Chuck Todd Is Wrong on Why the Media Are Distrusted

Editor’s Note:  I’ll be off for a few days so John Daly will take over the featured spot with a column on the roots — real and perceived — of media bias.

Bernie 

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The other day, in a column published by The Atlantic, NBC’s Chuck Todd appealed to his colleagues in the media to start “fighting back” against what he calls President Trump’s “campaign to destroy the legitimacy of the American news media.”

It’s an interesting piece that’s definitely worth a read. Todd makes some valid points, especially in regard to the importance of a free press in a free society, and how Trump’s “fake news” offensive has helped drag public confidence in the media to dangerously low levels.

Still, Todd’s harshest words weren’t reserved for the president, but rather an entity that he blames for creating “the conditions” that allowed someone like Trump to brand the media as the “enemy of the people,” and actually have that message resonate with a large number of Americans.

But before you get too excited over the premise of a prominent member of the mainstream media exercising some serious self-reflection, and condemning decades of trust-squandering liberal bias within his profession, let me assure you that this did not happen.

No, Todd actually let the mainstream media off pretty easy. While he did acknowledge the existence of journalistic bias, he reduced it to its most incidental forms:

“The questions [reporters] ask, and the stories they pursue, are shaped by things as simple as geography. I grew up in Miami; I follow Cuban politics more closely than many other Americans did. As a result, when I covered the White House, I was more likely than my colleagues to ask questions about Cuba.”

While regional bias certainly exists, it’s not why people distrust the media.

Todd gets a little closer with this statement:

“Critics, for example, may be pointing to the way that certain journalists pay more attention to some issues than to others, or complaining about the unquestioned assumptions reflected in journalists’ work.”

Sure, that’s part of it, but Todd ignores the much larger complaints about the media’s widespread political and ideological biases.

There have long been glaring double standards when it comes to how Republicans are covered versus Democrats. These inclinations are well-documented and were perhaps illustrated best during the Obama era.

For some, the recent passing of John McCain brought back memories of the 2008 presidential election cycle, when Barack Obama was treated as royalty by a fawning press, while McCain’s campaign had to constantly fight for coverage (when the New York Times wasn’t accusing the Arizona senator of having an affair with a lobbyist).

Of course, McCain finally got some media attention after asking Sarah Palin to be his running mate, but in the closing weeks before Americans voted, a study showed that only 14% of McCain’s coverage was positive in tone. Obama’s positive coverage was more than double that.

After winning the presidency, Obama joked at a White House Correspondents Dinner that everyone in attendance had voted for him. Only, it wasn’t so much a joke. The media’s love-fest lasted for the duration of his presidency, and was visible in everything from an eagerness to accommodate his class warfare narratives, to aiding him in political debates, to demonstrating a breathtaking lack of interest in stories like Benghazi and the spread of ISIS throughout Iraq (which would have been used to crucify George W. Bush, had he still been in office).

The media has been presenting liberal viewpoints as prevailing wisdom (and conservative viewpoints as misguided and intolerant) for as far back as many of us can remember. Stories are routinely framed with deference to progressive social-justice themes and identity politics. Key elements of stories, that would lend credence to conservative sensibilities, are often omitted or glossed over. Liberal causes are typically presented as righteous while conservative causes are portrayed as callous. Movements like the Tea Party are vilified while movements like Occupy Wall Street are romanticized and legitimized.

The list goes on and on, and none of this is new. Yet, the liberal bubble that encases most of the media in this country isn’t seen as a culprit by Chuck Todd. Instead, Todd blames distrust in his profession on (you guessed it) conservatives — specifically the conservatives on television and radio who’ve been pointing out examples of liberal media bias for decades.

In other words, it’s not the cheating husband who ruined the marriage. It’s the fault of the friend who told the wife that her husband was cheating on her.

Todd takes particular aim at the late Roger Ailes, describing his programming strategy at Fox News as being less about a platform for alternative views, than it was an effort to make the public “hate” the other side (aka Democrats and liberals). He even goes as far as to accuse Ailes of creating a “mythology of a biased press.”

Mythology. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Narrowing down the argument for a moment, has Todd honestly never watched MSNBC (which he appears on regularly)? Has he not paid any attention to the network’s longtime, routine demonization of Republicans and conservatives, going back to at least the Bush administration?

Does Todd put no stock at all in the numerous examples documented over the years by people like Bernard Goldberg? Does he not lend credence to his former colleague, Tim Russert, who believed that close-mindedness on the subject of media bias was “totally contrary to who we’re supposed to be as journalists”?

It would have been interesting to hear Todd’s thoughts on NBC’s efforts to block Ronan Farrow’s reporting on the Harvey Weinstein story, but unfortunately, that topic wasn’t mentioned in his Atlantic piece.

Again, Todd does make some valid points in the column, but those points are much more applicable to what’s been going on in the Trump era than they were to the pre-Trump era. While the Fox News of yesteryear undeniably provided a plank for (usually legitimate) charges of media bias, that’s not primarily what we’re dealing with now.

Identifying media bias isn’t the same as declaring news to be “fake.” These are very different accusations with very different consequences. Bias is often unconscious (which is why people like me advocate for more ideologically diverse newsrooms) and it is by no means a fabrication of facts.

What Trump has done with his “fake news” campaign is take a legitimate problem (media bias) and twist it into a hyperbolic, highly dishonest narrative (“the media is just making things up”) that he uses for his own political purposes. Todd is wrongly conflating the two charges.

Trump’s strategy is indeed harmful in our free society, and he should be called out (and called out loudly) whenever he employs it. The media-conservatives who go beyond exposing bias, by echoing and promoting Trump’s “fake news” angle, should be called out as well. Some of the common violators Todd points out include Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Tucker Carlson.

I also don’t have a problem with Todd appealing to his colleagues in the media to aggressively defend their work (when it’s fair & accurate). That’s all fine and good. I want a reliable press, and if the reporting is credible, it should be defended.

But if one is truly alarmed by how little faith the public places in today’s news media (as I believe Todd is), the first step is to recognize the true origins of the problem. People like Ailes and Limbaugh didn’t create this mistrust. The establishment media did. And the problem won’t be effectively addressed until proper responsibility is taken, and serious internal efforts are made to raise journalistic standards.

Will that happen? Not when people like Chuck Todd are clinging to the notion that a “biased media” is a myth.




Chuck Todd and the Rosetta Stone of Liberal Bias

CHUCK TODDChuck Todd, who hosts Meet the Press on NBC, opened his show the way he often does, by introducing his panel of journalists. There was Luke Russert of NBC News, and Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report, and there was “Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post … and Ken Blackwell, conservative columnist and former Ohio Secretary of State.”

Did you catch it? Eugene Robinson isn’t the liberal columnist of the Washington Post. He’s simply Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post. But Ken Blackwell is identified as a “conservative columnist.”

This may strike members of the so-called mainstream media as one of those “what’s the big deal?” issues — even though it happens all the time both on TV and in print. But if  they’re feeling generous and concede that maybe it is somehow, some way, some kind of offense, it’s a misdemeanor of the lowest order. Journalistic jaywalking — at worst.

Sorry, but it is a big deal. A very big deal. One that goes straight to the heart of bias in the media.

Liberals, you see, don’t have to be identified. Liberals, as far as liberal journalists like Chuck Todd are concerned, aren’t controversial. They’re middle of the road. Moderate. Mainstream. Not so with conservatives. They need a warning label.

They put warning labels on packs of cigarettes and pesticides because they can be dangerous to your health. And, as far as many liberals – both in and out of the media — are concerned, conservatives need warning labels because their ideas can be dangerous to your health. I mean, if liberal views are middle of the road, moderate and mainstream, conservative views, being the opposite, must be fringe. And fringe ideas, in the liberal worldview, are most likely racist, homophobic and misogynist ideas, which are … well … dangerous!

So this little tidbit that Chuck Todd unknowingly offered up at the beginning of his program is the Rosetta Stone. It tells us not only how liberal journalists view conservatives, but it also tells us a lot about how liberal journalists see just about everything from politics to all the hot button social issues of the day.

It may be asking too much for Chuck to understand any of this. After all, he’s a bias denier. (I use that word “denier” because that’s the word liberals like to throw at anyone who doesn’t see global warming the same way Al Gore sees it. Liberals don’t own the word, right? )

Chuck has acknowledged a “cultural bias” in the news, but says it’s not because journalists slant the news left to coincide with their liberal politics. Rather, he says, it stems from “the fact that the news media is headquartered in New York City.”

So it’s geographical bias, according to Chuck Todd – not political bias. It’s a New York City bias. And what kind of bias would we find in New York City? Yes, exactly!

If the national news media were headquartered, say, in Tupelo, Mississippi – and almost all the journalists were conservatives instead of liberal as they are now – do you think Chuck would write off bias simply as a geographical issue? Me neither. He’d be yelling conservative bias from the roof of the NBC Building in Rockefeller Center.

No, Chuck Todd’s decision to put a warning label on the conservative columnist but not on the liberal was not an offense worthy of waterboarding. But it wasn’t journalistic jay walking either. It told us a lot about why liberal journalists put warning labels on conservatives. It told us that conservative views, which are held by millions and millions and millions of Americans, are subversive views, because they are not reasonable or mainstream or moderate. And if you don’t believe me, just ask Chuck.




Panetta Confirms Again That Waterboarding Helped Get Bid Laden; Media Still Confused

panettaOn Sunday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirmed what many have believed since the death of Osama Bin Laden: Our waterboarding of top Al Qaeda operatives in the wake of 9/11 ultimately led to the whereabouts and killing of the terrorist mastermind.

Speaking to Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press, Panetta revealed the information when asked about the accuracy of Kathryn Bigelow’s latest film, Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts the hunt for Bin Laden.

“The real story was that in order to put the puzzle of intelligence together that led us to Bin Laden, there were a lot of pieces out there that were a part of that puzzle,” said Panetta. “Yes, some of it came from some of the tactics that were used at the time, interrogation tactics that were used.

Panetta went on to remark that other intelligence factors outside of the harsh interrogations were instrumental as well, and expressed that he thinks we would have eventually got Bin Laden anyway.

Panetta’s admission has received a lot of media attention since Sunday morning, but it’s difficult to understand exactly why. After all, this wasn’t the first time Panetta credited enhanced interrogation techniques (including waterboarding) as having contributed to the successful raid on the Bin Laden compound. He also did so back in May of 2011, when speaking with NBC’s Brian Williams.

Panetta certainly isn’t the only one who has declared that the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri provided our intelligence agencies with invaluable information in our efforts against Al Qaeda. A host of other distinguished intelligence professionals have stated the same thing, including John Kirakou, Michael Hayden, Jose Rodriguez, and Michael Scheuer, whose insistence has been that some of that intel even prevented planned terrorist attacks both here and abroad. In addition, director Kathryn Bigelow’s presentation of the information gathered as a result of waterboarding came directly from unprecedented civilian access to U.S. intelligence reports granted to her by President Obama himself.

Yet, when inquiring if waterboarding contributed to the Bin Laden operation, Chuck Todd seemed as if he was asking a question he didn’t already know the answer to, or perhaps one that he was half-expecting to be answered with a “no”.

I think that’s revealing.

It suggests that when it comes to passionate, controversial subjects like waterboarding, there is a certain willful ignorance from the media (and certainly from people outside of the media as well) that accompanies a desperate need to be right on an issue, even when the facts tell them they’re wrong.

Case in point, there are still many people in this country who insist that the waterboarding didn’t work, and that we received no useful information as a result of it. For some reason, it has never been enough for opponents of the practice to stick with just a moral or legal argument for why we shouldn’t have subjected three high-ranking terrorists to waterboarding (which is a legitimate debate). Instead, these people have felt compelled to deny the effectiveness of enhanced interrogation, and they are so immersed and invested in that narrative that no amount of proof will ever convince them that they’re wrong.

As a wise man once said, “Lying is what we do in order to live with our delusions.”

One has to only perform a Google News search on the Panetta interview to find more media examples of what I’m saying:

Tom McKay of PolicyMic.com wrote a column entitled: “Leon Panetta On ‘Meet the Press’: Torture is Not What led to Bin Laden’s Capture.”

How does McKay explain his intriguing interpretation that waterboarding did not lead to Bin Laden? He writes that because Panetta described the interrogation intel as only being one piece of many pieces in a puzzle, it alone did not lead “directly” to Bin Laden.

With all due respect to Mr. McKay… OF COURSE it didn’t lead directly to Bin Laden! If it had, we would have found him years ago! The interrogation intel made up the initial (arguably the most important) pieces of the puzzle that Panetta described, so it was clearly significant.

Mackenzie Weinger from The Politico made a similar observation to McKay’s, as did Jake Miller from CBS News. None of the three are willing to concede any credit to waterboarding, simply because all credit can’t be applied.

Adalia Woodbury of PoliticusUSA.com went a step further, running with the headline: “Panetta Obliterates The Myth That Torture Led to Bin Laden”.

Obliterates? Really? Woodbury explains that because Panetta thinks that we could have eventually found Bin Laden without enhanced interrogation techniques, the fact that those techniques did indeed place our intelligence agencies on the right path is somehow worthy of being categorized as a “myth”.

Are you confused as I am?

One has to wonder if such hardened denials don’t just stem from instinctive ideological beliefs, but also from the fear of having to concede that the controversial policies of George W. Bush might actually deserve a decent amount of credit for finding Bin Laden.

Regardless, this kind of mindset has sadly become commonplace not only in the media, but also in how everyday people engage in political discourse. We’re losing our ability to begin an argument with a mutually accepted set of facts. These days, when one side feels their position may not be as strong as they’d like it to be, they deem it acceptable to simply spin reality into a false premise that better favors their argument. Then, they fool themselves into believing that false premise is true. The result is a perpetuation of falsehoods that, in some cases, were long ago disproved.

