News reporting has never been objective. From the selection of which stories to cover to the determination of which people to quote and what words to use to describe reality, the political and social beliefs of media outlets and their owners—and on occasion of the journalists—have always shaped media coverage.
Here are some of the starker examples of mainstream media influencing what is supposed to be an objective fact-finding process:
- The unquestioned support of both Iraq Wars. In both cases, the news media didn’t ask hard questions, trusted government information and ignored the estimates of costs and likely outcomes predicted by the critics of the war, criticism that turned out to be 100% right on.
- The creation of the Tea Party, which the mass media supported even as it ignored an incipient locally based progressive movement that eventually evolved into the Occupy! Movement and the revitalization of the Democratic Party by the Sanders candidacy. The mass media focused all its attention and most of its space and time in the 2010 election cycle on Republican primaries that pitted Tea Partiers against run-of-the-mill Republicans, covering none of the races in which progressives were taking on centrist Democrats. It seems as if no one but me remembers that in 2010 there were three Washington marches, each of which attracted about 80,000 people: one by Glenn Beck, one by leftish American unions and one by left-leaning Comedy Central personalities. The media ignored the two left-leaning marches and allowed rightwing liars such as Michele Bachmann and Rush Limbaugh to bloat the attendance numbers of the Tea Party march to as high as 2 million, a figure that pretty much defines “the Big Lie.”
- Promoting the myth that we had to close deficits and that the only way to do so was cutting spending on social services. From 2008 until the growth of the Occupy! Movement and the release of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, the mainstream news media ignored virtually every economist and pundit who said that the government had to invest in basic infrastructure, alternative fuels, education and job creation. Instead it trotted out expert after expert who called for cutting federal deficits. The news media ignored the voices suggesting that that the best way to close the deficit was to increase taxes on the wealthy, then and now paying historically low rates. Instead, the media gave voice only to those who wanted to close the deficit by cutting spending on critical government programs.
- Ignoring the overwhelming scientific evidence that global warming is occurring, and instead covering it for years as if it were an open question still debated by scientists.
- Playing up personalities instead of issues in the 2000 presidential election, making it seem as if there were little to choose as far as the issues went between “great guy” W and the wonkish and supercilious fussbudget Al Gore.
- Supporting racist drug policies. The only policy turn over the past 40 years that the mainstream news media has been more solidly behind than stiff sentencing for crack cocaine users (mostly Black) has been the current movement to loosen penalties and focus on rehabilitation to respond to the epidemic of opioid use (mostly white).
I saw the way the mainstream news media shapes news coverage when I was a television news writer three decades ago in the San Francisco Bay Area. The three TV news gathering operations reported every incidence of gang violence in the primarily African-American Western Addition neighborhood, but refused to cover the real youth crime problem, the Chinese gangs in the middle-class Sunset District. My suggestion that we cover Professor Ernest Sternglass’s dire predictions regarding health problems after the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster was rejected, as was my request to follow a reputable lead that the CIA had murdered a former agent in the street.
All of this is a lead-in to my question of the day, and the year: Why is the news media giving so much more coverage to Donald Trump than to Hillary Clinton and why is it so even-handed?
The mainstream news media as a class decided to support both Iraq Wars. It decided to focus on deficit spending. It decided to support the Tea Party. And it decided to make what was a fait accompli—climate change—into a controversy.
Why isn’t it now pulling out all guns to make certain that Donald Trump is not our next president?
You would think that Trump’s overt racism, his frequent, almost pathological need to lie, the inconsistency in his positions, his sociopathic narcissism, his attempts to impinge on freedom of the press, his lack of experience and the growing evidence that he was a bad businessman should have made the newsrooms and editorial boards of all major media decide to generate a story that makes Trump look bad and another that makes Hillary look good every day of the week, just as 25 years ago, they all decided to have at least one story about AIDS a day ( a wise decision) and six years ago to have a positive story a day about Tea Party candidates and spokespersons (a bad decision).
