President Trump and his allies rarely shy away from fights with the mainstream media. The president has accused news outlets (including this one) of producing “fake news.” He’s suggested that reporters are “crazed lunatics” and even “enemies of the people.” Conservatives routinely attack the mainstream press for a “liberal bias.”
But some liberals and former Obama staffers see a different kind of unfairness in the decision to air Trump’s speech on the border wall.
Tuesday, all three major networks broadcast Trump’s eight-minute address from the Oval Office, along with most cable news channels. That decision is being attacked by media critics, who say the president should not be given a platform to spread falsehoods and misstatements of fact. (Our own fact-checking team has put together a handy guide to the biggest inaccuracies Trump has peddled on immigration and the border.)
In his public comments, Trump has shown a proclivity for repeating false statements long after they’ve been debunked. That’s especially true on immigration, a topic that helped Trump win the presidency and is of great concern to his most loyal supporters. At this point, some have suggested that allowing Trump to speak freely, uninterrupted, at length on national television may do more harm than good.
“You don’t want to give a platform to somebody who is known to lie a lot, but at the same time, this is still the president of the United States, who has a lot of power and continues to use that power,” Mike Ananny, who teaches media ethics at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, told The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker ahead of Tuesday’s address. “The challenge the press has is to call the president out for what I expect will be the lies he will tell, because he tells them all the time, and to call them out in real time.”
Many also see a double standard.
In 2014, the Obama administration “floated” a request for prime-time air to advocate for his immigration policies. The three major networks denied the opportunity out of concern that his message would be too partisan. According to Politico, airing something so political made network execs fear that their ratings could take a hit.
A network insider told Playbook at the time: “There was agreement among the broadcast networks that this was overtly political. The White House has tried to make a comparison to a time that all the networks carried President Bush in prime time, also related to immigration . But that was a bipartisan announcement, and this is an overtly political move by the White House.”
It appears that the networks are taking a different approach in 2019.
Very often, it seems like the right dominates the conversation about media bias. They point to surveys showing that a large percentage of journalists identify as Democrats (or have backed left-leaning candidates) and that the elite media is consolidated in major cities.
Often, they ignore the times that the media has elevated voices and ideas deemed racist, sexist and xenophobic with the hope of being “fair and balanced.” In presenting a false equivalence, the mainstream media has often helped spread conservative ideas about immigration, race, crime, climate change and the border.
That has real-world implications. The Knight Foundation released a 2018 study on how some groups view the mainstream media’s coverage of their community. The report said:
According to a study published in 2014 by the Media Insight Project, 75 percent of black Americans said news media accurately reported on their communities only “moderately” or “slightly/not at all.” Participants said mainstream news media tend to focus only on narratives of deviance or exceptionalism among black Americans and ignores the complexities of identity and power.
Giving large amounts of time to statements, including those from the president, that offer misleading and stereotypical content gives marginalized groups even more reason to argue that network stations and cable news outlets are biased against them.