Media an Accessory in One of History’s Greatest Crimes

November 16, 2016

We are in the Pearl Harbor-like aftermath of a successful attack on the world’s oldest Democracy, aided and abetted by a media so corrupt, they still refuse to accept responsibility.

Media Matters:

It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. … The money’s rolling in and this is fun.” —CBS CEO Les Moonves discussing Donald Trump, February 2016. 

While reporters and pundits sift through their harassing and sometimes anti-Semitic letters and emails from Trump supporters — and contemplate what the future holds if radio show host Laura Ingraham becomes the next White House press secretary — few seem to be in the mood to reflect on their just-concluded campaign effort. And even fewer scribes seem willing to accept that the media made serious missteps in their election coverage — and that those mistakes helped elect Donald Trump president.

Any implications drawn from the media’s broken performance in 2016, a year when Trump’s former campaign manager was hired by CNNwhile still cashing Trump campaign paychecks, have been largely waved off. Much of the media’s message today is that the press simply played no significant role in tipping the election to Trump.

Detailing “The Democratic Coalition’s Epic Fail,” The New York Times’ Thomas Edsall cataloged what he saw as the many shortcomings of the Hillary Clinton campaign. What was notably absent from the list of hurdles that Clinton and Democrats failed to clear? The press. It’s not even worth discussing, apparently.

There seems to be little interest in acknowledging that the press virtually extinguished policy and issue coverage this campaign cycle. That journalists were bullied by Trump yet often held him to a lower, softer standard than Clinton (see Clinton Foundation vs. Trump Foundation coverage). That the press somehow managed to help normalize a bigoted Republican nominee who openly embraces white nationalism, while showering him with nonstop attention. Or that the press’s relentlessly caustic Clinton coveragebecame a hallmark of the campaign.

Immediately following the election, New YorkTimes Editor Dean Baquet and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. assured readers that “We believe we reported on both candidates fairly during the presidential campaign.” So no, journalists don’t seem interested in self-examination, and they certainly don’t seem open to admitting that their occasionally colossal blunders helped tip the scales in Trump’s favor.

In fact, quite the contrary. “The press succeeded in exposing Trump for what he was. Voters just decided they didn’t care,” Politico announced.

Question: How well did the press succeed in getting Trump to release his tax returns? In getting him to release relevant health information about himself? In getting him to hold a press conference during the final months of the campaign?

Answer: The press failed, categorically, in all those routine pursuits. But many journalists today remain certain everything was fine in 2016.

From CNN reporter Maeve Reston:


Reston claims it’s just “lazy” for people to blame the press in the wake of Trump’s victory, but there is solid data to back up a lot of complaints about lopsided election coverage.

As Media Matters pointed out, in the week after FBI Director James Comey announced that the bureau would be assessing newly discovered emails to find out if they were relevant to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server, five of the country’s top newspaper published a total of 100 (100!) stories about or mentioning the emails, 46 of them on the front page. Additionally, the three network evening newscasts devoted a total of 25 minutes to the FBI email story during two crucial weeks late in the campaign, compared to just three minutes of policy coverage.

Meanwhile, NBC’s Katy Tur also seemed to dismiss post-campaign press criticism:


Was the press, in fact, “hostile” to the Clinton campaign? Is Podesta’s point a legitimate one? The answer to that question actually isn’t even in doubt. Study after study demonstrated that Clinton was the recipient of overwhelmingly negative press coverage.

On Twitter, Patrick LaForge, senior editor at The New York Timessuggested it was the FBI that made the Clinton emails such a big issue late in the campaign, and that the paper simply followed the bureau’s lead. But it was Times newsroom bosses, not the FBI director, who decided to run seven front-page email stories in three days late last month while millions of Americans were casting early ballots.

