Analysis: Trump Oversteps in Media Bashing, But Press Routinely Damages Own Credibility

Posted: Feb 21, 2017 11:25 AM

On Fox News over the weekend, I had a spirited conversation about President Trump's relationship with the mainstream media with anchor Arthel Neville. I began by concurring with Chris Wallace that Trump's "enemy of the people" tweet was absolutely inappropriate, but also agreed with the sentiment expressed by CBS News' John Dickerson on Hugh Hewitt's show that the press is largely responsible for its own crisis of credibility that Trump is exposing and exploiting. Here's the segment, followed by a few thoughts:

In the closing seconds of the interview, I finally finished my point about the latest Fox News poll, which shows that Americans are slightly more inclined to believe President Trump over the media in a head-to-head credibility contest. Given his poor marks on trustworthiness, that is a devastating illustration of how far the press has fallen in the eyes of the public. Part of that spiraling trust can be traced back to a prevailing sense that journalists don't treat politicians from both parties equally. It's not just conservatives who recognize the obvious reality that the media has been more hostile to Trump than they were to his predecessor:

Fewer than one-in-five Americans (likely deep-in-the-bubble liberals) harbor the delusion that the media was harder on Obama, whereas nearly 70 percent say the opposite.  When voters recognize that sort of habitually disparate treatment in coverage, it fosters the belief that the news is agenda-driven and slanted -- which, too often, is true.  For all the overwrought hand-wringing about Trump laying the groundwork for a dictatorship or whatever, I'll still strongly affirm that the survival and health of our republic depends on a free and open press.  But it's also correct to say that skeptical, adversarial coverage should be applied evenly, on a bipartisan basis.  If ideological and personal favoritism prevails, the press isn't fulfilling its imperative responsibility.  Over and over again in the earliest days of his presidency, media outlets have blown big details of important stories, perhaps because they were too eager to make Trump look bad.  Two of the examples I raised with Neville were the Russia/collusion story and the National Guard/immigration story, each of which we've addressed at some length.  The press erred yet again in taking an imprecise and confusing statement from the president's Florida rally over the weekend and spinning into the fake news that Trump had decried a non-existent terrorist attack in Sweden.  As Allahpundit explains, he'd done nothing of the sort, even if his verbiage was cavalier and inaccurate.  Here's Mary Katharine Ham critiquing both Trump and the press over the whole "Sweden Attack" episode, illustrating what AP refers to as America's "unreliable narrator problem:"

Let's be clear: Trump's hostility to non-sycophantic news coverage isn't something to be casually waved away; he does show worrisomely little tolerance for dissent.  The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens, a conservative and strong Trump critic, touched on these themes in a recent speech at UCLA that warned against the president's efforts to usher America into a post-truth era -- so long as the new "truth" benefits him, that is:

The President routinely describes reporting he dislikes as FAKE NEWS. The Administration calls the press “the opposition party,” ridicules news organizations it doesn’t like as business failures, and calls for journalists to be fired. Mr. Trump has called for rewriting libel laws in order to more easily sue the press. This isn’t unprecedented in U.S. history, though you might have to go back to the Administration of John Adams to see something quite like it. And so far the rhetorical salvos haven’t been matched by legal or regulatory action. Maybe they never will be...Ideologically, the president is trying to depose so-called mainstream media in favor of the media he likes — Breitbart News and the rest. Another way of making this point is to say that he’s trying to substitute news for propaganda, information for boosterism. His objection to, say, the New York Times, isn’t that there’s a liberal bias in the paper that gets in the way of its objectivity, which I think would be a fair criticism. His objection is to objectivity itself. He’s perfectly happy for the media to be disgusting and corrupt — so long as it’s on his side...If I had to sum it up in a single sentence, it would be this: Truth is what you can get away with.

Some, most, or all of that may be true, but it takes two to tango, and the media's frequent inaccuracies and barely-disguised biases are aiding its own demise. On that theme, I'll leave you with our discussion of 'Sweden-gate' on Fox's First 100 Days last evening, via Right Sightings: