Another nail in the coffin of public confidence in the press
America’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic is little surprise given the major media coverage. It’s another nail in the coffin of the public’s confidence the mainstream press is an information conduit and neutral arbiter of disputes between the powerful and influential rather than a mouthpiece for a political agenda.
The press has taken sides and the people don’t like it. The March 2020 Gallup poll shows its approval rating lags President Donald J. Trump and Congress and, at 44 percent approve, 55 percent disapprove, is the only institution tested with numbers underwater.
At the beginning of the current crisis, it was easy to dismiss the Chinese virus, as most media institutions called it then, as a noteworthy, probably insignificant outbreak. As recently as February, for example, New York City’s top public health official was still promoting the city’s celebration of the Chinese New Year rather than calling for self-imposed isolation.
Now, New York City has been hit harder by the COVID-19 virus than perhaps any other place in the country. That’s not surprising; it is the nation’s largest city. But it’s hard to argue based on the information available at the time that anyone promoting Chinese New Year celebrations is responsible for what’s happening now.
These are unprecedented times. We haven’t seen anything like this since the 2009 Swine Flu outbreak or the 1918 Spanish Flu. We face a threat about which we learn more each day and we remain unified, supportive of one another, and help ensure everyone is educated with the most accurate information we have at the time we have it to get through it.
Or that we must rely on a media establishment that has had trouble separating its dislike for the president from the need to get the facts to the American people. Anyone who stands with President Trump, even momentarily, is subject to criticisms that, when magnified through social media, blunt even the important and helpful things they have to say.
Fox News, the nation’s most successful cable news channel, has been and is still being attacked over its early coverage of COVID-19. This ignores how the network, like The New York Times and everyone else, shifted their tone as the seriousness of the story became more apparent. Now, instead of being praised for its coverage which, if it came from almost any other source would be hailed as good journalism, it is still under assault.
It matters, and not just for political reasons. Fox’s demographic is comprised of people considered high-risk if exposed to the virus. Recognizing this, the network has hired new health professionals and physicians as news contributors. It increased the airtime devoted to discussions of what people must do to protect themselves from COVID-19 exposure. It launched Q&A segments, roundtable discussions with physicians, townhalls, a daily blog written by medical experts where viewer questions are answered and the CoronavirusNOW.com — a free-to-use website featuring the latest news about the virus.
Moreover, and most unusual in the news business, the dayside anchors and infotainers who dominate prime time have conspicuously corrected their earlier statements downplaying the threat. Sean Hannity, who the so-called responsible media has thrashed for spreading inaccurate information, told his viewers on Feb. 27, “Make no mistake. Coronavirus, it is dangerous. Those infected are contagious before they show symptoms during incubation period. They don’t know they have the disease. The rapid spread of the virus across continents, it is, of course, concerning.”
The so-called responsible media, meanwhile, has been having a field day for which they have yet to account. On Feb. 26, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote a piece poking fun at the president’s handling of events titled “Let’s Call It Trumpvirus.” On March 4, when CNN’s Anderson Cooper should have known better he was still telling viewers “if you’re freaked out about the Coronavirus you should be more concerned about the flu.”
And the “great, gray lady of American journalism?” Beside continually fanning the public’s fear it changed a headline on The New York Times website not once but three times to turn House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s successful bid to wreck the passage of aid to beleaguered American businesses and workers sidelined by coronavirus from a negative for the Democrats into a positive.
COVID-19 is scary. It’s an unnerving time but that doesn’t justify irresponsible attacks on anyone. The learning curve has produced plenty of human error, but the time to evaluate them is largely on the other side of the pandemic. Lots of mistakes have been made. We’re taking this day by day and must remember to be unified in the fight against the virus and not fight each other.
Former Vice President Joe Biden continues his presidential campaign from Delaware in the era of the Wuhan coronavirus by conducting remote interviews from a home studio.
Biden however, whose candidacy has survived slip-ups seemingly every month on the trail still appears forgetful and frail from the comfort of his own home. While the pressures of on-the-ground campaigning are temporarily gone, the same Biden we’ve seen for much of the last year is not.
On Monday, Biden once again refreshed concerns about the Democratic frontrunner’s age and aptitude at 77 years old to win the White House in November, offering a nonsensical jumbled word salad on MSNBC with notes in his lap.
Here’s what Biden said:
Boy those very high numbers have to do at least several things. One, we have to depend on what the president’s going to do right now, and first of all he has to… tell… wait til the cases before anything happens. Look, the whole idea is, he’s got to get in place things that were shortages of.
Biden’s Monday clip comes just a week after Biden seemed to have thrown in the towel on being articulate as he has become the likely Democratic nominee.
During an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, Biden trailed off and looked defeated after mixing up his words again prompting an awkward silence on air.
“We have never, never, never, failed to respond to a crisis as a people, and I tell you what, I’m so darn proud. Those poor people who have…” Biden said before realizing what he actually said. “Anyway…”
Last week, Biden was also caught coughing while denying he had any symptoms of the Wuhan virus.
At one point on CNN, Jake Tapper directed Biden to cough into his arm as advised by public health officials.
“You know, you’re supposed to cough into your elbow… I learned that actually covering your White House,” Tapper said.
“Fortunately I’m alone in my home, but that’s okay,” Biden said.
In the last Democratic debate between Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who remains the final major competitor in the race, Biden also opened up with a cough to answer a question about the Wuhan virus.
So what is going on with Joe Biden?
No, the federal government shouldn’t 'take over the supply chain' for medical equipment, and yes, states can in fact govern themselves.
Watching the media react to federal and state government responses to the Wuhan coronavirus over the past few days, you would think they secretly wished we had an executive branch with unlimited powers—their hatred of President Trump notwithstanding. You would also think they have only a vague idea of what federalism is and how it’s supposed to work.
Many reporters and pundits, for example, seem to think states are almost entirely dependent on the federal government in emergency situations like this. CNN’s Jim Sciutto mused about whether the president will soon be pushing for a national curfew, seemingly unaware that the president has no power to impose such a thing.
But governors do. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday stopped just short of issuing a curfew on businesses, instead signing an executive order that strongly urges all non-essential businesses to close at 8 p.m. every night. He also activated the New Jersey National Guard to help carry out his order.
Local governments are going one step further. Portland’s city manager announced an emergency curfew on Monday, shutting down restaurants, bars, clubs, movie theaters, and any other establishments where people gather. Six counties in the San Francisco Bay area announced a “shelter in place” order for all residents—a population of some 6.7 million people—to remain in effect until April 7. It wasn’t exactly clear how the order would be enforced, but it did call on sheriffs and chiefs of police to “ensure compliance.”
Similar measures have gone into effect across the country in recent days. In New Orleans, police cleared crowds on Bourbon Street, ordering people back to their homes and hotels via loudspeaker. Lockdowns of various sorts were ordered in cities from Florida to Washington state, mostly affecting bars, restaurants, and other places crowds gather.
But here’s the thing: the president of the United States doesn’t have the power to order these things. For as much as we might think of the federal government as all-powerful, it really isn’t. The founders wisely chose a federal republic for our form of government, which means sovereignty is divided between states and the federal government.