It was Times editors who decided to publish 22 articles mentioning Clinton’s email server in the week after the FBI announcement — over-the-top coverage that at times looked like man-landing-on-the-moon reporting. Just like it was cable news producers who cultivated a manic, hothouse environment in which the term “email” or “emails” was mentioned thousands of times on air in the days following the FBI’s email announcement.

All of this for a vague statement regarding, at the time, unseen emails that may or may not prove significant to any investigation. (They ended up not being significant.)

What are some of the consequences of the media’s failed campaign coverage? And specifically, its failure to hold Trump to the same transparency and disclosure standard as Clinton?

FromThe Guardian, November 12 (emphasis added):

When President-elect Donald Trump enters the White House next year he will bring with him potential conflicts of interest across all areas of government that are unprecedented in American history.

Trump, who manages a sprawling, international network of businesses, has thus far refused to put his businesses into a blind trust the way his predecessors in the nation’s highest office have traditionally done. Instead he has said his businesses will be run by his own adult children.

The prospect of the president of the United States becoming deeply entangled in business conflicts while trying to lead the world’s most powerful nation is stunning.

But here’s the thing: Journalists knew that many, many months ago. They all knew that if Trump won the presidency he would be wallowing in unprecedented conflicts of interest and that Americans likely wouldn’t be able to tell where Trump’s foreign policy priorities ended and his business goals began.

The looming conflicts were an open secret. So why did that unprecedented threat to transparency generate so little political press attention before the election?

Short answer: Media were too busy hyperventilating about Clinton’s emails. And that’s when they weren’t utterly devoted to undercutting the landmark Clinton charity by hyping supposed conflicts of interest.

Remember when editorial boards lectured Clinton about the need to banish the family’s charity in order to placate the always lurking optics police?

  • “Even if they’ve done nothing illegal, the foundation will always look too much like a conflict of interest for comfort.” (The Boston Globe)
  • “[T]he only way to eliminate the odor surrounding the foundation is to wind it down and put it in mothballs.” (USA Today)
  • “Impressions such as these are corrosive to national institutions.” (The Washington Post)

By contrast, the press basically gave Trump a pass regarding the land mine of concrete, for-profit conflicts he’d have as president.

Looking back, large, ranging portions of the 2016 campaign coverage were wildly irresponsible. It’s equally negligent now for journalists to pretend they played no role in Trump’s victory.


26 Responses to “Media an Accessory in One of History’s Greatest Crimes”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    One of the best posts ever. Media Matters can be counted on to get it right, but this MM piece is beyond terrific! The WashPost is my daily paper, and was extremely hard on Trump, but even they were unable to resist mentioning all too often that Hillary was “unpopular, not seen as trustworthy, disliked, had controversy surrounding her over Benghazi, emails, and the Clinton foundation”, etc.

    Even when they were discussing the huge lies and inadequacies of Trump, they had to slip in the false equivalencies and keep the big lie about Clinton alive. And that’s all the motivated reasoners needed—-a brief “flash” of what they wanted to believe so that they could feel good about voting for Trump. Comey and the FBI put some final nails in the coffin, but IMO the media are to the ones to blame for the victory of the pussy grabber.

    Of course, we could go beyond that and say that Americans get the president and the media they deserve. IMO, the rise of “reality TV” (which Americans suck up greedily and mindlessly) is what conditioned too many voters to vote for someone who is nothing but a reality TV star. In fact, that is his only real talent—-using TV (and social media) expertly. His “tycoonery” grows out of the head start his father gave him, luck, and the tax and bankruptcy laws. In a less “stacked” world , he’s be gone, and nearly anyone else who started out with his advantages would likely have done better.

  2. Gingerbaker Says:

    No doubt the millions of white rural economically-desperate voters who flocked to Trump in such enormous droves they gave him the election are all well-informed New York Times and Washington Post readers….. Not.

