The Media's Credibility Is Dead
It's common knowledge that distrust in media is at an all-time high. Despite attempts by anti-Trump pundits to blame these figures on President Trump for popularizing the term "fake news," the media will soon have to reconcile how they have been complicit in their own faltering credibility.
According to the last media survey from McLaughlin & Associates, voters who see anti-Trump bias in the news media outnumber voters who don't at about a 5-to-1 clip. In 2018, the mainstream media aren't even attempting to camouflage their hyper-progressive bias. There was a time when news entities worked hard to remain bipartisan, and even if they weren't, they at least attempted to conceal their biases. Bias is inevitable in today's media climate, but we've reached a point where the media's desire to feed their bias has become mutually exclusive with reality itself.
For starters, modern media are an audience-based machine, catering to content more likely to be consumed by their already loyal viewers and readership. The problem has thus arisen that some media organizations have put themselves in a position where they have to create content to feed their viewers' appetite, even if that content is insincere.
Like many months, this month is a case study for insincere content from media organizations who take it upon themselves to feed their readers disingenuous content. We'll start with the Daily Beast, a left-leaning outlet known for using ultra-sensationalized rhetoric with a strong liberal spin. Like a majority of media outlets, the Daily Beast tries its best to contort the truth without making it obvious that it is advocating, not reporting, but the site got disastrously sloppy attempting to smear conservative author and One America News contributor Jack Posobiec.
In a column about two arrested Washington, D.C. brothers with ties to neo-Nazi movements, the Daily Beast edited a cropped a picture of Posobiec and paired it with an image of racist (and irrelevant) loudmouth Richard Spencer and Charlottesville Unite the Right Organizer Jason Kessler. The worse part about the image is that it's edited to make it appear as though Posobiec were giving a Nazi salute.
What the Daily Beast doesn't mention is that Posobiec has constantly disavowed racism, and what the site cropped is an image of him next to a black Trump-supporter at a rally specifically designed to stand against political violence.
In one fell swoop, the Daily Beast has completely distorted reality. Posobiec had nothing to do with the racist brothers arrested in Virginia on weapons charges, but the Daily Beast couldn't pass up an attempt to smear Posobiec to rile up its reader base and feed into its construction of Posobiec as a right-wing villain.
This anecdote is all too familiar in today's media climate. In 2018, if you're a conservative white male, you're at risk of being labeled a white supremacists (see Steve King) or a flat-out Nazi. You would think left-wing media would have a bright line for whom they won't cast under their Nazi moniker, but like all of their miscues, they're accelerating this phenomenon to ludicrous levels. Last week, the left-leaning media outlet Right Wing Watch linked me, a black Republican consultant, to "white supremacy" as well.
Like the Daily Beast, Right Wing Watch exists to cover the right negatively and tries to leverage the power of weaponized outrage to smear conservative figures. You may remember how the site spearheaded a campaign that convinced HGTV to cancel a house renovation program because the hosts had been quoted on their conservative religious views on homosexuality and abortion.
So when a friend told me I should check out the column RWW had written about the American Priority conference I'm scheduled to speak at in December, I was prepared for the traditional media smears that have become par for the course in today's media climate. I suspected they would call me "anti-immigrant" or even "far-right," but no – given the Posobiec treatment, I was introduced as a figure within the "white supremacist alt right movement."
Giving the author and organization the benefit of the doubt, I emailed them. I expressed my concern with their insinuations and phrasing, to explain that my role at the conference was to participate in a bipartisan panel on political violence. (I was notably attacked at a political event last year.) I even offered the author, Jared Holt, a quote for his story. I copied the editor as well. My email has yet to be answered, and the author, Jared Holt, blocked me on Twitter when I D.M.ed him about it.
To be fair, anyone regardless of race or social class can be guilty of problematic views, but to tie me to white supremacy as a means to score points off an event that conflicts with one's worldview is to abuse one's position a journalist and continue the trend of dishonesty in the media. RWW may not be the most respected media outlet in the country, but it ranks on Google and has been spoken highly of by respected media outlets such as The Washington Post and the New York Times.
The Right Wing Watch article that calls me, the director of Arizona's Black Conservative Federation, a white supremacist is still up. So is the Daily Beast article and image that attempt to link Posobiec to Richard Spencer and two neo-Nazi brothers arrested in a violent plot. These are just two trespasses of many that the media will continue to get away with. Or will they?
If media elites continue to avoid facing the music for their deceit, public distrust in the media will continue to rise. This puts the onus on ethical journalists and outlets to self-regulate and purge unethical actors from their ranks. Could you imagine how much credibility the Washington Post or New York Times could gain by reporting an unpopular truth for once? So far, no one within the establishment media is willing to break from the new norm and call out activists parading around as journalists, which is somewhat surprising. In the old days, when a publication or outlet was caught lying, that would spell disaster. It would be blackballed by not only the public, but by other media entities, who would begin to look down on their competitor for being unethical. Now groupthink is proving difficult to break as the media share a certain camaraderie about their anti-conservative bias.
Proof of the establishment media's refusal to break this cycle is the way they treated the Jim Acosta-W.H. intern tug-of-war for the microphone at President Trump's post-midterm election press conference. Instead of taking the stance that the contact Acosta made with the intern was negligible or initiated by her, CNN took the position that Acosta never touched the intern, claiming that a video of the encounter released by the White House was doctored when it had simply been zoomed in and looped. CNN, which continues to be the most egregious violator of media ethics, has taken it upon itself to counter reality with a special kind of indifference.
Today, CNN finds itself in a legal battle over Acosta and his activism as MSNBC, ABC, and other news agencies are rushing to defend CNN as just, credible, and benevolent. But a few months ago, CNN published and retracted portions of a piece actually heralding the release of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)'s DNA ancestry test as if it were some kind of vindication for the politician. Most left-leaning outlets followed suit, leaving it up to conservative and independent media to deviate from that depiction, blasting Warren for using such low levels of American Indian ancestry to advance her career. If it were up to CNN, Elizabeth Warren would've been deemed the chair of the Native American Caucus, but thankfully, CNN isn't the only media empire. It's just the loudest and most brazen with its intention to engage in "narrative reporting" or "advocacy media."
The percentage of Americans who trust the media is about what the percentage is of Americans who think the FDA is withholding the cure for cancer (40%). Such a predicament is contributing to real problems in the country. The media have been responsible for contributing to sensationalized rhetoric for some time now, but no time is more evident than the past three years.
The media have yet to hold themselves accountable, hyping up both sides of political protests, often sending conflicting groups into an event by riling them up with salacious headlines. The media have also circumvented blame for setting race dialogue back decades by focusing on stories of racial divisions as opposed to stories of racial unity.
There is a long list of societal problems perpetuated by media. This may be a problem created by corporatism, but it's a problem that can be remedied by a few journalists and outlets taking an ethical stand by refusing to complicit in the trend of distorting reality to feed their anti-conservative appetite.
R.C. Maxwell is the director of the Arizona Black Conservative Federation and deputy communications director of the Arizona Republican Party.