Blame the liberal media.
It’s been a regular Republican talking point for over 40 years, ever since Vice President Spiro Agnew’s criticism of the media as the “Nattering Nabobs of Negativism.” Now it’s Donald Trump’s main message.
Trump has recently attacked the mainstream media as being unfair, dishonest, corrupt, disgusting, and crooked in its coverage of him. He has referred to them as the lowest form of life, to the delight of his cheering crowds. Many people in the crowd now boo the members of the press during Trump’s events and chant “Lock Them Up.” In the past year, Trump has blacklisted and revoked press credentials for many media outlets, including The Washington Post, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Des Moines Register, Univision, and Politico.
It’s ironic that Trump is bashing the media, in that it was the positive and ubiquitous media coverage that helped him dominate the Republican primary field. Trump is now biting the hand that fed him ever since he went down the Trump Tower escalator last year to announce his candidacy. During the primaries, most of the media coverage of Trump was positive. They pretty much ignored the other 17 Republican candidates and let Trump suck all of the oxygen out of the room. The provocative, entertaining, and controversial Trump was great for TV ratings. How many Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, or Lindsay Graham campaign events and speeches were televised?
Now that the primaries are over, the media still gives Trump extensive coverage, but it has subjected him to intense scrutiny about his record that did not occur during the primaries.
As I note in my new book “Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias,” the Republicans’ complaints about liberal media bias are overblown and exaggerated. Reporters are trained to be fair and balanced (not the Fox News kind), impartial, neutral and detached. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics emphasizes that reporters should seek the truth, be accurate, and keep their independence. While there is no such thing as total objectivity, in that every reporter has their own values and opinions, most reporters do strive for objectivity, fairness, impartiality, and balance. The mainstream media acts as a watchdog for corruption and scandal regarding both Democrats and Republicans and for the most part they do a good job of it. Sure they make mistakes, but they serve a vital public service. Reporters see their work as a noble and important profession and take their jobs seriously as far as being fair and accurate.
Republicans often repeat the “liberal bias” mantra any time they are posed with tough questions or negative coverage. It’s a way of “working the refs” to try to get positive coverage.
Reporters and debate moderators do not shy away from controversies involving Democratic and liberal politicians. They cover liberal scandals as well as conservative scandals.
For example, during this year’s Democratic debates, Hillary Clinton was asked whether she could be trusted, whether she lied to the Benghazi victims’ families, whether she would drop out of the race if she was indicted over the email scandal, and whether she would release the transcripts of her Wall Street speeches.
Bernie Sanders was asked about his past praise of Fidel Castro and how any kind of socialist could win a general election in the United States. The New York Times and other major newspapers have subjected Hillary Clinton to tough scrutiny over the years.
There are many other examples of tough media coverage of liberals and Democrats, such as the coverage of President Clinton’s marital infidelity and President Obama’s connections to Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
In order to demonstrate the concept of advocacy journalism, I have my journalism students watch one Fox News show, such as “Hannity,” one MSNBC show, such as “The Rachel Maddow Show,” and one episode of the nightly news broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS. The students’ general consensus is that the Fox News shows have a conservative bias, the MSNBC shows have a liberal bias, and the network news programs are primarily objective, fair, balanced, impartial, and neutral.
Unlike the cable news shows, the network nightly news presents both sides of the issues in an even handed manner and the host has a neutral, non-judgmental tone. In contrast, advocacy journalism outlets, both liberal and conservative, report the news in an opinionated and adversarial manner. This occurs on Fox News, MSNBC, talk radio, which is mostly Republican and conservative, as well as various liberal and conservative websites, blogs, YouTube, and Internet radio programs.
If you compare these advocacy journalism outlets to the mainstream media, you’ll see that the mainstream media is much more objective, fair, balanced, and impartial than the reputation that Donald Trump and Republican conservatives portray. There is no such thing as perfect objectivity, but most reporters do a good job of being fair and impartial. In this respect, their fairness trumps their negative reputation.
Larry Atkins is the author of “Skewed: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Media Bias” (Prometheus Books, 2016). He teaches Journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University.