A virulent distemper has seized the country in recent times, segregating many of its people into rigid, contentious camps unwilling to listen to each other or often, to reason and good sense.
A major reason for this destructive development, I reluctantly believe, is the current sad state of American political journalism that most of us rely on for the news we use to judge our nation’s current state, progress and elected leaders.
I studied and labored on journalism’s farm teams, learning the ropes, rules and dangers, both real and rhetorical. I tried to be wary, not suspicious, an important distinction.
It’s been an interesting half-century career at home and abroad, all of it spent working with or within the wondrous profession of journalism. I was assigned to witness some of the most boring gatherings in the history of humankind, some of the deadliest, most ridiculous and outrageous.
The point was talking with mostly good people and converting their personal or official stories into newspaper prose so others might understand.
Alas, much of today’s political journalism has fallen into advocacy, intentionally inflammatory, using or omitting selective details, quotes and background to make a case against President Donald Trump. The criticism generally centers on something he did or said he would do — or something someone, usually unidentified, said he might do or is considering possibly doing.
And then in a kind of staged Kabuki dance, journalists run to gather reaction from waiting opponents who provide a predictably outraged quote calling for counteraction.
Yes, this president’s name boosts ratings and clicks from both sides. But the media’s addiction to anything Trump lets this president manipulate them, which he does skillfully. It squeezes out other important news.
And it denies Americans a set of generally-accepted facts to debate, merely providing fodder for an anti-Trump agenda and more argumentative ammo for both sides.
According to polls, most of us disapprove of Trump’s job performance and would prefer a more refined, decorous president. Trump’s crude behaviors often distract from his own accomplishments, rightly inviting negative assessments.
But here’s the deal: If being an arrogant, tiresome jerk was disqualifying for presidents, we wouldn’t be up to No. 45.
Trump was legitimately elected by fellow citizens, often angry, frustrated folks many of whom peacefully endured eight long years of the previous president they often disagreed with.
The Washington media rightly claim the duty to check presidential statements. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find the time or inclination to apply the same regimen to former President Barack Obama’s words as they have imposed on Trump’s.
Otherwise, Obama would have been called out for the 36 times he promised we could keep our doctor and health plan, the countless specious claims that al Qaeda was on the run, the false suggestion that Russia was no longer a strategic competitor and the laughable claim that his administration experienced no scandal during its 2,922 days.
That’s because the D.C. media, by and large, sympathized with Obama’s election and policies. And while the election of an African American was historic, it was not the historically shocking upset that Trump’s base delivered to him — and us. An upset that far too many political journalists have been unable to digest and have allowed to corrupt their professionalism..
Polls show the Washington media is overwhelmingly liberal, which would be perfectly fine if they didn’t allow those sympathies to direct and distort coverage of a contrary administration.
News consumers are not dumb. They can see that the country’s chronic homeless problem happens to get rediscovered with every GOP White House.
Soon after Trump took office, a pool correspondent reported the billionaire had removed the Oval Office’s Martin Luther King Jr. bust. In fact, that was untrue. Someone was standing in front of the bust during the reporter’s brief visit.
Once the White House confirmed that the bust remained in the Oval Office, the reporter quickly issued a correction and apologized. But the media’s antipathy prepared the news writers who were quick to jump on this non-story to believe the worst. So now, many distrusting news consumers are prepared to believe the worst about the fourth estate, all of which corrodes the country’s essential fabric of trust.
Last week, a major newspaper published a story stating that a top Trump aide had openly contradicted the president overseas by saying U.S. forces would remain in Syria to fight ISIS.
Fact is, there was no contradiction. Trump was quoted as saying the exact same thing in the previous day’s pool reports, which only media see.
Like maliciously-edited news videotapes, such errors, whether willful or sloppy, unfortunately are not rare these days. They give credence to Trump’s overused “fake news” claims and to the broader public’s now built-in suspicion of media and their ubiquitous Trump hostility.
Americans have strong political opinions but also a powerful sense of fairness, however it cuts. They resent being pushed to see things only one way.
Here’s another reality: So far, all presidents have been human, meaning they fib, lie, exaggerate.
Whether these untruths are what Mark Twain called “stretchers” or whoppers like Obama blaming the Benghazi murders on a video, they all should be presented and judged or forgiven using the same standards.