This Is Not the Time to Circle the Wagons
It’s been my experience, having covered the news at CBS for nearly 30 years, that when the media elites come in for criticism, they’re not very good at introspection. They’re much better at circling the wagons.
Dan Rather, the former CBS News anchor, is Exhibit A. On February 8, 1995 he told Tom Snyder on his late-night TV show that, “It’s one of the great political myths about press bias. Most reporters don’t know whether they’re Republican or Democrat and vote every which way.”
On May 30, 2012, he told Jon Stewart the same thing. When Stewart asked, “In your experience, haven't most journalists, haven't their politics been somewhat more liberal?” Rather replied, “No, it hasn't been my experience. … This is a sham.”
This is nonsense -- breathtakingly untrue nonsense. Most reporters do know whether they’re Republican or Democrat and they don’t vote every which way. Studies have shown that there are far more liberals in America’s newsrooms than conservatives – and they vote Democratic far more than Republican.
After George W. Bush was elected in 2000, I got a phone call from a network news correspondent who said he thought he was the only person in his shop who voted for Bush and said his colleagues took to calling him a Nazi because of it.
In my 28 years at CBS News, I don’t recall running into a conservative – not one who would admit it publicly anyway.
What is a sham, to use my former colleague’s word, is the refusal of many liberal journalists – not only Dan Rather -- to acknowledge the obvious: That journalism attracts more liberals than conservatives and that too many reporters let their personal views infect their coverage of the news.
Which brings us to an important new study from researchers at Harvard University that shows that coverage of Donald Trump in his first 100 days of office was overwhelmingly negative. Overwhelmingly!
The researchers analyzed the tone of coverage at CNN, NBC, CBS, Fox News, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Here’s some of what they found:
Coverage at CNN and NBC was 93 percent negative. At CBS, the tone was 92 percent negative; at the New York Times it was 87 percent negative; at the Washington Post, the negative tone was 83 percent; at the Wall Street Journal it was 70 percent negative; and at Fox News the coverage was 52 percent negative.
The numbers look like bias. But negative coverage is not necessarily biased coverage.
You can’t blame journalists for simply reporting the news, which in President Trump’s case is often filled with controversial statements and actions and so, understandably, would produce stories with a negative tone.
But when the negative numbers are so astronomically high, mainstream journalists would be better off employing some introspection instead of ignoring the study, which is what many did, and which is only a more nuanced way of circling the wagons.
The Harvard team also broke down the coverage by topic and found that on immigration 96 percent of the coverage was negative; on healthcare 87 percent was negative; and on fitness for office, 81 percent of the news was negative.
Here’s a theory: So much news coverage about the president has been negative because journalists don’t agree with Mr. Trump’s policies – and a lot of them just plain don’t like him.
For example, a lot of liberal journalists are at odds with the president’s immigration policies – whether it’s about building a wall on the southern border or rounding up and deporting some illegal immigrants. Is that why so much of the coverage has been negative and why journalists didn’t spend more time finding sources that agree with the president, and putting them in their stories?
A lot of liberal journalists, who adored Barack Obama, don’t like the president’s plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Is that why so much coverage on healthcare has been negative?
And it’s no secret that a lot of liberal journalists believe the president is unfit for office. Maybe that’s why more than 8 out of 10 stories on the president’s fitness were negative.
By the way, the same Harvard researchers found that Barack Obama got 41 percent negative coverage and 59 percent positive. George W. Bush got 57 percent negative, 43 percent positive. Donald Trump’s overall numbers: 80 percent negative, 20 percent positive.
I stumbled across an interesting essay by Washington journalist Robert W. Merry in which he says, “When a man as uncouth and reckless as Trump becomes president by running against the nation’s elites, it’s a strong signal that the elites are the problem.”
Memo to America’s elites: Millions of Americans think you’re the ones who are deplorable. They don’t want to be called bigots because they worry about the effects of illegal immigration on America’s schools and hospitals and more broadly on the nation’s sovereignty and culture.
They don’t want to be seen as heartless because they believe that not everybody getting food stamps deserves them.
They don’t want to be viewed as Muslim-hating bigots because they, like the president, believe that a temporary ban on travel from a few countries -- countries that harbor terrorism -- is a good idea.
And they’re sick of being portrayed as unsophisticated dolts because they don’t abide by politically correct ideas that are so popular among the elites at some of our most prestigious universities.
This is not the time to circle the wagons. It’s a time for introspection by America’s elites, starting with the ones who set the agenda for the culture, who decide what the national conversation will be about … the media elites.