The powers of the federal government are limited and enumerated, while all powers not granted to the feds are reserved for the states, including emergency police powers of the kind we’re seeing states and localities use now. Local governments, as creations of the states, can exercise state police powers as well.
Much of the media seems wholly unaware of this basic feature of our system of government. Exemplifying the ignorance was a widely panned tweet from an editor at The Daily Beast who seemed to think states can’t “govern themselves” without permission or direction from the president.
So the states are basically governing themselves because our president doesn’t know how to president at all?
After the Trump administration’s announcement on Monday of new, stricter guidelines to stop the spread of the virus, a media chorus arose that it wasn’t enough. “Ok. Someone finally talked some sense into the President two months into this. That’s good. But we need huge amounts of coordinated federal *action* *assistance* and *mobilization* along with the shift in rhetoric,” tweeted MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.
An attitude of shock and outrage pervaded The New York Times’ coverage—as well as misleading tweets from some NYT editors—of a conference call in which Trump told governors that they should try to get ventilators and respirators for themselves. Many of the tweets left out the full context of what Trump said: “We will be backing you, but try getting it yourselves. Point of sales, much better, much more direct if you can get it yourself.”
Asked about the Times report later in the day at the press conference, Trump explained that many governors might have a more direct line on this equipment and if so they should go ahead and acquire it themselves, no need to wait on Washington, D.C.
This is of course exactly the way federalism is supposed to work. Besides the media not getting it, many Democrats don’t seem to grasp federalism, either. A group of House Democrats on Monday urged Trump to invoke war powers to order the production of more facemasks and ventilators. New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio went on cable news and declared that the federal government needs to “take over the supply chain right now” for needed medical supplies.
As the coronavirus get worse, we’re going to see a lot more actions being taken by cities, counties, and states—many more than we’ll see from the feds, in fact. That’s as it should be. We should expect the government power that’s closest to affected communities to be the most active, while Washington, D.C., concern itself with larger problems, like developing a vaccine and controlling our borders and ports of entry.
To put it another way, President Xi Jinping of China can order every Chinese citizen to stay in his or her home under threat of arrest. He can shutter every business in China by fiat. He can “take over the supply chain” of any industry whenever he wants. President Trump can’t do any of that. You’d think Democrats and the media would be relieved about that—and they might be, if they knew the first thing about federalism.
As the nation edges toward full-blown panic over the spread of the coronavirus, there are people and institutions upon whom we depend for leadership and information who should be ashamed of themselves for feeding it. Their response, loaded as it has been with worst-case scenarios and predictions of dire consequences, only compounds the fear many Americans are now experiencing.
So far, the virus has killed more than 6,500 worldwide, according to Monday’s report from the World Health Organization, and there have been about 165,000 confirmed cases. There are likely many more that are unconfirmed, as people can be ill and not show any symptoms. A large study in China found that more than 80 percent of confirmed cases had fairly mild symptoms, and under 5 percent of cases were critical.
That’s insufficient reason for rational people to panic. “Caution” should be the word of the moment. Thought leaders, politicians and medical professionals should be doing their best to prepare people for what might happen rather than pronouncing our doom—and attacking the president, as we saw in Sunday night’s debate between Senator Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, neither of whom had anything positive to say about the steps taken by the administration thus far.
This encouraging of widespread fear only makes matters worse for public health and the economy.Ads by scrollerads.com
President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on Friday that could free up $50 billion to help fight the virus. On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo praised his response to the outbreak in the state, as Governor Gavin Newsom did with regard to California.
Nevertheless, most of the folks who have never quite adjusted to the fact that Trump is the president of the United States are quick on the trigger with their criticism no matter what he does. They continue to overstate the lack of response by the U.S. government and blame the president for it.
That’s fair, at least to some degree. As Republican communications expert Rich Galen, my old mentor and former boss, used to remind me back when I was doing politics for a living rather than writing about it, the president gets to take a lot of credit he doesn’t deserve when good things happen, and he has to take a lot of the blame for things well beyond his control.
But remember: Trump didn’t cause the coronavirus and didn’t cause it to spread.
While the president is trying to act like the adult in the room, his opponents are going after him like vultures feeding on roadside carrion. It’s unseemly, and, more than that, the attacks on him undermine the public’s confidence in the national systems we’re depending on to keep us safe and help us manage our lives at a time when many of us can’t go to work, can’t go to our places of worship and can’t send our kids to school.
Recall, for example, Senator Chuck Schumer’s press conference last month in which he called the administration’s response to coronavirus totally inadequate. He also has been demanding expanded free coronavirus testing for anyone who wants it when he knows full well not enough test kits are available.
Likewise, new legislation negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who took the president’s request for $2.5 billion in emergency funding and blew it up into an $8.3 billion aid package, passed the House on Saturday. Democrats initially failed to ensure that abortion services weren’t eligible to receive funds, and they reportedly attempted to establish a permanent paid sick leave entitlement for all families, a longtime Democratic Party desire. What former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel once said about not letting a crisis go to waste is fully on display, and it’s shameful.
To be sure, caution is in order—along with hand washing, avoiding crowds, staying home if you’re sick, covering coughs with your arm and other sensible measures. As for panic, why don’t we ask a person who has had the coronavirus? A 37-year-old woman in Seattle was reportedly “surprised” to learn she’d had the virus, after thinking it was the flu and treating it with over-the-counter medications, rest and plenty of water. Her message: “Don’t panic.”
Or consider what Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His fellow Democrats and a more than few Republicans would do well to remember those words at this time, given that all they seem to have to offer now is fear.
Attorney General William Barr noted America’s slide toward despotism during remarks at the National Religious Convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Wednesday. He highlighted changes in three institutional “bulwarks” that have long preserved liberty: “religion, the decentralization of government power, and the free press.”
Most notable was Barr’s calling out of the “remarkably monolithic” press as a vehicle for pushing Americans toward a secular progressive program and a “soft despotism,” wherein everyone is converted “into 25-year-olds living in the government’s basement, focusing our energies on obtaining a larger allowance rather than getting a job and moving out.” Barr described this progressive dream as a use of the “public purse to … build a permanent constituency of supporters who are also dependents.”
Barr noted the press, having become less like objective journalists and more like political activists, maintains massive influence in directing public opinion to “mobilize a majority” toward progressive goals.
When the media becomes a viewpoint monolith, “Not only does it become easier for the press to mobilize a majority, but the mobilized majority becomes more powerful and overweening with the press as its ally,” Barr said. “This is not a positive cycle, and I think it is fair to say that it puts the press’ role as a breakwater for the tyranny of the majority in jeopardy.”
The relationship among journalists, politicians, and the American people has shifted since 2016 and the run-up to Donald Trump’s presidential election. The president has repeatedly referred to the press as the “enemy of the people” producing “fake news,” for which he has received much criticism. A September 2019 Gallup poll revealed only 41 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of faith in the mass media. Public mistrust in the press cannot be attributed wholly to Trump, however. The media’s track record speaks for itself: blatant lies over the Russia collusion hoax, Trump’s impeachment, the Jussie Smollett hoax, the Covington Catholic high school students story, and grossly mischaracterized pro-life legislation, among countless other errors. The media has even mocked Trump supporters as “credulous boomer rube[s].”
