This isn’t really new ground. Both Ed and I have written about the media’s responsibility for the false beliefs many people have about the Rittenhouse trial this week. So the arguments in the first half of this piece will be familiar to many readers and I won’t rehash them again except to say that the media’s coverage of the Rittenhouse shooting was often badly misleading as was the coverage of the shooting of Jacob Blake and both errors have significant consequences that we’re seeing play out right now.
Where Sullivan’s piece really shines though is in going beyond this one, admittedly significant, example of the media getting it wrong and tying that together with a bunch of similar examples. After all, anyone can make one mistake but making a series of similar mistakes that always trend in one partisan direction requires determination. He starts with the new revelations about the reliability of the Steele dossier:
Trump was right, in the end, about the dodgy dossier; he was right about the duped FBI’s original overreach; and the mass media — Rachel Maddow chief among them — were wrong. And yet the dossier dominated the headlines for three years, and the “corrections” have a fraction of the audience of the errors. Maddow gets promoted. And the man who first published it, Ben Smith, was made the media columnist for the NYT.
Think of the other narratives the MSM pushed in recent years that have collapsed. They viciously defamed the Covington boys. They authoritatively told us that bounties had been placed on US soldiers in Afghanistan by Putin — and Trump’s denials only made them more certain. They told us that the lab-leak theory of Covid was a conspiracy theory with no evidence behind it at all. (The NYT actually had the story of the leak theory, by Donald McNeil, killed it, and then fired McNeil, their best Covid reporter, after some schoolgirls complained he wasn’t woke.) Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The MSM took the ludicrous story of Jussie Smollett seriously because it fit their nutty “white supremacy” narrative. They told us that a woman was brutally gang-raped at UVA (invented), that the Pulse mass shooting was driven by homophobia (untrue) and that the Atlanta spa shooter was motivated by anti-Asian bias (no known evidence for that at all). For good measure, they followed up with story after story about white supremacists targeting Asian-Americans, in a new wave of “hate,” even as the assaults were disproportionately by African Americans and the mentally ill.
As Greenwald noted, the NYT “published an emotionally gut-wrenching but complete fiction that never had any evidence — that Officer Sicknick’s skull was savagely bashed in with a fire extinguisher by a pro-Trump mob until he died.” The media told us that an alleged transgender exposure in the Wi Spa in Los Angeles was an anti-trans hoax (also untrue). They told us that the emails recovered on Hunter Biden’s laptop were Russian disinformation. They did this just before an election and used that claim to stymie the story on social media. But they were not Russian disinformation. They were a valid if minor news story the media consciously kept from its audience for partisan purposes.
More recently, the MSM were telling us for months that inflation is a phantasm. We were told that the “2021 Inflation Scare is another in a series of false alarms going back several decades.” We were assured that “the numbers at least for now are on the side of those expecting the trend to subside and then stabilize at lower levels.” Any concern was “fearmongering politics.” And now we wake up to the highest inflation in 30 years, counter-balancing wage increases. Still, they tell us, all will be well.
And he just keeps going. Remember when we were told the burgeoning border crisis was just “seasonal variation?” That was a claim trotted out in the Washington Post which the President himself quickly repeated. It wasn’t true, but most of the media never really leaned into the border story. Last fiscal year was the highest number of encounters at the southern border ever recorded and you barely hear about it in the news. Unless some member of the border patrol can be accused of whipping migrants (which didn’t happen) it’s usually on the back burner.
There’s also the issue of Critical Race Theory in schools, which the entire national media has decided is a lie despite the fact that there’s plenty of evidence CRT has taken over many college campuses and has a foothold in private schools. It’s already a part of public school teacher training and is working its way into curriculums in California, in Loudoun County, Virginia and elsewhere.
There are other examples of this, significant ones, that Sullivan doesn’t mention. Remember last year when Andrew Cuomo was made the hero of the pandemic by an adoring media (especially CNN which had him do interviews with his own brother)? It turns out he wasn’t a hero and one dumb decision involving nursing homes probably led to hundreds of additional deaths, deaths that he then tried to cover up.
How about the handling of the Kavanaugh confirmation? A judge was publicly accused of gang-rape by a dodgy witness brought forward by Michael Avenatti, another CNN-created hero of the resistance who turned out to be a criminal who allegedly stole money from his own clients.
And we’re not even going back to the media’s abysmal coverage of the Michael Brown case or the Trayvon Martin case or the Tucson shooting, all of which had major national implications. We’re also skipping over dozens of media freakouts over things that are quickly shown not to be true. This happens so often that it’s impossible to remember them all even if you wrote about them at the time.
When you step back and look at it all, it’s no wonder the national media’s credibility is lower than pond scum, especially with people on the right. It’s very clear that these errors aren’t happening randomly because they almost always trend in the same partisan direction. That’s been consistently true for the 30 years I’ve been reading the news and I suspect it was true for the 30 years before that. Mistakes are one thing but at a certain point, people are right to conclude this is either intentional or, at best, a kind of cultural cognition run amok. Until something changes (and I don’t see it happening) the media will remain just another combatant in the culture wars, albeit one that still pretends they don’t take sides.
Let me say for the billionth time: Reporters don't root for a side. Period. https://t.co/dhH8eherOR
— Chris Cillizza (@ChrisCillizza) October 16, 2016