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Tag: both sides journalism

Chuck Todd And The Myth Of Liberal Media Bias

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Surveying the media landscape and seeing a Beltway press corps that's constantly on the run from Republican attacks, Meet The Press moderator Chuck Todd this week urged his colleagues to stand up to the right-wing bullies, who have spent decades demonizing journalists.

"We should have fought back better in the mainstream media. We shouldn't [have] accepted the premise that there was liberal bias. We should have defended," Todd told The Verge. "We ended up in this both-sides trope. We bought into the idea that, 'Oh my God, we're perceived as having a liberal bias.'"

He added: "Where we did get lost in this, and this sort of happened to mainstream media in particular, is that we did let Republican critics get in our heads, right? The Republicans have been running on, "There's a liberal bias in the media." This has been a 45-year campaign."

Technically, it's been a 52-year campaign, with Vice President Spiro Agnew's "nattering nabobs of negativism" attack on the press in 1969 often cited as the launching point of the choreographed crusade.

The good news is that every 12 or 24 months Todd emerges and makes these types of welcomed, clear-eyed pronouncements about the press, calling out right-wing lies, and urging his colleagues to do better in fighting against dishonest GOP attacks.

The bad news is Todd then goes back to work at NBC and rarely follows his own advice. He makes no structural changes to the programs he oversees to make sure they don't fall prey to GOP tactics. It's easy to view his pronouncements as performative, directed at those who are concerned about journalism and about the state of our democracy in the face of a Republican Party that broke its pact with common sense and instead now worships at the altar of a Mar-a-Lago retiree.

Todd refuses to follow his own lead and produce consistently clear, aggressive journalism, while not fretting about potential GOP pushback.

A quick example.

During Trump's second impeachment trial, Todd introduced a Meet The Press segment in which voters from a toss-up district in Michigan were interviewed about the House proceedings. Touted as a way to take the temperature of everyday voters outside of the "Beltway," the sit-down with six voters from Kent County, Michigan, offered a chance to hear if heartland denizens "cared" about impeachment. Except there was a problem: Every voter interviewed was a Republican, and every voter interviewed opposed impeachment. ("I don't even care. It's just noise.")

This makes no sense. If you wanted anecdotal evidence of the nation's response to impeachment, you'd interview a wide cross-section of voters. Instead, Todd only talked to Republicans even though the Michigan district he focused on is evenly split among Democrats and Republicans. What would explain this type of illogical press behavior other than a fear of upsetting conservatives — of being tagged with the Liberal Media Bias charge?

Todd lamented to The Verge that the press has fallen into a "both sides trope," where journalists strain to place blame on Republicans and Democrats even when it should not be distributed that way. Yet earlier this year, after another deadly gun rampage in America, and after the Republican Party once again categorically refused to support any possible gun safety legislation, Todd went on Meet the Press and blamed Congress — Both Sides — for not doing anything to stop the deadly plague.

In response to my media critiques, PRESS RUN readers often ask, why? Why does the press behave the way it does? Why does it engage in Both Sides nonsense in an effort to water down irresponsible GOP behavior? Why does it view so many news cycles through the prism of Republican talking points? Without question, the overriding cultural reason is the fear of being hit with the Liberal Media Bias label.

I don't mean that's what's driving journalists on an hourly, granular level, or that before filing a story or going on the air they consciously think about GOP attacks. But it does remain the dominant ethos and it's been ingrained in newsrooms for decades. (Being the target of right-wing smear campaigns is no fun and it can damage journalism careers.) Consequently, the press spends an inordinate amount of time trying to prove it's not guilty of Liberal Media Bias.

That institutional fear helps explain the inexplicable, like why so many news organizations refused to call Trump a liar for four years, even as they documented his thousands of lies. That was a deliberate decision to turn away from the truth —and from accurate language — while covering the most dangerous president in American history. Afraid that calling Trump a "liar" in straight news reports would spark cries of Liberal Media Bias, the press capitulated. In the process, Trump used his avalanche of untruths to chip away at our democratic institutions.

Eric Alterman wrote an entire, must-read book in 2003 expertly debunking the bias myth, What Liberal Media? Conservatives "know mau-mauing the other side is just a good way to get their own ideas across–or perhaps prevent the other side from getting a fair hearing for theirs," he wrote. I made a similar effort with my book, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush, where I focused on the media's failure during the run-up to the Iraq War: "To oppose the invasion vocally was to be outside the media mainstream and to invite scorn. Like some nervous Democratic members of Congress right before the war, mainstream media journalists seemed to scramble for political cover so as to not subject themselves to conservative catcalls."

Still, the Liberal Media Bias myth persists and remains a driving engine of the conservative movement. It's arguably more potent today because Trump made it a centerpiece of his political appeal to hate the press. It would be helpful if journalists like Chuck Todd actually took their own advice and combated the fiction head on.

CNN Airs Soft-Focus 'Profile' Of Violent Capital Rioter

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Five months after rioters smashed windows, hung nooses, brawled with cops, and desecrated the U.S. Capitol, CNN decided to portray a killed Trump insurrectionist from January 6 in a positive light. Leaning into interviews with the family of Ashli Babbitt, CNN did its best to present a pleasing picture of the mob member who was shot and killed by U.S. Capitol police as she and a lawbreaking Trump gang tried to force themselves into the Speaker's Lobby as all hell broke loose that dreadful day.

It was a bewildering and misguided profile that whitewashed a deadly serious topic —radicals who wanted to invalidate an American election and use overwhelming physical force to make it happen. The lawless, violent mob rampaged inside the Capitol for hours, knocking officers unconscious and destroying offices of Democratic members.

CNN framed the report as a Both Sides one: Supporters see Babbitt as a patriot, while liberals see her as a terrorist. CNN then proceeded to completely ignore the liberal perspective for the entire Babbitt report. Readers were repeatedly told what a kind and conscientious person she was. But they were never given the other side of that Both Sides equation.

The CNN misfire was a classic example of what happens when journalists land sought-after interviews, in this case with members of Babbitt's family, and then spin the story in their favor. They tell the tale just as the interview subjects would want it to be told.

"She was brave. She came out that way. Always was that way," Babbitt's mother told CNN. "Elizabeth Babbitt grew up a tomboy in a suburb of San Diego. She kept pace with four brothers and their friends, riding bikes, jumping them over ramps, skateboarding and "playing in the dirt,"" CNN gently reported. As for the deadly insurrection, "I feel like she went to the Capitol because she felt like her voice wasn't being heard," Babbitt's brother told an understanding CNN.

It's impossible to think that if Babbitt weren't a white woman who grew up in suburban America that CNN would ever consider publishing a feel-good piece about a possible terrorist who's been turned into a martyr by the radical right. The report, with its soft family lens, reflects a larger media obsession over the last five years to help humanize Trump's extremist and dangerous white voter base.

Routinely depicted as hard-working folks in search of a political path, and thankful for Trump leadership, Trump voter coverage for years failed to pull back the curtain and reveal a small glimpse of the vicious mob that emerged in January. Even a Trump supporter who had nice things to say about Nazis received a gentle New York Times profile.

Last winter, as Trump supporters rallied around the deranged idea that the election had been stolen, too many journalists expressed empathy for them. In an interview with Vanity Fair, CNN's Jake Tapper said, "I feel sympathy for them, is the truth," he said. "I feel bad. They're outraged because they're being told things that aren't true."

In terms of CNN's Babbitt profile, there's nothing wrong with providing context and detail about her life, particularly since she seems to be a textbook example of someone whose life, even before January 6, was swallowed whole by the cultist, far-right movement to worship Trump like an idol. Since her death, friends have expressed shock at the fanatical and anger-filled turn her politics took, as well as the rabid and often incoherent screeds she began posting online. ("They can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours.") If Babbitt wasn't a full-on QAnon devotee at the time of her death, she was awfully close.

But that's not the type of context CNN provided. Instead, the network worked overtime to play down Babbitt's actions on January 6, as well as the actions of thousands of insurrectionists who did their best to overthrow democracy by pummeling police officers for hours on end. Not once in the 2,000-word piece did CNN mention the raging violence that Trump's mob unleashed, as members of the Capitol police force battled in hand-to-hand combat with the remorseless, bloodthirsty gang.

One day before CNN published its insurrectionist valentine, the Department of Justice released additional head cam video from the riot, showing officers being mauled by the deranged mob. Specifically, it showed a retired NYPD officer charging through metal barricades and attacking police with a flagpole during the riot. "You communist motherfucker, fuck you!" the retired cop screamed, before pushing down the crowd-control barrier and swinging a flag pole. He then tackled and began beating an officer.

Multiply that by hundreds, if not thousands of times, to create the deranged bedlam of that day. More than 480 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. From a May report: "One video shows a rioter trying to rip off a police officer's gas mask, then picking up a baton and hitting officers with it. Another video shows a rioter punching officers while wearing gloves with metal knuckles."

But CNN's report breezed right past those difficult truths in order to present Babbitt as a slightly misunderstood "patriot," in the eyes of her family. CNN made no effort to get a comment from any members of the Capitol police force, some of whom had to beg for their lives at the hands of the January 6 mob that Babbitt so proudly championed.

The New York Times Serves Up Another ‘Both Sides’ Fiasco

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Republicans want to make it harder for people to vote and easier for the GOP to invalidate election results. That's the distressing, historic truth as the party fully embraces an anti-democratic agenda.

Hiding behind Both Sides journalism, which portrays all political skirmishes as being the product of each party, the D.C. press continues to struggle to be honest about the GOP's radical turn. Recently the New York Times, as if trying to create a Both Sides archetype, including flawless examples of everything that's wrong and dangerous about the faulty form of journalism, published a painfully bad piece about GOP voter suppression. "Museum quality," was how New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen dubbed the Times' pitch-perfect Both Sides entry.

Strictly adhering to the he said/she said construct that the Times newsroom finds so comforting, the article made no effort to reach a logical conclusion in terms of which side in the voting 'debate' was being honest and accurate. Functioning as a clearing house for the Democratic and Republican quotes that were collected, the Times saw its job not as illuminating news consumers about a gravely important topic, but to simple type up competing quotes.

After reading the piece, former Seattle Times editor Mike Fancher tweeted it was, "an example of journalism that is accurate but not truthful. It is also harmful to democracy." Addressing the Times' executive editor he added, "Please, @deanbaquet, hire a public editor to help your newsroom become stewards of democracy."

The car wreck began with the headline: "In Congress, Republicans Shrug at Warnings of Democracy in Peril." Making clear that the article would view the topic through the eyes of the GOP, the headline stressed that Republicans were unconcerned about the issue at hand, which is exactly the message Republicans want to portray — it's no big deal.

Then the sub-headline: "As G.O.P. legislatures move to curtail voting rules, congressional Democrats say authoritarianism looms, but Republicans dismiss the concerns as politics as usual."

First, Republicans across the country are passing an unprecedented collection of voter suppression laws. But the Times won't use that clear language, instead opting for the watered down, "curtail voting rules." The word choice is important because if the Times had framed the article as one about "voter suppression" laws, it would make it much harder for Republicans to "shrug off" the allegations about putting democracy in peril.

Second, the Times places alongside each other the claims that voter suppression is a function of Republican authoritarianism, and that the GOP's dismissal that it's all "politics as usual." In the eyes of the Times those are equally valid and important points for readers to know. Democrats are saying our democracy is in clear danger and Republican says it's "politics as usual," which makes no sense. It's not "usual" for one of the two major political parties in this country to warn that America's nearly two-and-a-half centuries of democratic rule faces a looming internal and deliberate danger. In fact, that's the opposite of "usual" — it's unheard of.

From the outset, the Times frames the article as an impossible-to-solve disagreement between both parties, with the implication being that Both Sides have a valid point. They do not.

The avalanche of current GOP bills aim to shorten the early voting period, reduce the number of hours that people can vote on Election Day, eliminate drive-through voting centers, create stricter deadlines for returning absentee ballots, block early voting on Sunday, limit ballot drop boxes, restrict mail-in voting —basically any possible initiative Republicans can think of that would suppress the vote.

"The playbook that the Republican Party is executing at the state and national levels is very much consistent with actions taken by illiberal, anti-democratic, anti-pluralist parties in other democracies that have slipped away from free and fair elections," Lee Drutman, senior fellow at the New America think tank recently told the Washington Post.

Still, the Times clings to Both Sides.

Specifically, the daily blamed Democrats for partly creating the voting controversy. "Missteps by Democrats have fortified Republicans' attempts to downplay the dangers," the Times reported. "Some of them, including President Biden, have mischaracterized Georgia's voting law, handing Republicans ammunition to say that Democrats were willfully distorting what was happening at the state level." The example the article pointed to was when Biden once mistakenly said the Georgia voter suppression law would end voting at 5 p.m.

Republicans are doing everything in their power to invalidate future elections by passing voter suppression laws and empowering state legislatures to refuse to certify state tallies. It all represents a massive attempt to roll back democracy.

One quick example: This spring, Arkansas's Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law seven different voting bills. One prohibits people from going within 100 feet of a polling place except with the intention of entering or exiting it. That would effectively ban giving food and water to voters stuck in long lines. Another bill invalidates absentee ballots that arrive on Election Day.

Yet against that stark and historic backdrop, the Times claimed that by misstating a single provision contained within one of the dozens of the GOP's voter suppression bills, Biden had "hand[ed] Republicans ammunition."

If so, he's not alone. The Times, with its shoddy Both Sides journalism, is also handing the GOP plenty of ammunition.

Hapless Media Have No Idea How To Cover Deranged Republicans

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Hours after Republican House members forced Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) to surrender her leadership role for the sin of denouncing Trump lies about his election loss, Republicans at a House Oversight Committee hearing addressing the Capitol Hill insurrection spent the same day spreading misinformation about Trump's attempted coup.