The press wielding its power in such a way is consistent with the attorney general’s assessment of progressives, however. According to Barr, progressives prop up politics as religion, taking a no-holds-barred approach — including weaponization of the press — to achieve their desired goals, which are “earthly and urgent.”
Totalitarian democracy, says Barr, “requires an all-knowing elite to guide the masses toward their determined end, and that elite relies on whipping up mass enthusiasm to preserve its power and achieve its goals. … [It] is almost always secular and materialistic, and its adherents tend to treat politics as a substitute for religion. Their sacred mission is to use the coercive power of the state to remake man and society according to an abstract ideal of perfection. The virtue of any individual is defined by whether they are aligned with the program. Whatever means used are justified because, by definition, they will quicken the pace of mankind’s progress toward perfection.”
Barr’s Wednesday remarks are reminiscent of his November 2019 speechto the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, where he said, “[S]o-called progressives treat politics as their religion. … [T]here is no getting around the fact that this puts conservatives at a disadvantage when facing progressive holy war, especially when doing so under the weight of a hyper-partisan media.”
As comedian Ricky Gervais said so pointedly at the most recent Golden Globes, Hollywood is full of people with no experience in the real world who think they should tell the rest of us how to live. Movies, once our best form of entertainment, are more and more becoming reality plays intended to shape our attitudes.
A perfect example of this is Dark Waters, a film now down to about 100 screen across America in spite of an A-list cast that includes Mark Ruffalo (who also served as producer), Oscar-winner Anne Hathaway, Bill Pullman, and Tim Robbins, a liberal’s liberal probably best known as Susan Sarandon’s former longtime lover. The film’s global gross is just over $11 million according to IMDb.com which is probably less than it cost to make and market. But there are potentially billions on the line, so the folks behind it probably would think it cheap at twice the price.
The storyline – corporate lawyer becomes do-gooder battling an evil corporation secretly poisoning groundwater in the Ohio River valley – is supposedly “based on a true story.” To translate, that means everything in the movie looks like it’s true to life even if the actual facts won’t sustain the storyline.
In this case, that’s important. The chemicals talked about in the film have not been shown to be cancer-causing or toxic to humans but, because they’re widely used (in everything from the manufacture of frying pans to fire-fighting equipment) by a company with extremely deep pockets, there’s a concerted effort underway to suggest they are in order to get into court with major damage claims generating big settlements.
As we’ve seen time and again, the lion’s share of those payouts – if they happen – will go to the lawyers and politically active groups that helped push the narrative. They won’t go to the poor people whom they claim were adversely impacted by the damaged environment. For the trial lawyers and others involved, it’s their return on investment, which will do a lot to make up for the film being overlooked by the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
No one involved in Dark Waters (or any other of these new messages movies) intended for the film to flop. It got largely positive reviews from the critics – who tend to be politically liberal, just like most of the rest of the entertainment industry – and was a boon to the folks pushing for the U.S. House of Representatives to move on legislation requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to come up with an aggressive plan for dealing with the family of chemicals labeled in the film as being so destructive despite plenty of solid science saying they’re not.
There was a time when a 126-minute, slickly produced cinematic achievement like Dark Waters would have been labeled propaganda. Now it’s just socially-conscious filmmaking, funded generously in this instance by the taxpayers. The State of Ohio provided an estimated $2.5 million in tax credits to help the film get made despite how bad it makes people living along the Ohio River look.
As study after study has shown, these special interest tax breaks rarely generate enough revenue for the state to justify them. Ohio and every other state that wants to attract filmmaking as an industry would be better off eliminating them and lowering the state income tax or some other tax rate if they’re looking to boost economic growth.
Against the advice of legendary producer Sam Goldwyn – the “G” in MGM – more and more of the film colony regard their products as an opportunity to influence the attitudes of the American public. To them, movies aren’t supposed to entertain; they’re supposed to right wrongs and address injustice. Which means the folks behind Dark Waters probably didn’t ever worry about hitting the break-even point between what they spent and what the film grossed. Its network of well-heeled, politically savvy backers likely overlooked the potential loss in order to popularize the issue and potentially taint any future jury pool in states where future lawsuits may be filed.
IndieWire may have called Dark Waters, “A didactic, sometimes listless thriller,” and the East Bay Express may have shown better judgment than some of the New York critics when it said it, “Makes for a dreary, warmed-over-Erin-Brockovich drama,” but as a tool for helping the trial bar open up new avenues to great riches, it’s a four-star effort that’s sure to launch many sequels if it works.
Internal communications prove Google is lying about its censorship decisions while paying for leftist propaganda and relying on the leftwing SPLC for its decisions.
Google insists they have processes in place to prevent political bias from influencing their policies. Individual Google employees can’t just demonetize videos, Google tells the public.
Reality paints a different picture: Google tailors its demonetization decisions to keep liberal reporters and activists happy. In fact, in court documents filed on December 29, 2017, Google’s lawyers emphasized that “Decisions about which videos fall into that [demonetization] category are often complicated and may involve difficult, subjective judgment calls.” Indeed.
Internal documents I obtained show the extent to which Google’s public relations team quarterbacks the content-policing process. One email exchange shows a Google spokeswoman making snap decisions—in direct response to media inquiries—about which YouTube videos to demonetize and which channels to scrutinize.
The catalyst was an email from a reporter from The Guardian, a left-leaning British publication, asking about specific videos. The reporter’s inquiry was based in part on complaints from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a left-wing smear factory.
Among the videos the SPLC found problematic was one satirizing sex differences. The Google public relations representative forwarded the email to the censorship team and ordered it to review the videos, “making sure they are not monetized.” In other words, censorship decisions are viewed as public relations decisions, not as content decisions.
That’s not how the process is supposed to work—and it is certainly not how Google says the process works. Public relations representatives are supposed to explain the censorship process, not dictate it to please liberal reporters. The exchange also highlights how left-wing interest groups with an egregious track record of dishonesty (like the SPLC) partner with liberal reporters to pressure big tech to censor right-of-center voices.
The fact that Google maintains a pretense of neutrality while cracking down on right-of-center content is particularly dishonest, considering that Google funds, produces, and promotes left-wing propaganda through its “Creators for Change Program.” Google has spent millions of dollars on the program, which gives left-wing YouTubers a boost from the world’s most powerful company.
That includes left-wing writer Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. Google described her as “a rising voice in social, religious, and political issues” and noted that “Amani was invited by Michelle Obama to speak at the inaugural U.S. State of Women Summit.”
What YouTube didn’t mention is that Amani’s past work includes a video claiming the September 11, 2001, Islamist terrorist attacks were “an inside job.” While YouTube was cracking down on right-wing accounts in the name of fighting conspiracy theories, the company was funding a 9/11 “truther.”
