh, and he also got a job as an analyst — with CNN.
Trump and conservatives are playing by the rules set by media outlets like CNN. They should be embarrassed by that, and apparently they’re embarrassed enough to report dishonestly about it. Either mental state is a legit political question or it isn’t, and the answer is the same in 2020 as it was in 2016. This is a deeply shameful and dishonest pose by someone who’s supposed to be operating in an ombud role.