The Pro-Trump media bias

No, seriously.  Somehow, I just came across this excellent Tim Miller (thanks to his appearance on The Gist) article from back in May about how the media’s norms and conventional procedures largely serve to benefit Trump.  So true!  Of course, most individual mainstream journalists likely recognize Trump for the disaster he is, but the way in which journalists cover the news so works to Trump’s advantage.  Miller:

No politician in my lifetime has benefited more from his relationship with the media than President Trump, and that is in part because keeping tabs on the extent of his scandals is a Herculean task…

It is true that on a personal level, national political journalists tend to be socially liberal and not only dislike Trump, but are ensconced in bubbles where nobody imagined voting for him. But this type of personal ideological bias distorts coverage of Trump much less than the avalanche of bullshit Trump and his allies unleash everyday. A mixture of fundamental human nature and incentives in journalism that reward recency, access, and “balance,” pressure reporters into treating President Trump with far more leniency than he deserves.

Take for example, his rally in Nashville, TN this week. Over the course of a typically meandering and unhinged speech he propounded and repeated several bald-faced lies, including his second favorite lie (the first is “No collusion!”) that Mexico is going to pay for a wall on the southern border. This lie touched off an international incident in which the president of one of our largest trading partners tweeted a formal rebuke at our own. Trump incited grievances against minority groups, bragged about his hand size, invented fake people who demanded policies that their real-life incarnations opposeattacked John McCain who sits at home dying of brain cancer, cursed, attacked Jay-Z for cursing more than him, leveled absurdly false attacks against Democrats that lie well beyond the pale of normal political discourse, and, finally, advanced an insane conspiracy theory that Barack Obama infiltrated his campaign with a spy. Most of the above links come from Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star who uses his Twitter feed to comprehensively fact check Trump’s speeches. But even someone who dedicates his professional life to documenting Trump’s lies understands that simply cataloging them is insufficient.. “One thing I still haven’t figured out well,” Dale added, “and I don’t think anyone really has, is how to capture Trump’s level of rally unhingedness in a regular article.”

And the evidence bears Dale’s point out. The Tennessean topped its article about Trump’s speech as if it were any standard campaign event: “At Rally for Blackburn Senate bid, POTUS calls Phil Bredesen ‘Tool’ for Democrats.” USA TODAY took a tongue-in-cheek approach that largely gave Trump a headline he’d want, “Trump Vows To Rebuild USA With His Big Beautiful Hands.” The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal didn’t give the speech any mention on their front pages, which wouldn’t be remarkable if Trump were giving an ordinary political stump speech, but reflects a depressing level of desensitization to what he offers instead. The president of the United States gathered supporters to incite racism, to spread lies and propaganda, to slander his political enemies, and the most important newspapers in the country didn’t think anything of it. [emphases mine]

Through strategy, instinct, and horseshoe-up-his-ass blind luck, Trump has abused the media into grading him on the steepest of curves and giving him the benefit of the doubt when he has proven time and again he deserves nothing but the most extreme scrutiny.

Miller also uses an analogy functionally similar, though, more polite than my pet urine theory.

Trump is employing a strategy that might be familiar to coaches of inferior middle school basketball teams: Foul your opponents on every play, because, by human nature, referees are not equipped to blow the whistle on every play for fear of seeming biased. They are going to let some plays go by. In politics, journalists are the referees. And because they give Trump a pass on so many of his fouls, he avoids scrutiny that politicians who play by the rules would be subjected to regardless of ideology.

Plenty more good stuff in there.  I think this will be on the Fall 2019 Intro to American government syllabus when we cover the media.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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