For as long as I’ve been following politics there has been a constant complaint from the right that professional journalists tend to slant their coverage toward the people they innately feel are part of their tribe. Since journalists overwhelmingly skew left in their personal politics, that almost always means they feel at home with the Democratic Party. The rebuttal to this argument, which is just as old, is that journalists are professionals. They may indeed feel most comfortable with people on the center-left, but that won’t stop them from doing their job and covering things from a neutral perspective.
To be blunt, I don’t buy this for a second. But if it were true, then you’d expect to see those professional reporters maintaining some kind of, well, professionalism when dealing with people they cover. What they shouldn’t be doing is acting like high school girls on a shopping trip to the mall. With that in mind, here’s a video which a reporter for CBS News posted today showing a reporter for CNN (and others) on a trip to a boutique with Sen. Kamala Harris.
— Caitlin Huey-Burns (@CHueyBurns) February 16, 2019
“Oh, yeah. That’s it.”
“Oh my god, it’s amazing.”
They seem chummy, don’t they? And obviously someone took video even though Harris stops to yell at one reporter for taking pictures. Brit Hume called the scene (and the tweet about it) embarrassing:
This is just embarrassing. So now journalists are going shopping with Harris, helping pick out clothes and then putting out glowing tweets about it. https://t.co/RX2IY0B8JL
— Brit Hume (@brithume) February 16, 2019
The reporter who posted the tweet tried to claim it was real journalism and was instantly backed up by a bunch of other journalists:
Reminds me of the glowing tweets that I put out back in the day as Scott Walker hailed cheese popcorn & Mike Pence praised grilled cheese sandwiches (*candidates are humans*): https://t.co/69CYZtDMED + https://t.co/mB5YazLE9L
— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) February 16, 2019
If you watch that clip which is supposedly similar, you’ll see it’s not very similar. Yes, Pence recommends the grilled cheese. But no one is cheering him on. No one is being his buddy. The reporters let him walk away in silence. And then they laugh amongst themselves. More to the point, no one is recommending the sandwich he should eat and cooing over it when he tastes it. All of those differences seem to have been missed by CNN’s media reporter:
How DARE you spend time with the candidates. This is appalling pro-cheese media bias.
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) February 16, 2019
Brit Hume tried pointing this out when NBC’s Kasie Hunt claimed this is how reporters always act with candidates:
Talk about missing the point. Did journalists help Walker pick out his motorcycle, then gush about it on Twitter? Did they they help Romney on with his life jacket? That Kamala Harris shopping incident wasn’t coverage, it was participation. https://t.co/tjg7OqJ7uu
— Brit Hume (@brithume) February 16, 2019
BTW, here’s some of the reaction from reporters to Romney’s Jet Ski moment in 2012:
— The Boston Globe (@BostonGlobe) July 5, 2012
WSJ's Dan Henninger w/ very provocative column lambasting Mitt Romney's jet-ski ride during summer vacation: http://t.co/JrQQYA6T
— Peter Lattman (@peterlattman) July 12, 2012
- Business Insider – ANALYZING ROMNEY’S JET-SKI GAFFE: Does He Have Lousy Advisors–Or Is His Own Arrogance To Blame?
- NY Daily News – A Very Romney vacation: Mitt plus 30 family members unwind in N.H.
- Daily Beast – Advice to Romney, be a Better Rich Guy
- Jersey Journal – Two fists full of dollars
That’s the kind of reaction the media had to Romney’s jet ski moment with his wife and Kasie Hunt thinks the Kamala Harris clip is the same sort of thing? I eagerly wait the 5 articles attacking Harris for her out-of-touch shopping spree.
Finally, here comes Jonathan Martin of the NY Times intoning that this giggle-fest is a “hopeful sign”:
I took it as a hopeful sign that her handlers aren’t shielding her and are offering the sort of access recent pres campaigns (R and D) have not.
As you know, this was once much more commonplace. And I don’t think it precludes skeptical coverage https://t.co/ogPT5Gr3xB
— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) February 16, 2019
Look, I don’t think anyone believes this precludes skeptical coverage. Skeptical coverage isn’t impossible because this moment happened. If Kamala Harris turns out to have been involved in protecting a sexual abuser in her office, those reporters will cover it. But that’s moving the goalposts.
The question is whether neutral coverage is likely when the reporters on one side are clearly eager to be buddies with the person they’re covering. I think any honest person would have to admit that seems somewhat less likely. So the question isn’t whether they’ll be skeptical of a big story that is going to break no matter what. The question is whether they’ll report the embarrassing story they know the right would have a field day with but which they could decide to downplay or ignore on the grounds that Kamala is good people.
Maybe this lack of skepticism would be fine if reporters were seen doing the same thing with candidates on the right. But that’s not usually how it works. When was the last time a reporter posted video of other reporters having a laugh with President Trump? The last thing like this I remember even close to this is when late-night host Jimmy Fallon messed up Trump’s hair back in 2016. It was a human, fun moment. And people on the left were furious! Fallon eventually issued an apology saying he would have done it differently in retrospect.
So please, don’t tell me it’s perfectly fine that one side gets humanized and treated like Kamala from the block while it’s forbidden for journalists to “normalize” the other side. This is not the media being a neutral arbiter, this is the media choosing sides based on their personal preferences, as they always do every four years. If you had any hope that 2020 would be different, that video above is the first of many hints to come that it won’t be.