Question: Who said, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper”? Was it (A) Sean Hannity, (B) Glenn Beck, (C) Rush Limbaugh, or (D) None of the above?
The answer is (D) None of the above. It was Thomas Jefferson who further maligned the printed press, saying, “Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”
Seems that not much has changed in two hundred years, except that Jefferson’s sentiment applies not only to the newspaper but to the entire mainstream media. In fact, if the last four years have taught us anything, it is that any vestige of hope we may have held for an objective, unbiased press is sorely misguided.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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A few days after the presidential election, a liberal friend who is highly educated and well read asked me why I thought Trump would likely lose. I said, “In large part, because we do not have a free, impartial press.”
With gimlet eyes, my friend cocked his head, and I continued: “For instance, did you know that Trump is the first president in our memory not to start a new war or escalate an existing one? Or that he was nominated by the parliaments of three European countries for the Noble Peace Prize? Or that he reduced drug-crime sentences mandated by Joe Biden’s 1994 Crime Bill that disproportionately affected blacks? Or that he funded historically black colleges at historically high levels? Or that he advanced business ‘opportunity zones’ in Black communities to help those communities flourish?”
With raised eyelids, my friend shook his head, expressing bewilderment at how he could have missed all of this.
I suggested, “It could be that, for over three years, the press was chasing down every whispered rumor about Russian collusion based on a discredited report financed by DNC operatives, while showing no interest in Trump’s positives or curiosity about Biden’s negatives—like the highly credible, ‘on the record’ reports about the Biden family’s questionable financial dealings with Ukraine and China.”
Imagine if Barack Obama had facilitated the historic peace deals that the Trump Administration brokered between the Arab-Muslim nations and Israel. It would have been headline coverage in every news outlet, occupying the news cycle for weeks. Yet the day after the Trump deal, mention was made in a small column on page four in my local paper and in a piece from a foreign news agency discovered several scrolls down in a Google search.
My friend is not alone in his ignorance. Over the past couple of years, I have interacted with a number of individuals, liberal and conservative, who were unaware of stories deserving front-page coverage (like those mentioned above) that were buried deep in a Google search or in the back pages of the paper, if reported at all.
Consider the recent survey by the Media Research Center (MRC) that found that, for people who voted for Biden, forty-five percent were unaware of Hunter Biden’s financial scandals; thirty-five percent had heard nothing of Biden’s sexual-assault allegation; twenty-five percent did not know that Kamala Harris has the most left-wing voting record in the Senate.
In that same population, there was equal, if not greater, ignorance of the positive things accomplished in the Trump Administration.
Forty-three percent were unaware of the Middle East Peace Deals. Forty-nine percent were unaware that the American economy grew by one-third. Thirty-nine percent were unaware that over eleven million jobs were created. Fifty percent were unaware that the United States achieved energy independence. Thirty-six percent were unaware of the administration’s role in Operation Warp Speed and the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
According to MRC, “This lack of information proved crucial: One of every six Biden voters we surveyed (17%) said they would have abandoned the Democratic candidate had they known the facts about one or more of these news stories. A shift of this magnitude would have changed the outcome in all six of the swing states won by Joe Biden, and Donald Trump would have comfortably won a second term as president.”
Added to the lack of coverage is slanted coverage.
In her book Slanted: How the News Media Taught Us to Love Censorship and Hate Journalism, journalist and former CNN and CBS news anchor Sharyl Attkisson discusses media bias and the loss of true journalism.
As an example, Attkisson notes, “Prior to President Trump, virtually no one in the media would accuse someone of lying. The standard was to question an individual’s statement or point out a discrepancy to another source, but not call it an outright lie, because it’s easy to get confused on specifics. A lie is a very specific allegation that implies an intent to deceive. Just because you misremember a fact doesn’t mean you lied.”
But with the Trump presidency, there was a marked change in journalistic practice as the media began “frequently calling things that he said, lies—even when there was simply something that was a matter of opinion, or could not be proven, or a mistake, none of which are lies.”
The news organization Politico went as far as assembling a team to track Trump’s number of “lies per minute.” When Attkisson asked a staff member how Trump’s numbers compared with Hillary Clinton’s, she was told, “Oh, we didn’t have the staffing to do Hillary too.”
Shortly after the 2020 election, well before anything could be concluded about voting improprieties, a news item from the Associated Press reported that Trump was not only making “false” claims about reports of voter fraud but that he was doing so to “subvert” the election.
Love him or hate him, the lack of objective, unbiased coverage on Trump should trouble any fair-minded person. For, as Attkisson rightly asks, “If the media can report so many things out of context and incorrectly when it comes to somebody they don’t like, what else are we getting that’s not in context or that’s not fully true?”
A free press is the backbone of a free society. Some have called it the fourth branch of government because it has the duty and means, if not the motivation, to hold the government accountable and act as a final check on the other three branches. As Edmund Burke put it, “There were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
To those who might take that as a flight of rhetoric, Burke went on to say, “It is not a figure of speech, or a witty saying; it is a literal fact—very momentous to us in these times.”
And in ours as well. For without an independent press that can be trusted to report news without fear or favor, the Republic is imperiled by rhetoricians, propagandists, ideologues, and demagogues who pander to the masses with contextualized “truths” in the service of some “greater, noble” end.