By Frank VernuccioAmerican journalism is in crisis, one of its own making.
Originally posted in the New York Analysis of Policy & Government newsletter
An honest and diligent press is vital to the functioning of a nation led not by a dictatorship or an oligarchy, but by voters. Without access to the unfettered information provided by journalists committed to an accurate reporting of facts, the electorate cannot access the information necessary to exercise its power to select who will best represent them.
Increasingly, the U.S. media—including both the press and related professions—has abandoned its role as the provider of objective news. It has replaced that key mission with an arrogant belief in “advocacy,” in essence, telling the people what they should be thinking. This is not the same as merely providing editorial opinion. It is the actual shaping of the news itself, hiding information that does not fit its agenda, and overly emphasizing that which does.
While this trend has been developing for decades (advocacy journalism began its long march to dominance in the journalism schools of the 1960s), it has reached a dangerous crescendo in the past two presidential elections, and particularly, in the aftermath of the 2016 campaign.
There has been some candor about this, even in left-oriented publications. The Week noted during the 2016 campaign:
… the bulk of the journalists that comprise what most Americans think of as the ‘mainstream’ media lean left … The watchdog Center for Public Integrity on Monday said that journalists favored Clinton 27-1 over Trump … Some 430 in the media business donated to Clinton compared to 50 to Trump. [Washington Examiner].You can see bias in the actual coverage, too. A study from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center of the four weeks encompassing and surrounding the two major-party political conventions makes this obvious. Trump’s news coverage during this period was 75 percent negative; the friendliest week Trump got from the media was the week of the convention itself—when it was ‘only’ 55 percent negative.
Contrast that with the treatment Hillary Clinton received in the same period, which overall was 44 percent positive.
The website 538 notes that:
While the media has provided preferential treatment of one contestant over another in the past, this practice has reached an unprecedented extreme level, and includes breathtakingly partisan practices. In addition to merely warped reportage, media moderators of presidential debates have become actual participants in the events. Candy Crowley’s blatant aggression against GOP candidate Mitt Romney during a 2012 debate is a clear and stunning example.
The political diversity of journalists is not very … As of 2013, only 7 percent of them identified as Republicans (although only 28 percent called themselves Democrats with the majority saying they were independents) … Of the major newspapers that endorsed either Clinton or Trump, only 3 percent (2 of 59) endorsed Trump.
The 2012 debates also provided an example of how the news establishment seeks to shape opinion. Romney, presciently, stated that Russia was a key concern; he was mocked by opponent Obama and his ardent media advocates. Moscow’s massive arms buildup, invasion of Ukraine, nuclear patrols along U.S. coastlines, placement of military equipment in Nicaragua, and more have provided Romney correct—but the media, for the most part, has refused to acknowledge its error.
Other sources concur. Public Integrity provides a number of examples:
New Yorker television critic Emily Nussbaum, a newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner, spent the Republican National Convention pen-pricking presidential nominee Donald Trump as a misogynist shyster running an “ugly and xenophobic campaign.”
What Nussbaum didn’t disclose in her dispatches: she contributed $250 to Democrat Hillary Clinton in April … And Carole Simpson, a former ABC World News Tonight anchor who in 1992 became the first African-American woman to moderate a presidential debate, is not moderate about her personal politics: the current Emerson College distinguished journalist-in-residence has given Clinton $2,800.
In all, people identified in federal campaign finance filings as journalists, reporters, news editors, or television news anchors—as well as other donors known to be working in journalism—have combined to give more than $396,000 to the presidential campaigns of Clinton and Trump, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis … About 430 people who work in journalism have, through August, combined to give about $382,000 to the Democratic nominee, the Center for Public Integrity‘s analysis indicates. About 50 identifiable journalists have combined to give about $14,000 to Trump …