    Let’s see if we can keep track of where all the Mighty Fingers of Blame are being pointed so far:

    * The media

    * Comey

    * Racists

    * Misogynists

    * Third-party voters

    * Bernie Sanders

    * Obstructionist Republicans

    * Nonvoters

    * Facebook

    * College-educated Whites

    * The Electoral College

    * The Fed

    * Jill Stein

    Look at all those fingers pointing anywhere but at the Democratic establishment.

    • otter17 Says:

      A very good point that the Trump voter base was not necessarily listening to the traditional media sources, anyway. Also, the Democratic establishment certainly should be on the list of blame, at the top. That being said, there is the real possibility that there are multiple sources of blame. The party needs to conduct a fact-finding assessment to figure out the primary causes and how to do better. There are some very tangible steps that can probably be taken if only we knew why certain elements of the base did not turn out quite as heavily.

      Also, I would find it a very interesting to figure out why moderate Republican voters did not defect in large numbers from the Trump camp. I was somewhat weary in the lead-up to the elections that the polls were not showing a complete blowout, but I figured the polls still showed a Clinton win, so that would probably be a victory for climate change action. Looking back, maybe the Clinton campaign and most voters simply assumed that such a candidate as Trump would drive away so many people that the campaign would be an easy lay up. Why wasn’t the popular vote won by tens of millions? I want the answer to that question.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Give it up, GB. Nobody is pointing a finger at Bernie. Take a cold shower and wet down the bern—-you’re still smoking.

    • andrewfez Says:

      The corporate media was extremely biased for Clinton during the primary, from mixing in the superdelegates with the democratically assigned delegates to make it look as if Clinton had a huge lead from the get-go, to ignoring when Sanders would win any primary (when they weren’t ignoring him altogether), to lying to the public in telling them Clinton was the more electable candidate even though the polls showed the opposite, to Sanders getting hardball questions (where they repeated over and over ‘So you want to RAISE TAXES!?!’ regarding universal healthcare, prompting Sanders to remind people their premiums would go away so it was a wash for most people) whilst Hillary got softball ones, to the media leaking at least two questions to Clinton before debates, to the DNC planting and ‘suggesting’ pro-Clinton stories to their friends in the media, to the Bernie Bros misogyny narrative, to negative headline after negative headline about Sanders, to Clinton’s paid online trolls (eerily similar to Koch paid trolls) to plant BS in comments sections of online news articles. Etc, etc, etc, etc,…

      • jimbills Says:

        Thanks. The idea that the mainstream media grossly over-favored Clinton isn’t palatable at all here, but it did need to be said, especially as it’s true, and because it’s one reason why Americans frustrated already at the media and its biases turned out on election day.

  3. otter17 Says:

    I tend to go with Yahoo News, though only those stories from AP, PBS/NPR, AFP, and Reuters which have seemed to quietly in the background of the circus been doing good old-fashioned journalism without chasing the sensationalism… too much. They didn’t go overly nuts over the strange Comey FBI letter to Congress, and equally they didn’t make much of the Trump server that was communicating with Russian advertising (not the Russian gov’t, though who knows what ties are there given other leads). They just reported in roughly proportional measure and did occasionally fact check some obviously incorrect Trump statements. Also, I like to visit European news outlets for the outsiders perspective of our nation, like campaigns, wars, and of course our sometimes nutty climate change denial positions.

    We have a problem in that these good old-fashioned sources are fading from the public’s attention. The more ratings-focused and money-making sensationalism sources are aggressively trying to capture the attention of the populace, and winning. Climate denial and political talk/opinion sources are pushing more activity on Facebook and other social media. Fox News and I believe some of the alternative sources, including the fake news sources, are winning the internet traffic competition on Facebook by a mile. Apparently, there is ad money to be made telling people what they want to hear.

