The following is a news analysis[hr]
[dropcap]E[/dropcap]ighteen tumultuous months into the Trump presidency, there’s one thing we’ve learned about the media.
For all our hand wringing over how badly we missed the forecast on Donald Trump’s electability; for all the self-flagellation over obvious signs conveniently ignored; for all of our admissions that we’d gotten so stuck in our own echo chamber, we couldn’t see what was before our eyes; for all of our pledges to re-examine the way we report, seeking to peer outside the DC-New York City bubble; for our promises to listen rather than preach and to report rather than tell people what to think— we didn’t mean it.
A major event last week removed any doubt— the news coverage after President Trump’s meeting with Russia President Vladimir Putin. One universal world view dominated. At best, the meeting and press conference were disasters or treacherous. At worst, Trump proved to be a downright traitor.
To be clear, there’s certainly nothing wrong with reporting those views. The problem is they were reported to the near-exclusion of opposing viewpoints. They were elevated beyond the realm of “opinion” and given the status of indisputable fact.
After a tsunami of media and establishment members of both political parties parroted the same prevailing view, often laced with venom and disgust, there didn’t seem to be many willing to publicly step forward and argue the point. But it was an incomplete portrait of reality.
For example, a longtime Democrat who is African-American and was an upper-tier government official in the Obama administration, who supported and donated to President Obama, contacted me after the Trump-Putin meeting. He told me he gets ridiculed by colleagues every time he “acknowledges Trump’s diplomatic talents.”
“I see [Trump] as a disruptive genius,” this former diplomat told me after the infamous news conference.
[quote]I see [Trump] as a disruptive genius.[/quote]
A former intel official who is not a Trump supporter nonetheless opined to me that if Trump “colluded” with Russia—a notion he calls “ridiculous”—then Trump wouldn’t be the slightest bit equivocal. The conspiracy (he believes) would obviously include Trump harshly denouncing Putin as part of the cover.
But the prevailing media narrative proved impossible to pierce. It seemed set from the moment the news conference concluded— maybe even before it began.
The Anatomy of a Media Narrative...
One example is CNN. When I anchored there a long time ago, it was my job to briefly and factually summarize live news events afterwards. Viewers were largely left to draw their own conclusions. Today, it’s done differently. CNN commentator Anderson Cooper was ready to pounce after the Trump-Putin news conference, declaring it to be “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president.”
Coincidentally, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) happened to choose the exact same words. He tweeted and issued a press release declaring the press conference to be “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president.”
It’s almost as if they were reading from the same page.
Both men are pretty much sworn enemies of the president for their own reasons. Their animus toward Trump and vice-versa are near-legendary. For a reality check, news audiences are relatively small. The cable news audience is even tinier than broadcast. Most Americans probably couldn’t tell you who Cooper is (or who I am). Yet Cooper’s commentary was widely treated as if it were somehow news.
CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin quickly tweeted “Anderson Cooper nailed it.”
[quote]One of the most disgraceful performances by an American president.[/quote]
Washington Post liberal gossip columnist Erik Wemple advanced the narrative. “One of the most disgraceful performances…” read the Post headline. “Anderson Cooper Nails Summit.”
Cooper’s swipe was quickly uploaded as a clip on YouTube with the title: “Anderson Cooper: Disgraceful performance by Trump.” You’d have thought it was the most important happening in the world— the surprise of the century. The true shock would have been if Cooper hadn’t criticized Trump.
No matter. Vox, Hollywood Reporter, MSNBC, Breitbart and many more followed suit. They quickly wrote, posted and tweeted their own versions of the “story” about Cooper commenting about Trump.
I think it’s the same dynamic that prompted us to get the 2016 election so wrong. We’re blurring the line between fact and opinion. We’re “reporting” in a one-sided fashion, seeking to convince the audience that there are no legitimate countervailing views. We try to convince people to believe what we want them to believe. In doing so, we miss what’s really happening.
Many viewers do love getting a large dose of opinion from CNN, FOX News, The New York Times or the National Review— and there’s nothing wrong with that. But with few exceptions, the opinions of the reporters or commentators aren’t really themselves headline news. Treating them like they are only serves to advance a singular chosen narrative and crowd out fair, fact-based treatments of important events. It gets us no closer to representing or understanding reality.
As much as all of this this hurts the public in terms of information, we’re hurting ourselves even more. We’re eroding public confidence in the media as an institution.
We might as well still be insisting that Trump will never get elected.[hr]