Subhi Taha, a YouTube-sponsored “Creator for Change role model,” has similarly promoted anti-Israel boycotts. YouTube and Taha collaborated on a video about Palestinian refugees—who turned out to be family friends of Taha—that promoted an outrageously one-sided narrative about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The video stated as fact that Israel has committed genocide against Palestinians, while leaving out any mention of the actions of Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas. In fact, to call the video one-sided would be generous. It was genuine anti-Israel propaganda funded, produced, and promoted by YouTube.
In addition to smearing Israel, YouTube spends money promoting open-borders propaganda. The tech giant partnered with Creators for Change “role model” Yasmany Del Real on a video opposing enforcement of U.S. border laws. “I had the opportunity to visit some migrant centers and heard many different stories but with only one goal: to achieve the American dream,” Del Real says in the video.
“Cesar is just one of many who shares the same goal,” he continues, before introducing Cesar: a Guatemalan illegal immigrant with a previous deportation on his record. “I would love for people to have a better sense of compassion towards us immigrants. We truly only want to work and to work hard. Many of us have multiple jobs. We work during the day and evenings,” Cesar says, in Spanish.
“Many of us only want temporary work, without aspiring to stay permanently in the U.S.A.,” Cesar adds, undermining the narrator’s assertion that every border crosser is only interested in pursuing the American dream and contributing to society.
“Cesar is from Guatemala, and this is his second time trying to immigrate to the United States. This time it took him one month to reach the border. Despite the fear and anguish of knowing he could be deported a second time, Cesar remains optimistic,” Del Real explains, as the video cuts to Cesar.
“The United States is a beautiful country, it is a great place to find employment,” Cesar says. In the background, a gospel-style singer croons an open-borders anthem: “Forgive me for trespassing on your lands/That’s not an intention of mine/Family and friends we have left behind/Poverty and destitution are my only crime.”
Maybe you agree with those messages; maybe you don’t. That’s not the point. These are the kind of videos you might expect from a left-wing advocacy group or media outlet. They are not the kind of videos that a politically neutral company produces.
If Google is going to sponsor and produce left-wing content, then they should publicly acknowledge that they’re an ideologically left-wing company that is promoting left-wing narratives. Indeed, that’s what Google is: an ideologically left-leaning company staffed by people who resent the right’s success on its massive video platform and are actively working to counter it.
At the end of the day, Google agrees with leftist activists that their side deserves a built-in advantage on its platform. But that doesn’t stop them from lying about it.
While CNN is now out of the case, Nicholas Sandmann’s lawsuit against the Washington Post and NBC continues, and soon there will be some new defendants, according to his lawyers.
One year after Nicholas Sandmann’s image went viral in one of the biggest mainstream media missteps of the decade, news broke on Tuesday that CNN had agreed to settle the teen’s defamation case.
Sandmann sued CNN, the Washington Post, and NBC last year in a Kentucky federal court, alleging the media powerhouses had defamed him by claiming he had blocked Native American activist Nathan Phillips from ascending the steps of the Washington monument, while he and his Covington Catholic High School classmates surrounded him and chanted “Build the Wall.”
A video snippet of the encounter between Phillips and Sandmann—then a 16-year-old high school junior participating in the annual March for Life protest at the capital—showed the young man in a MAGA hat standing toe-to-toe with Phillips. Without pausing to learn the truth, the media ran that image along with Phillips’ tale that as he started walking toward the moment, “groups of people started separating and separating and moving aside to allow me to move out of the way, or to proceed, this young feller put himself in front of me and wouldn’t move.”
However, a full-length video of the encounter later emerged, proving that Phillips had spun the tale: Contrary to Phillips’ telling, Sandmann had not “put himself in front of” the man and hadn’t blocked his way. Rather, Phillips had marched into the group of kids, who had been waiting for their school bus as directed.
But by the time Phillips’ story had been debunked, Sandmann had been doxed, with his name and image plastered across America as a symbol of bigotry. CNN alone, according to Sandmann’s complaint, made “no less than four false and defamatory television broadcasts, nine false and defamatory internet articles, and four false and defamatory tweets of and concerning Nicholas.”
Among other defamatory statements, Sandmann’s lawsuit pointed to CNN’s January 19, 2019, broadcast opener, “We are hearing from a Native American elder and Vietnam War veteran speaking to CNN after a disturbing viral video shows a group of teens harassing and mocking him in the nation’s capital.”
Sandmann highlighted another broadcast, later published online with the subtitle, “‘SHAMEFUL ACT—VIRAL VIDEO CAPTURES TEENS MOCKING NATIVE AMERICAN VETERAN,” that began, “You’ve probably seen it by now, the viral video sweeping the Internet of a mob of MAGA hat wearing high school students surrounding a Native American chanting and drumming in the nation’s capital at the Indigenous Peoples March.” CNN’s broadcast then added that Phillips and “others were harassed and taunted by students from Covington Catholic High School, a private all boys school in Kentucky.”
With these samplings of CNN’s reporting on the incident, it is no wonder that CNN quickly cut its losses and settled with Sandmann. The details of the settlement are unknown, and when asked about the payout for the teen, Sandmann’s Kentucky-based lawyer, Todd McMurtry had no comment. However, McMurtry told The Federalist, that “the outpouring of support in Northern Kentucky for the settlement with CNN has been overwhelming.”
The support spans more than Sandmann’s home state, with news of the settlement quickly filtering through social media. Conservatives celebrated CNN’s comeuppance, seeing the settlement as not just vindication of the young teen, but as a payback of sorts to the fake news they’ve seen peddled of late by the airport lounge-lizard.
While CNN is now out of the case, Sandmann’s lawsuit against the Washington Post and NBC continues, and soon there will be some new defendants, according to McMurtry. McMurtry told The Federalist his team will soon name Gannett, the owner of the Cincinnati Enquirer, as an additional defendant.
Sandmann’s lawyers are also considering claims against ABC, CBS, The Guardian, Huffington Post, NPR, and Slate, as well as several smaller media outlets. McMurtry noted that during Tuesday’s scheduling conference, Sandmann’s legal team assured the judge that additional defendants would be added in the next 30 – 40 days.
Which defendants Sandmann eventually pulls in will depend on several factors. First, the lawyers will focus on the defamatory statements presiding Judge William Bertelsman held were legally actionable. Those included statements that Sandmann had “blocked” Phillips and “wouldn’t allow Phillips to retreat,” and the assertion that Sandmann or the other students shouted “build that wall” at Phillips or the nearby Black Hebrew Israelites.
After determining which media outlets made or repeated those false statements, the question of personal jurisdiction arises. To sue in a federal court in Kentucky, the court must have “personal jurisdiction” or “power” over the defendants. Generally, speaking that requires the defendants to have “minimum contacts” with the state. For the larger media outlets, that standard is easily met, but questions abound when you consider online-media platforms or smaller outlets. Finally, Sandmann’s lawyers will likely do a cost-benefit-analysis to determine whether it is worth pulling in additional defendants.
On this last point, a unique area of Kentucky law creates some uncertainties. Kentucky is one of few “pure comparative fault” states. In a pure comparative fault state, the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced by his own fault, if any—not relevant to the Sandmann case—and damages are allocated to each defendant based on their relative fault. So, theoretically, if Sandmann’s damages totaled $300 million, each defendant would be liable proportionately to his fault. Some of the smaller media outlets’ responsibility might tally a mere 1 percent of the total culpability, making them not worth the effort to sue.
