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Monday, December 17, 2018

As the White House press corps continues to struggle with how to best cover a pathological liar in the Oval Office—and one who is intent on attacking the First Amendment—it’s becoming clear that major press failures during the Trump era aren’t just confined to the Beltway.

So preoccupied with Trump’s attacks on the so-called liberal media, the press continues to lose its way covering straight-up news events.

The recent coverage of a stunning new federal climate change report, as well as the pre-election migration of refugees towards the Mexico-U.S. border, represent two troubling examples of news outlets playing right into Trump’s hands.

In both cases, some the in press seemed to be intimidated by Trump’s looming presenceand were willing to shape the news coverage to his liking, even though the stories weren’t partisan or political in nature.

When it comes to global warming, a topic too often ignored by newsrooms, the good news was that the Sunday talk shows this week tackled the release of a dire,1,600-page federal report on climate change and our continued inaction on the crisis.

The bad news was that some of the shows completely botched the assignment by caving to GOP pressure and inviting on non-scientists to make absurd claims about the deadly topic.

Having worked the refs for years on climate change, conservatives have convinced timid TV producers that any ‘debate’ on the topic should revolve around scientists who nearly uniformly agree on the pressing issue, and GOP partisans who get paid to dismiss proven claim

The two most disappointing examples played out on NBC’s “Meet The Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union.”

On “Meet the Press,” conservative Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute was welcomed to spread misinformation about global temperatures. And on CNN, paid analyst Rick Santorum invented the claim that scientists are being paid off to produce
calamitousclimatewarnings.

The following day, CNN for some reason invited long-ago disgraced GOP Congressman Tom Delay to run through the party’s hollow climate denial talking points.

Then later, more climate clowns were ushered onto CNN:

Again, the looming dangers of climate change represent a straight-up news story that outlets ought to be well equipped to handle. The science is solid, the effects are real, and time is running out.

There’s absolutely no reason for newsrooms to feel compelled to include people in the coverage and the conversations who have no idea what they’re talking about — people like Danielle “I’m not a scientist” Pletka, and Tom Delay.

That’s simply not how newsrooms are designed to work. So why do reporters, producers, and editors carve out new rules for climate change? Why do elite news organization feel comfortable presenting GOP know-nothings on the topic, and then pretending that what unfolds
represents a factual debate?

Smart outlets, such as the BBC, are upfront with staffers. “As climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate,” the British news organization recently counseled reporters and producers.

But in America, too many newsrooms have been intimidated, especially with a manic GOP climate denier in the White House.

Afraid of being seen as treating Republican climate denial as the scientific rubbish that it is, journalists instead produce a safe space for conservatives. There, science and reality are suspended and serious people are asked to pretend weather = climate.

The media’s recent climate change failures called to mind another troubling example of newsrooms pushed around by the specter of Trump when covering a crucial news event. Or in this case, following Trump’s lead and essentially manufacturing a crucial news event—the months-long journey of Central American refuges towards the U.S.
“This will be the election of the caravan,” Trump bragged during a midterm campaign season rally in Murphysboro, Illinois, as he tried to gin up hysteria among his base. He also tweeted the dirt-poor refugees represented a “National Emergency,” and “An assault on our country.”

Sadly, when Trump says jump the press often asks, how high?

And boy, did the New York Times and the Washington Post jump high. Together, the two dailies produced more than 100 caravan-related articles and columns during Trump’s pre-election scare campaign. In retrospect, the avalanche of coverage looked craven, considering that the refugees were more than 1,000 miles away from the U.S. border at the time.

Times columnist Nicholas Kristof belatedly admittedthe media’s failure: “We let ourselves be used to elevate lies about the caravan to the top of the agenda. We even knew we were being manipulated, and we still let it happen.”

That’s a stunning internal indictment of the Times newsroom — claiming reporters and editors knowinglyallowed Trump to manipulate a life-and-death story for weeks.

But of course, it’s true.

Because that habit of allowing Trump to dictate news coverage has been on display since he rode down the escalator in the summer of 2015 to announce his presidential candidacy.

We’re now on the cusp of 2019, and the press is still making the same bad decisions.

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