It’s tiresome, and emblematic of why we can’t deal with serious problems in this country.

The good news is that regardless of some people’s inability to admit it, waterboarding saved many American lives and helped bring the man responsible for the deaths of nearly three thousand people on 9/11 to justice.

No amount of denials can overturn those results, and thank goodness for that.




Bias in the News: Blame it on Their Zip Code

For years, journalists have bristled at allegations of liberal bias in the news.  “If you think we have a bias,” some of them would say, “that only proves one thing:  that you’re the one with the bias.”  When my book Bias came out at the end of 2001 –despite a surprisingly good review in the New York Times – so-called mainstream reporters generally denounced the book.  “Liberal bias?” they asked incredulously.  “What liberal bias?” A few even called me a “traitor” for supposedly turning on my colleagues, which is kind of funny since these are people who won’t call a real traitor …  a traitor.

Well, now we have Chuck Todd, political director and chief White House correspondent at NBC News, breaking ranks (sort of) with his fellow journalists.  In an interview with Politico, Todd says, “To me, the ideological bias in the media really hasn’t been there in a long time. But what is there that people mistake for ideological bias is geographic bias. It’s seeing everything through the lens of New York and Washington.”

Not really, but it’s good that Chuck Todd at least seems to be acknowledging that there was, once upon a time an ideological bias in the mainstream media.  To say it “hasn’t been there in a long time,” acknowledges that it was there, once.  This is something a lot of journalists would never admit.

To Chuck Todd, bias in the news simply stems from too many elite journalists living in too few places, Manhattan and DC.  But what Chuck Todd doesn’t quite seem to understand is that geography influences culture and culture influences ideology. People on the Upper West Side of Manhattan don’t see Obamacare, for example, the same way people in Alabama see it.  That’s not because of geography.  It’s because of ideology.  Or to put it another way, there are a lot more liberals on the Upper West Side than there are in Montgomery.

Todd is hard on political journalists, but only up to a point, and makes sure we understand that they’re not slanting the news in favor of liberals because they themselves are liberals.  The reason, he says, has a lot more to do with zip codes than party affiliations.

“I think sometimes there are too many people who cover politics that don’t understand the grassroots of the Republican Party,” he correctly tells Politico. And why don’t they understand?  Because they cover America from a safe distance, embedded in the nation’s two media capitals – Washington and New York.  “Part of what animates them [political journalists] is if [Middle Americans are] pushing it, I’m against it. But also that we don’t understand their day-to-day lives. That we don’t respect the fact that they go to church twice a week. That when we look down our noses upon Wal-Mart, they see it as the only place to shop.”

Let’s see if I have this right:  The sophisticates in Manhattan and Georgetown don’t like anything that the hayseeds who live in Middle America like.  If the unwashed in Flyover Country are for it, the elites in New York and DC are against it.  That, Chuck, is not a geographical bias.  It’s the same old bias conservatives have been complaining about for years.  It’s a bias based on the reporter’s ideology, the journalist’s liberal ideology.

By blaming it all on geography, Chuck Todd, intentionally or not, tries to take the edge off of the problem.  If it’s only geographical, it speaks only to a blind spot.  It says, “Hey, we live in a bubble, that’s why we’re biased.  And it has nothing to do with our politics.”  Yes, they do live in a bubble, but make no mistake:  inside that bubble journalists don’t simply share the same geography — they share the same ideology.  They’re almost all liberals inside the bubble who share the same values, and believe those values are moderate, mainstream and reasonable while conservative values are extreme and dangerous.

“Too many people mistake ideological bias for what really is a matter of geography,” is how he ends his interview with Politico.

Sorry, Chuck, but you’re the one who is making a mistake.  If almost all the media elites live in Washington and New York and are liberal, is the problem that they live in Washington and New York or that they’re liberal? If there were more conservatives in the ranks of elite journalists – editors, producers, anchors – it wouldn’t matter if they all lived on the same block.

But let’s give Chuck Todd some credit for even bringing up the subject of bias in the news.  Halley’s Comet flashing across the sky over the USA is a more commonplace event than a mainstream reporter admitting any kind of bias. Still, it’s too bad, since he’s in charge of political coverage at NBC News, that Todd forgot to tell Politico about how supposedly objective journalists fell madly in love with Barack Obama four years ago and decided they would not settle for being eyewitnesses to history.  The election was too important.  This time, they felt, they had to they help shape history.   So they put on their short skirts to go along with their pompoms and shamelessly became cheerleaders for Mr. Obama — and will probably do it again once the Republicans pick their nominee.  That kind of journalistic bias has very little to do with geography and whole bunch to do with ideology.

So, one cheer for Chuck.