That is assuming Kentucky’s pure comparative fault statute, KRS 411.182, applies to defamation. It might not: Every false statement of fact impugning the young Sandmann might be considered its own separate wrong—like several separate car accidents, as opposed to a mass collusion.
Judge Bertelsman has not yet definitely decided how Kentucky’s pure comparative negligence law applies in Sandmann’s situation, but his attorneys appear to be playing it safe by looking to add any big players who peddled the same balderdash as CNN, the Washington Post, and NBC. Once all the parties are added, it will be time for the real fun—discovery—because that’s when we may see a glimpse of what the left-leaning media really thinks about conservatives.
Knowledge can be found at all ages, and in all places. And ethics has nothing to do with degrees or pedigrees.
The Washington Post recently published a surprising indictment of MSNBC host, Stanford graduate, and Rhodes scholar Rachel Maddow.
Post media critic Erik Wemple wrote that Maddow deliberately misled her audience by claiming the now-discredited Steele dossier was largely verifiable — even at a time when there was plenty of evidence that it was mostly bogus.
At the very time Maddow was reassuring viewers that Christopher Steele was believable, populist talk radio and the much-criticized Fox News Channel were insisting that most of Steele’s allegations simply could not be true. Maddow was wrong. Her less-degreed critics proved to be right.
In 2018, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), and the committee’s then-ranking minority member, Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), each issued contrasting reports of the committee’s investigation into allegations of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s campaign team and the misbehavior of federal agencies.
Schiff’s memo was widely praised by the media. Nunes’s report was condemned as rank and partisan.
Many in the media went further. They contrasted Harvard Law graduate Schiff with rural central Californian Nunes to help explain why the clever Schiff got to the bottom of collusion and the “former dairy farmer” Nunes was “way over his head” and had “no idea what’s going on.”
Recently, the nonpartisan inspector general of the Department of Justice, Michael Horowitz, found widespread wrongdoing at the DOJ and FBI. He confirmed the key findings in the Nunes memo about the Steele dossier and its pernicious role in the FISA application seeking a warrant against former Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page.
In contrast, much of what the once-praised Schiff had claimed to be true was proven wrong by Horowitz — from Schiff’s insistence that the FBI verified the Steele dossier to his assertion that the Department of Justice did not rely chiefly on the dossier for its warrant application.
When special counsel Robert Mueller formed an investigatory team, he stocked it with young, progressive Washington insiders, many with blue-chip degrees and résumés.
The media swooned. Washington journalists became giddy over the prospect of a “dream team” of such “all-stars” who would demolish the supposedly far less impressively credentialed Trump legal team.
We were assured by a snobbish Vox: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal team is full of pros. Trump’s team makes typos.”
Yet after 22 months and $32 million worth of investigation, Mueller’s team found no Russian collusion and no evidence of actionable Trump obstruction during the investigation of that non-crime. All the constant media reports that “bombshell” Mueller team disclosures were imminent and that the “walls are closing in” on Trump proved false.
Mueller himself testified before Congress, only to appear befuddled and almost clueless at times about his own investigation. Many of his supposedly brightest all-stars, such as Lisa Page, Peter Strzok, and Kevin Clinesmith, had to leave his dream team due to unethical behavior.
In contrast, Trump’s widely derided chief lawyers — 69-year-old Ty Cobb, 78-year-old John Dowd, and 63-year-old radio and TV host Jay Sekulow — stayed out of the headlines. They advised Trump to cooperate with the Mueller team and systematically offered evidence and analyses to prove that Trump did not collude with the Russian to warp the 2016 election. In the end, Mueller’s “hunter-killer team” was forced to agree.
When the supposed clueless Trump was elected, a number of elites pronounced his economic plans to be absurd. We were told that Trump was bound to destroy the U.S. economy.
Former Princeton professor and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman insisted that Trump would crash the stock market. He even suggested that stocks might never recover.
Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said Trump would bring on a recession within a year and a half.
The former head of the National Economic Council, Steven Rattner, predicted a market crash of “historic proportions.”
In contrast, many of Trump’s economic advisers during his campaign and administration, including outsider Peter Navarro, pundit Steven Moore, former TV host Larry Kudlowm and octogenarian Wilbur Ross, were caricatured.
Yet three years later, in terms of the stock market, unemployment, energy production and workers’ wages, the economy has been doing superbly.
The point of these sharp contrasts is not that an Ivy League degree or a Washington reputation is of little value, or that prestigious prizes and honors account for nothing, or even that supposed experts are always unethical and silly.
Instead, one lesson is that conventional wisdom and groupthink tend to mislead, especially in the age of online echo chambers and often sheltered and blinkered elite lives.
We forget that knowledge can be found at all ages, and in all places. And ethics has nothing to do with degrees or pedigrees.
By Red State•
I have to admit that my biggest surprises of this election cycle have been the speed with which former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown’s favorite underling, Kamala Harris, crashed and burned and the difficulty that Elizabeth Warren has zipping to the head of the field. If you check my writing earlier in this year, I fully expected the 2020 contest to be a Trump-Warren cage match.
That has not materialized. Harris is out. Warren is engaged in a race for second place with superannuated commie Bernie Sanders. And, as in most competitive endeavors, the technical term for someone finishing in second place is “loser.”
Why might that be? The New York Times has an answer, the major media are just too biased towards centrist candidates.
Last month, [Politico founding editor and current columnist John F.] Harris wrote a column that I can’t get out of my head. In it, he argued that political journalism suffers from “centrist bias.” As he explained, “This bias is marked by an instinctual suspicion of anything suggesting ideological zealotry, an admiration for difference-splitting, a conviction that politics should be a tidier and more rational process than it usually is.”
The bias caused much of the media to underestimate Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Donald Trump in 2016. It also helps explain the negative tone running through a lot of the coverage of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders this year.
Centrist bias, as I see it, confuses the idea of centrism (which is very much an ideology) with objectivity and fairness. It’s an understandable confusion, because American politics is dominated by the two major parties, one on the left and one on the right. And the overwhelming majority of journalists at so-called mainstream outlets — national magazines, newspapers, public radio, the non-Fox television networks — really are doing their best to treat both parties fairly.
Once you start thinking about centrist bias, you recognize a lot of it. It helps explain why the 2016 presidential debates focused more on the budget deficit, a topic of centrist zealotry, than climate change, almost certainly a bigger threat. (Well-funded deficit advocacy plays a role too.) Centrist bias also helps explain the credulousness of early coverage during the Iraq and Vietnam wars. Both Democrats and Republicans, after all, largely supported each war.
The theory goes this way. Because the media are unwilling to give a fair hearing to outside-the-box ideas, those ideas never take off. And the columnist points to many things that were not considered moderate and now are.
The abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, labor rights, the New Deal, civil rights for black Americans, Reagan’s laissez-faire revolution and same-sex marriage all started outside the boundaries of what either party favored.
