Gary Abernathy is publisher and editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette.
It struck me after a number of casual conversations with local Republicans over the past few weeks that they seldom mentioned the Democrats when discussing President Trump’s adversaries. They almost never brought up Charles E. Schumer, Nancy Pelosi or any other party official.
Almost all conversations about roadblocks Trump faces or opposition to his initiatives centered on what was perceived as the media’s biased portrayal of him and his administration, rather than on anything the Democrats were doing.
Republicans and conservatives have grumbled about unfair coverage from the “mainstream media” for decades. But the Trump era has brought us to a new plateau, one where the media has moved from adversarial to oppositional. Many observers, on both right and left, have come to see the media as the leader of the resistance.
If you care about journalism, it’s a disturbing trend. Many in the media would undoubtedly lay much of the blame on Trump’s “fake news” attacks. But peruse the pages or websites of most of our nation’s leading news providers, and it’s easy to understand why such a perception has taken hold, apart from Trump’s claims.
Former Democratic president Jimmy Carter’s widely reported comments in Maureen Dowd’s recent New York Times column about the media’s coverage of Trump were a welcome acknowledgment of the obvious from someone other than a Trump loyalist.
“I think the media have been harder on Trump than any other president certainly that I’ve known about,” Carter said. “I think they feel free to claim that Trump is mentally deranged and everything else without hesitation.”
Out of curiosity, I checked the Democratic National Committee’s website this week. Some of the headlines were: “Trump abuses role as commander-in-chief in latest lie.” “Tom Perez on Trump’s executive order to sabotage Americans’ health care.” “Trump’s lapdog Pence must return wasted taxpayer dollars.”
That’s what you would expect from the opposition party. The problem is, headlines accusing Trump of “sabotage,” “lies” and more are not uncommon from our major media outlets. That’s why I was curious whether the DNC was still bothering to employ a press staff when it has been made so redundant.
We are at a dangerous precipice in how Americans receive and digest information and, ultimately, form opinions. The influence of social-media feeds, which — through user choice or outside meddling — provide only a narrow flow of information, makes the credibility of news organizations more imperative than ever.
The concern is no longer just the violation of journalistic ethics. The real danger is that millions of Americans no longer view the news media as merely left-leaning but instead as an all-but-declared political movement. All that remains is to nominate a standard-bearer in the next election.
Trump and the Republicans will survive the media’s resistance, and perhaps even flourish. Nothing motivates the president’s base like the notion of Trump vs. the media. But isn’t it a shame that a movement can thrive almost purely on the idea that our most vaunted media institutions have an agenda to bring down a president? Trump’s rhetoric aside, the claim could not take root if the evidence wasn’t so routinely observable.
The bigger question is, can the media survive on this path? Perhaps, but not in its traditional role. Instead, it will be viewed as just another partisan special interest.
Trump and his administration deserve close scrutiny and an adversarial press. The media should keep reporting what they identify as his lies, his failures and his blunders, wherever the facts lead, in every instance. But there are other stories that are being ignored or buried, success stories that more accurately reflect the whole picture. Such stories are seldom assigned, and when they are, they’re usually given a negative spin. Case in point: The stock market may be roaring, but Trump has little to do with it, we’re told.
Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, but it seems to me the media’s anti-Trump fever has shown small signs of breaking lately. For example, CNN — the worst offender among the cable networks — this week “fact checked” claims by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the president’s accomplishments so far, and, lo and behold, did not pronounce any of them a lie. It was astounding.
But there are miles to go. Reversing the path they’re on would require a significant internal overhaul by the nation’s leading media organizations. Doing so could help them regain their lost credibility and restore the majority of Americans’ faith in them as unbiased arbiters of truth and evenhanded watchdogs of government. And, who knows, it might even make Schumer and Pelosi relevant again.