Instead, there are far more stories about Trump than Clinton. Many are negative, such as the coverage of the lawsuits against Trump University and his racist comments, but others take the man seriously or even provide positive coverage. After the San Bernadino and Orlando mass murders, the killings by police in Baton Rouge and St. Paul and the Dallas shooting of police, the mainstream media gave Trump far more time and space to make comments than they gave to Clinton. True, Trump made some of his typical incendiary statements, but contrasting his idiocies with Clinton’s reasoned common sense would have clarified the choice we have in November—between a uncontrollable racist, sociopathic rich-boy business failure and one of the “best and brightest” of the baby Boom generation who rose through the meritocracy and displays intelligence, flexibility and stability, has plenty of experience and a solid program to address our many problems.
Let’s take the New York Times as an example: Over the past seven days, the Times has mentioned Trump in 333 stories, while mentioning Clinton in a mere 260 stories. I went through the front section of the last six days of the hard copy edition, plus the Sunday OpEd section, and found 22 stories primarily about Trump, of which 17 were balanced or positive towards him and five were negative. By contrast, I found 10 stories primarily about Clinton of which six were balanced or positive and four were negative. Included among the positive Trump coverage was an editorial from the Times editorial board declaring that Trump was right to criticize Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg for her accurate comments about him. Let’s be clear, as Bernie would say: The Times could have easily written an editorial chiding Ginsberg without praising Donald Trump.
I will freely admit that most of the editorials the Times has published about the Donald condemn him, but why did the writers have to go out of their way to praise him in an editorial, when it wasn’t necessary for making the point?
A story in the July 14 Times titled “Nearly Four-Fifths of White Evangelicals Say They’ll Back Trump” provides the perfect example of how a Times reporter could have slanted a story in favor of Hillary Clinton, but selected to slant it towards Donald Trump. The story analyzes Pew Research Center’s most recent findings of how people of different religions view the two probable candidates. Most of the story focuses on Trump’s large support among white evangelicals, although other findings were mentioned. The only quote serves as an apology for Trump’s checkered marital history and support of abortion and gay rights.
But the Pew study found many things. The headline could have easily have read: “Catholics Overwhelmingly Support Clinton Despite Abortion Stance” or “Catholics split between Obama and Romney Overwhelmingly Support Hillary” The headline also could have read, “Fastest Growing Religious Group—Those With None—Favor Clinton.” FYI, those with no religion are now as populous a group as white evangelicals, which is shrinking as a percent of the population. Instead of a positive Trump story, the writer could have written a positive Clinton story.
My theory for years has been that the New York Times editorial board is centrist looking left, while its newsroom supports the rightwing and its editorial columnists run the gamut from slightly left (Krugman and Blow) to rightwing (Ross Douthat). But there’s no reason why the Times newsroom couldn’t change its bias in favor of Republicans for four or five months, seeing that not to do so aids in the potential election of an unqualified and dangerously erratic candidate.
Why would the mainstream news media decide to play the 2016 election straight, when it so often tips the balance through its biased coverage of issues?
I think the answer to this question also answers the question why so many Republicans who are not uneducated angry white males slipping out of the middle class are holding their noses and supporting Trump or saying that they won’t vote for either candidate. No matter how incompetent a Republican president, no matter how much of a past failure, how erratic and how ignorant, it doesn’t matter to traditional business Republicans, and the mass media outlets they own and control. The only thing that matters is whether a candidate supports lowering taxes on the income and investments of the wealthy. It’s the politics of selfishness that has guided the ruling elite over the past 40 years as it has withdrawn support of public education, degraded the environment, allowed our infrastructure of bridges, mass transit and roads to deteriorate and taken needed aid from millions of poor people, all to line their pockets with windfall cash from lower taxes.
The mentally unstable and politically ignorant Trump expresses the politics of selfishness of the displaced uneducated white male. But if he’s elected, it will be because of the politics of selfishness of rich folk and the news media they control.