I think that is a fairly shallow understanding of any of those issues. For instance, when you read the Republican platform for the 1860 election, it is pretty obvious that at least one party was running for office on the idea of abolition of slavery. If this columnist is in doubt, the slave state governors were not.
All in all, I think this theory is one of those self-pleasuring exercises to which our media is prone. If you look at the coverage given any campaign by the media, you will actually find next to no coverage of any significant issue. If you’re getting your economic commentary from any outlet that employs Paul Krugman, you’re really doing it all wrong. Quite honestly, the media are not at all reticent about pushing outlandish ideas when their reporters are sympathetic to the cause. If you’re trying to tell me the media did not push homosexual marriage and are not agitating for a pride of place for transgenderism now, you’re nuts.
Neither Warren nor Sanders failing to excite the masses is a mystery. Everyone knows Warren is a fraud and a liar. Even if you think President Trump is also a fraud and a liar you are forced to admit that Trump is, at least, an entertaining one who doesn’t care how you spend your money or how many sheets of toilet paper you use per bowel movement. Sanders is a communist. He’s a guy who honeymooned in the USSR while it was aiming nuclear missiles at the United States. No number of position papers and supporting experts is going to get that past a majority of Americans.
As to some of the other specifics. Americans aren’t, at least for another few decades, going to support a “wealth tax” because most Americans hate the IRS much more than they hate rich people. And a lot of us have a sneaking desire to be wealthy one day. Americans aren’t going to support Medicare for All because we saw how the government’s ability to make a soup sandwich out of a functioning program by the Obamacare debacle. Seniors don’t want the system changed. People who have other means don’t want to be a part of it.
The reason why nutty ideas don’t make it to the top tier is because Americans are a fairly conservative people unless faced by extraordinary circumstances. The media don’t push the nutbaggery their staff would support because in order to be credible you have to at least pretend to have a grip on reality. Media coverage of issues actually follows policy debate, it doesn’t lead them.
The claim that the media try to treat both parties fairly is so bizarre as to rate a 911 call and have the nice guys with the butterfly nets and Thorazine cappuccino show up to save the writer from himself.
Nope. It isn’t centrist bias holding back Warren and Sanders. It is their own flaws and the silliness of the policies they are pushing, both of which are readily discernible to even a casual observer, that is causing them to flounder. If there were a centrist bias, then Joe Biden, at least in this Democrat field, would be well over 50%. But he isn’t because there isn’t such a bias and even if there were, the media doesn’t have that kind of impact on the electorate. Or maybe Joe Biden isn’t a centrist. He’s the guy campaigning on free sex-change operations in prison.
This is just another example of a moribund industry trying to puff up its own importance. It is superficial and silly and a perfect metaphor for our political punditry.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s threat to withhold impeachment articles from the Senate upended the procedures spelled out in the Constitution and threw Capitol Hill into deeper partisan turmoil Thursday.
Republicans balked that the speaker was “afraid” of a Senate trial that is all but assured to acquit President Trump and potentially discredit the House’s party-line impeachment vote.
The day after Mrs. Pelosi’s Democrats impeached Mr. Trump on two counts — the first impeachment in U.S. history to have no bipartisan support — she cut off reporters’ impeachment questions at her weekly press conference.
“No one is above the law and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. No one is above the law and this president has been held accountable,” the California Democrat said.
She then explained that she did not know when the House would take the next steps in the process of sending the two impeachment articles to the Senate, where the Constitution dictates the impeached president will stand trial and face removal from office.
The Constitution requires that the Senate “shall have the sole power to try all impeachments.”
And yet Mrs. Pelosi said the House would not name the impeachment managers who argue the case in the Senate or send the articles over until she was satisfied that the Republican-run upper chamber would conduct what she called “a fair trial.”
Asked about Republican complaints that she was “playing games” with impeachment, Mrs. Pelosibecome adamant.
“I was not prepared to put the managers in that bill yet because we don’t know the arena that we are in. Frankly, I don’t care what the Republicans say,” she told the gathering of reporters before refusing any further impeachment questions.
Other House Democrats, including members of the leadership team, said they were prepared to delay indefinitely the articles of impeachment until Mr. McConnell provided the assurances they want on the trial.
“We would be crazy to walk in there knowing he set up a kangaroo court,” House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told CNN.
Claire Finkelstein, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggested the House could continue to gather evidence while withholding the articles.
House Democrats could use the time to keep pursuing court action to force testimony from White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, former National Security Advisor John Bolton and former White House Counsel Don McGahn, she said.
However, the Justice Department immediately filed a court brief arguing that Democrats’ legal battle to compel testimony from Mr. McGahn should be tossed out now that Mr. Trump has been impeached.
“The committee’s primary asserted need for subpoenaing McGahn — his potential testimony related to an obstruction-of-justice impeachment charge — appears to be moot,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.
“They said impeachment was so urgent that it could not even wait for due process but now they’re content to sit on their hands. It is comical,” he said on the chamber floor.
Mr. Trump weighed in by saying Mrs. Pelosi’s gamesmanship was bad for the country.
“Pelosi feels her phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate, which can set a date and put this whole SCAM into default if they refuse to show up! The Do Nothings are so bad for our Country!” the president tweeted.
The House impeached Mr. Trump on two counts, abuse of power and obstructing Congress.
The impeachment stemmed from Mr. Trump asking Ukraine for “a favor” in investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son Hunter, who is linked to Ukraine energy company in that graft-riddled country.
Mr. Trump is accused of withholding $391 million in military aid from Ukraine and a prized White House visit for the Ukrainian president as leverage to get the investigation announced.
It was unclear how, or even whether, a delay would pressure the Senate to adopt Democrat-friendly procedures for a trial. The move also appeared to run afoul of the Constitution, effectively nullifying the House impeachment vote.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, welcomed Mrs. Pelosi’s delay tactic.
“Her threat to the Senate is: Do exactly what I want or I’m not going to impeach the president, I’m not going to send over the impeachment articles,” he told Fox News. “My attitude is, ‘OK, throw us in that brier patch. Don’t send them. That’s all right. We actually have work to do.’”
Mr. McConnell said the Democrat-run House produced a “shoddy” impeachment work product, rushed through a 12-week impeachment inquiry and refused to go to court to enforce subpoenas for White House documents and testimony by administration officials.
He noted that the impeachment investigations into President Richard Nixon and President Bill Clinton both lasted more than a year.
“Democrats’ own actions concede that their allegations are unproven,” he said.
Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, met Thursday to begin negotiating the rules and procedures for the hearing. They were not expected to nail down the details beyond setting a possible start date, but the two men did not get that far and remain at an impasse.
Mr. Schumer has demanded live testimony from witnesses during the trial, saying more evidence should be presented. Republicans refused, saying the standard set in the impeachment trial against Mr. Clinton should be applied to Mr. Trump.
In 1998, the two sides agreed to hear from the House impeachment managers and then from the president’s legal team before deciding whether to call witnesses. Mr. McConnell said the process worked for the Democrats back then, and it should work for Mr. Trump, too.
Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law, said there is no requirement as to when the House must transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
“There is no obligation to actually transmit the articles. She would do this to indefinitely wound Trump, and avoid a trial the [Democrats] will lose,” Mr. Blackman said.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe made its way to CNN last week. In a meme tweeted out by the Trump campaign, the character Thanos with the face of Donald Trump snaps his fingers and makes Democratic House leadership wisp away in black ashes. The apples and bananas (more bananas) network was aghast, devoting segment after segment to Thanos.
Meanwhile, a report was released that showed the federal government has been lying for decades about the Afghanistan War, but that didn’t get much coverage at all.
The fireworks began with Don Lemon left speechless by the meme on December 10th. Lemon seems genuinely devastated that a president made a joke about a comic book character.
Between December 11th and the 15th, CNN ran an additional four segments on Thanos totaling more than 8 minutes, sharing the segments widely on social media.
A couple of days later on her afternoon show, Brooke Baldwin had on Jim Starlin, the man who created the character of Thanos, to talk about how upset he was that the president had used his creation in the meme. At one point Baldwin, looking as serious as cancer, says to him, “Explain who Thanos is…” Starlin says he is a genocidal maniac, although as Federalist publisher Ben Domenech has pointed out, he could also be a considered a well-intentioned environmentalist who understands the grave dangers of overpopulation.
On the following day, CNN was still discussing this comic book joke, still horrified by it and now reporting about the “backlash” against it, which seems to exist almost entirely in cable newsrooms because no actual people care about it.
On December 9th, the Washington Post published the bombshell Afghanistan Papers showing that the Pentagon under both George W. Bush and Barack Obama consistently and persistently lied about progress in the Afghanistan War. The war has been waged now for 18 years. In the same five-day period CNN was obsessing over a Thanos meme, the outlet made only one oblique mention of the Afghan Papers.
For any legitimate news outlet this would be absolutely insane, but this is CNN we are talking about, so it makes perfect sense. First, the Afghan Papers don’t involve Trump, meaning they aren’t an opening to trash Trump, so why would CNN care about it? Perhaps more importantly, the papers do implicate the administration of CNN’s patron saint Barack Obama, who as we all know didn’t have a single scandal in his time in office and is the only man ever to be exactly six feet tall.
At a CNN event I covered about two months ago, its President Jeff Zucker was interviewed by its media critic Brian Stelter. Here’s what I wrote at the time: “Asked what he thought was the biggest thing CNN does wrong, Zucker had no answer. When Stelter provided one, namely that they use the term ‘Breaking News,’ too often, he begrudgingly agreed, but basically sloughed it off as something everyone does. That is how blameless he envisions the product he creates. The panel finished with Zucker explaining how important it is to the world that CNN be strong.”
I’d like to nominate obsessing over a meme while ignoring a major scandal involving the longest war in American history as something more wrong than using “Breaking News” too much. Once again, CNN has proven to be a quality source for all the news that fits the narrative and none of the news that doesn’t.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, on the findings of his FISA report. After providing months of wall to wall impeachment coverage, CNN and MSNBC decided not to air the full hearings with Horowitz.
CNN and MSNBC stopped following the IG hearing after about 30 minutes, and both refused to cover the opening statements by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. The decision does not align with the recent live hearing coverage standard both networks have held for the last few months, giving endless air time to the impeachment hearings lead by Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif, and Rep. Jerry Nadler.
Media personalities are noticing this unfair balance.
CNN is not taking the Senate Horowitz hearing live. Unbelievable. A perfect example of how bias works. It’s not just what they cover. It’s what they don’t cover.33K10:28 AM – Dec 11, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy13.9K people are talking about this
CNN and MSNBC refusing to run Senator Lindsey Graham’s opening statement in the Horowitz hearing. The most blatant form of media bias that I have ever seen. RIP, American journalism.37.4K10:39 AM – Dec 11, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy15.8K people are talking about this
After giving their air time COMPLETELY over to Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff for the past few weeks, CNN IS NOT AIRING the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Horowitz’s IG report. #StopTheMadness
It’s impossible for CNN to claim they’re *not* a propaganda network after refusing to air the IG report when they aired every second of Nadler, Schiff, and Pelosi pushing for impeachment.
They don’t want their audience to be informed on what’s actually happening.3,77410:43 AM – Dec 11, 2019 · Arlington, VATwitter Ads info and privacy1,801 people are talking about this
Ronna McDaniel, the GOP Chairwoman was also upset over CNN’s omission.
“CNN aired everything Schiff and Nadler had to say. Why aren’t they showing Lindsey Graham? Is it because the facts of how the FBI mistreated Donald Trump contradict their coverage over the last 3 years?” McDaniel tweeted.
CNN aired everything Schiff & Nadler had to say. Why aren’t they showing @LindseyGrahamSC? Is it because the facts of how the FBI mistreated @realDonaldTrump contradict their coverage over the last 3 years? https://twitter.com/SteveGuest/status/1204780316101152768?s=20 …Steve Guest✔@SteveGuestAfter giving their air time COMPLETELY over to Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff for the past few weeks, CNN IS NOT AIRING the start of the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on Horowitz’s IG report. #StopTheMadness11.2K10:38 AM – Dec 11, 2019Twitter Ads info and privacy7,792 people are talking about this
If the IG report proved that the FBI acted perfectly within its boundaries, as the mainstream media claim, then what’s the harm in airing this footage? The truth is, the IG report revealed abuse of power at the highest levels of the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community.
The truth does not fit the CNN and MSNBC agenda, and that is why they refuse to give a platform to it.
The progressive left demands cultural changes, putting conservatives on the defense. It's never conservatives throwing the first punch.
A recent Voxsplainer aimed at breaking down the “War Against Thanksgiving” to bespectacled urbanites referred, mostly in passing, to the “culture war-stoking conservative media.” This is adorable, and for two particular reasons.
First, because its matter-of-fact presentation demonstrates how deeply this notion is embedded as conventional wisdom on the center-left. Second, because it’s so obviously stupid.
Of course, it’s the Fox-guzzling conservative rubes stoking the culture war, those reactionary pitchfork wielders who burn Howard Zinn books and listen to Blake Shelton sing about trucks. Or perhaps it’s the fault of cynical Beltway operators who exploit the anxieties of Flyover simpletons for profit and power.
The “culture-war stoking conservative media” is a liberal trope because it neatly comports to basic elite stereotypes about conservatism as a misguided ideology of blind rage and ignorance. The culture war itself is seen as a lowbrow battleground for reactionaries and the Brooks-Brothers elites who mine their concerns for clicks.
This brings me to the second reason Vox’s descriptor is amusing. The progressive movement is waging this war on culture by its own admission. By the essence of their mission and the definition of their moniker, progressives are on offense. There would be no cultural battles were it not for changes demanded by the left. Those of us so-called “culture war-stoking” conservatives in media are on defense. Almost always.
We focus heavily on culture because it’s what our audience finds useful. It’s what our audience finds useful because they, too, are on defense—and that’s because the left is focused even more heavily on culture. This kind of coverage is entirely a response to the left’s broad and deliberate cultural offensive, which honest progressives should fully own. The left raises proposals (or demands, more often) for cultural change. In response, we stand athwart history yelling “Stop!” (Or we’re supposed to, at least.)