    So, people have had some choices over the years to follow the not-as-flashy, but consistent sources of information. That being said, the articles above do hit home that this does NOT abdicate responsibility from these sources that have turned to sensationalism. It is just that there aren’t enough viewers yelling out their windows that they are “mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore”. Trump also broke the traditional coverage model. He flooded the system with his controversial statements so much, that the traditional coverage model felt it needed to keep up on both sides. Even if the press put every statement or aspect of Trump into context of previous presidents (unprecedented behavior and policy proposals) and fact-checked everything to a high degree, who knows if the election outcome would be any different? The more negative publicity from a news source, the more popular his support seemed to become. He played the “lying press” mantra to the hilt, to gain even more support from his base… and his base came out in larger than expected numbers.

  4. webej Says:

    Traditionally the path for third party candidates has been blocked by the simple fact that the election process is mostly determined by money. Even a patriotic conservative like Patrick Buchanan was disillusioned by his own campaign, concluding that money (and exposure) was the main determinant of the whole process. One of the few candidates to have some success was Ross Perot, but he brought his own money. Trump is not much of a Republican (nor Democrat), almost an independant, but managed to break the mold.

    Trump trapped the press into showing up at “announcements” many times, and even taunted the press to their face with the free publicity they just could not deny him. Two $billion of free coverage. Without it he would have remained the real-estate dork from New York. He really did game the system.

  5. BL Brown Says:

    But that pattern of reliable agreement within a community applies to a very different kind of belief as well. These are beliefs that, unlike beliefs about the colours of walls or leaves, are typically stable, persistently insensitive to context, reported by sentences that elicit agreement from a community regardless of circumstance. ‘The walls are white’ doesn’t qualify, since the walls in our immediate vicinity are, often enough, yellow, blue, or red.

  6. BL Brown Says:

    Sorry– wrong comment– the cut / paste didn’t go through…

  7. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    I despair at how truth and integrity got thrown under the bus in the same way that the religious right threw Jesus under the bus to vote for Trump.
    The hypocrisy on display is beyond anything I’ve ever imagined possible.

    Such is the power of media – it *can* polish shit and make it shine *real* bright for long enough to matter.

    Only this is such a dangerous game – when reality reasserts itself as the carefully constructed propaganda framework slips beyond that which is possible to spin, the cognitive dissonance, and the anger of having been lied to may lead to a more violent revolution.

    This is why the “alt right” is such a destructive and metastasizing societal cancer – infecting parts of it with lies to turn it rotten and consume for its own benefit at the expense of the whole.

    Truth is so simple. No need to maintain webs of lies that inevitably break.

  8. redskylite Says:

    Has anyone noticed that “Russia withdraws signature from international criminal court statute” reported Nov 16. Also resumed it’s offence in Syria, after the Kremlin controlled state is heavily implicated in interfering with U.S elections, with help from wikileaks. Not too much press about it, not much on the leaked emails in the news now it’s all over. Ye Gods and you are still arguing about Sanders vs Clinton. This is alarming even tucked away on the other side of the equator. Not just me – distant populations are quaking. Time for action, but what can put things right and by whom ?

  9. Lionel Smith Says:

    Greg Palast on Here’s what we do now – a personal note

    Being right never felt so horrid.

    “This is the story of the theft of the 2016 election.
    It’s a crime still in progress.”

    So opens my film, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
    And on Election night I waited for the returns to make a fool of me.

    Instead, the returns made the fool a President.


    Trump not only lost the popular vote by millions — he did not legitimately win the swing states of the Electoral College.

    Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, Ohio: every one was stolen through sophisticated, and sickeningly racist vote suppression tactics.

    If you saw my report for Democracy Now! on election morning, it revealed that Ohio GOP officials turned off anti-hacking software on voting machines, forced Black voters to wait hours in line (while whites had no wait).

    And, crucially, I confirmed that purged tens of thousands of minority voters on fake accusations they’d voted twice.

    This is way more serious than ‘hanging chads’, although that was the beginning of a fresh assault by climate contrarians and now one of those, Monckton, has come out of the woodwork again at Carbon Brief with another joining in trying to muddy the waters using derogatory arguments against climate models.

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