Claiming that what transpired that day really wasn't a riot but instead a collection of misguided enthusiasts voicing their concerns, Republicans made clear not only would they not assign blame to Trump for stoking the deadly assault, but they were going to defend the rioters and rewrite history about that ugly day on Capitol Hill.

From Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-GA): "There was no insurrection. To call it an insurrection is a bold-faced lie."

In normal times, if the public sacking of Cheney for lack of fealty and the public support for insurrection had happened in the same calendar year, it would have been considered a shocking turn of events for a mainstream political party in this country. The fact that both events happened within hours of each other this week only highlighted how radical, dangerous, and anti-democratic the GOP has become, as it hurtles far beyond the mainstream and into the abyss.

Unfortunately, the Beltway press has no idea how to cover this story. It still refuses to use the proper tools and language to put the troubling actions of the GOP in context via its straight news coverage. Hiding behind Both Sides journalism, timid language, and purposeful naïveté, news outlets still aren't being honest about the dire threat Trump Republicans now pose to the country.

Watching the party maneuver itself to be able to invalidate future elections — by passing voter suppression laws, installing local election boards that refuse to certify wins, empowering state legislatures to refuse to certify their state tallies, and electing a Republican majority in the House of Representatives that will deny the Electoral College count — means the United States faces the most entrenched, internal political threat since the Civil War. That's no exaggeration, considering the defining loyalty test for the GOP today is backing Trump's claim that the 2020 election was stolen, which in turns positions the party to question all future election results.

The GOP and its followers have become consumed in deliberate lies, yet the press still views the party as a serious entity whose views deserve to be treated respectfully.

"It's time the media stop covering the GOP as a political party - it's not," tweeted SiriusXM radio show host Dean Obeidallah. "Today's Republican party is a white nationalist, fascist movement and those exact words need to be used by the media so everyone gets the threat the GOP poses to our nation."

It's clearly a conservative movement that's flown off the rails, and resembles nothing we've seen before in modern American politics.

Just in recent days:

• Republicans in Arizona running the clown 'audit' of the 2020 election are searching for traces of bamboo in paper ballots to prove they are counterfeits smuggled in from Southeast Asia.

• A Colorado State representative referred to a colleague as "Buckwheat" while addressing the House.

• QAnon loyalist and Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene aggressively confronted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in the halls of Congress, and falsely accused her of supporting "terrorists."

• 124 GOP-friendly retired generals and admirals released an open letter spreading the lie that President Joe Biden stole the election, while labeling him a "Marxist" and "tyrannical" threat to America.

• A Republican lawmaker in Michigan wants to force non-partisan "fact checkers" to register with the state and face $1 million fines if public officials prove "wrongful conduct" in their work.

Nervous about claims of "liberal media bias" though, the press holds back.

After witnessing Taylor accost Ocasio-Cortez this week, Washington Post reporter Marianna Sotomayor told CNN that the ugly encounter "really does speak to the polarization that exists and the tensions between both parties, Republicans, and Democrats." [Emphasis added.] Wrong. What Taylor's deranged behavior speaks to is a Republican Party that has torn down the guardrails of common decency.

The New York Times recently published a long piece about the deepening "era of endemic misinformation — and outright disinformation." The article highlighted obvious partisan lies pushed by right-wing media and conservatives, such as Biden's going to force Americans to eat less meat. Instead of framing the epidemic as a Republican-created one, the Times pretended the avalanche of right-wing conspiracies represent a larger, cultural issue.

The press for years has consistently misreported on the increasingly extreme nature of the Republican Party. Specifically, journalists have pressed the faulty notion that GOP members are supposedly worried about Trump. Last summer, the Times announced Republicans were "despairing" over Trump's erratic and authoritarian behavior.

The Times' coverage looks deeply naïve in retrospect. Just like when, in the wake of the January 6 insurrection, the Beltway media insisted a "reckoning" was looming for the GOP over Trump. Instead, Republicans just purged Liz Cheney for criticizing his anti-democratic behavior.

All last winter, the D.C. press told us not to worry about Trump's refusal to acknowledge Biden's lopsided victory — Politico insisted it was just "bad sportsmanship."

Today, there are some glimmers of media hope. CNN on Sunday night is airing a special report, "Radical Rebellion: The Transformation of the GOP," which hopefully won't downplay the rebellion, or what's now at stake. And more news outlets are now using "lies" to describe Trump claims about the 2020 election. That language change is welcome, although long overdue.

The Beltway press has never had to cover a political party that openly embraces anti-democratic policies, such as undermining free and fair elections in America. It's a defining media challenge.