Of course, media conservatives are blamed for stoking the flames of a culture war because center-left elites wouldn’t dare admit their own hands have been dirtied by something so asinine and lowbrow. Yet, curiously, they own all of these politicized initiatives to alter the culture. But you can’t have it both ways.
For instance, are the conservatives who cover transgender bathrooms stoking the culture war by virtue of their coverage, or is it the folks who introduced the idea and are seeking aggressively to normalize it? Again, to an honest progressive, the answer should be easy: the culture is oppressive and they are waging a righteous war against it.
Consider awards season, which regularly produces a stream of contrived liberal broadsides. I love Meryl Streep, but it was her choice to pit popular sports against “the arts,” echoing the snobbishness that drove voters to Donald Trump. She did the stoking, conservative media simply responded. When Sean Spicer was cast on “Dancing with the Stars,” conservative media’s coverage was provoked entirely by the left’s complaints.
As for the “War on Christmas,” an admittedly dramatic designation, it isn’t exactly conservative Christians pushing to secularize the holiday, and the push to secularize the holiday absolutely exists. Is conservative media sometimes guilty of framing cultural conflict in hyperbolic terms? Of course. But, often, what looks like hyperbole to elites—who cheer many sweeping progressive initiatives—sounds pitch perfect to conservative bystanders watching their world get turned upside down. You can go down the line on these issues, from the national anthem to comedy to statues of Thomas Jefferson to Taylor Swift, it’s never conservatives throwing the first punch.
Even the aforementioned Vox article, headlined “Trump’s made-up war on Thanksgiving, explained,” gently undermines its own contention about the culture war. In a subheading titled “It’s not a bad idea to give Thanksgiving a think,” the author suggests using Thanksgiving as a time to “[consider]” the plight of the Native American community, which is perfectly reasonable idea, but certainly calls for change. It’s also perfectly reasonable for conservatives to counter that suggestion by arguing the holiday would be better spent focusing on our “social and domestic ties,” as Sarah Hale proposed so many years ago. Either way, the would-be change agents aren’t coming from the right.
Whatever is happening with Thanksgiving is nothing compared to wars being waged on other cultural fronts. And it’s not a war being “stoked” by conservative media, but by the left. To believe otherwise is to undermine the entire progressive project.
For three years many of journalism’s most prestigious news outlets won acclaim for making and repeating claims President Trump and his team had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election. No accusation, from secret meetings in Prague to tales of prostitutes peeing on beds, was deemed unfit to print. When they wanted to signal to readers that they were conveying claims instead of facts, their hedge words of choice – “unverified” or “not yet proved” were favorites – strongly suggested that confirmation was on the way.
Call it the Trump Standard.
Now those same news outfits are observing a new standard of proof, at least when it involves former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who enjoyed a lucrative relationship with a Ukrainian gas company. This new norm demands that, absent definitive proof, assertions must be labeled as “without evidence” or said to be supported by “no evidence.”
Call it the Biden Standard.
Journalists have been appropriately skittish about appearing to spread Trump talking points – especially his accusation that while serving as vice president Joe Biden demanded a Ukrainian prosecutor be fired because he was investigating the gas company, Burisma, that was paying his son Hunter tens of thousands of dollars a month.
Trump’s allegation has not been proved. But Joe Biden was the Obama administration’s point man on the Ukraine. His son has said Burisma probably hired him because of who his is father and Joe Biden did demand the prosecutor’s firing – because, he says, the prosecutor wasn’t doing enough to root out corruption. Still, the Burisma probe was dropped.
Normally media would greet such an arrangement skeptically, to say the least. A politician’s son making hay in a business over which his father has some sway? That’s the sort of stuff traditionally met with journalistic lectures not only on the evils of conflicts of interest but on the perils of the mere appearance of such conflicts. Instead, in this instance, reporters and editors have read from the same script to diminish and discredit such concerns.
“There is no evidence to support that claim,” stated CBS News. The Hill newspaper hit the same notes: “There’s no evidence that Joe Biden was acting with his son’s interests in mind.” Esquire declared there is “no evidence Joe Biden made any effort to protect his son’s interests as Vice President.”
Reporting on corruption at Burisma, the Wall Street Journal was quick to assure readers “there is no evidence to suggest they [the Bidens] broke any laws.” As for the allegations that Hunter personally profited from his father’s position, Politico seemed to contradict Hunter himself, casting them as “claims for which there is no evidence.”
But none have outdone the New York Times. As far back as May, the Times pronounced “No evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal.” Last month, the Times declared at least half a dozen times that there was “no evidence” of Biden wrongdoing.
There is ample evidence for key parts of the story. Hunter Biden, for example, has publicly admitted he exhibited “poor judgment” in taking money from Burisma. The Obama administration was concerned enough about Hunter Biden’s employment that Marie Yovanovitch was coached on how to answer questions about it in her Senate confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Ukraine.
For those who might find the repeated assertions that there is “no evidence” of Biden wrongdoing overly generous to Hunter Biden, there are good reasons for even them to embrace it in other contexts. Under the Biden Standard, editors would be encouraged to take out their blue pencils and mark unsubstantiated accusations with the simple and obvious acronym.
Jon Marshall is an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He advocates an even-handed standard of proof that is strict by today’s usual practice. “I think for journalists to count something as ‘evidence,’ there needs to be a reliable, verifiable source of information,” he says. “Examples of what I would count as evidence include court documents, government studies or data, scientific reports, business records, and a reporter’s own investigations to name a few.”
To date, Donald Trump has not enjoyed the benefits of the Biden Standard. When the Christopher Steele “dossier” was made public, the media reaction was to believe it – or at least to entertain it – unless and until it was disproven. Instead of demanding evidence to prove the claims, reporters said the allegations were just as yet “unverified.”
Back in January 2017, when the dossier was new on the scene, NPR called it an “explosive — but unverified – document that alleges collusion between Russia and President-elect Donald Trump.” Under the Biden Standard it would have read that the dossier “alleges without evidence collusion. …”
When the Mueller report finally came out, the New York Times allowed “some of the most sensational claims in the dossier appeared to be false.” And yet the Times was still not prepared to let go of the story of “Mr. Trump’s alleged dalliance with prostitutes” in Moscow, which the Times declared “neither proved nor disproved.” But of course, the “alleged dalliance” could have been proved, and easily: just produce the supposed tape. In the absence of the tape, the Biden Standard should apply. It’s simple: If there isn’t evidence, there isn’t evidence.
Marshall of the Medill School would set the bar even higher: When it comes to the Steele dossier, “I would not have published it, as some news outlets did,” he says, “unless a reliable source substantiated it.”
If it’s important to distinguish true from false allegations about Hunter Biden – and it is – then it is just as important to do so for Donald Trump. That means thinking seriously about what counts as evidence and how to test for counterfeit claims. Most important, it means applying those standards equally.
A case can be made for adopting the Trump Standard or the Biden Standard, but it’s hard to justify switching between the two in what can only be called a double standard.