On August 8, 2016, Jim Rutenberg, Mediator — media correspondent — for the New York Times explained his employer’s position on reporting Donald Trump’s candidacy.
Rutenberg sets out his arguments (emphases mine):
If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?
Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.
But the question that everyone is grappling with is: Do normal standards apply? And if they don’t, what should take their place?
Covering Mr. Trump as an abnormal and potentially dangerous candidate is more than just a shock to the journalistic system. It threatens to throw the advantage to his news conference-averse opponent, Hillary Clinton, who should draw plenty more tough-minded coverage herself.
Is the NYT providing ‘more tough-minded coverage’? Not that I can see. Speaking of Hillary:
Mrs. Clinton has been around so long that voters can more easily envision what her presidency would look like. And to say she hasn’t been amply scrutinized is to ignore the fact that there are more “gates” affixed to her last name — Travelgate, Whitewatergate, now Emailgate — than there are gates in the Old City of Jerusalem.
Except no media outlet, the NYT included, is talking about them.
Not one has mentioned Travelgate or Whitewater this election cycle. It is important that Clinton’s history come to the fore. A new generation of voters were in nappies and teething when those scandals took place.
No one is talking about Benghazi or even the classified emails on the server. Everyone, especially the NYT, has given Clinton a pass.
Rutenberg received hundreds of comments by way of reply. Most of them are no doubt favourable to his piece. However, there are the following salient ones. One is from a reader in Cincinnati:
So let’s be clear here. The press, by virtue of being one of the very least respected professions in the US, has determined that the American people should have no say in the choosing of a president. They are determined to put into office a person proven to have lied under oath, caused the death of 4 Americans, extorted tens of millions of dollar through influence peddling and who has supported her rapist husband at the expense of his victims rather than allow a candidate they personally feel is not the right kind of person to gain office.
No wonder people hate the press.
A man from Illinois wrote:
… Apparently Mr. Rutenberg learned journalism at NYU differently than I learned in college. It doesn’t matter how you feel or think. If it’s an editorial say what you want. Go at it! But a news story is about the TRUTH. That’s the foundation, anything else is NOT journalism …
A reader from Boston said:
The partisan vitriol gushing from the punditocracy on 24/7 cable infotainment outlets hinges on the premise of providing “balance” to the audience. It pretends to inform the public by presenting differing viewpoints on issues of public interest and controversy. Yet, it is neither balanced nor informative. It is organized disinformation, based on false equivalences, delivered with gratuitous antagonism and feigned outrage.
Once upon a time there was a concept of fairness in broadcasting …
A seasoned veteran of journalism, The Guardian‘s Peter Preston, responded to Rutenberg on Sunday, August 14:
It’s that fairness-and-balance dilemma that haunted the BBC through Brexit, posed in extreme terms. And Jim Rutenberg, the media correspondent of the New York Times, wriggles to find a response …
Ah! The wriggle room opens into a broader corridor … Fate supposedly supplies a fairness that mere reporters can’t manage.
Well, perhaps. But that’s pretty damned convenient. And it doesn’t quite measure up to the challenge. The New York Times has hardly been full of judicious articles examining the deeper meaning and validity of Trumpism, but it’s been a paragon compared with a Washington Post stuffed day after day with pieces taking a chainsaw to the Donald. “Trump’s shallowness runs deep”; how “the Republican party has lost its soul”; see “the 30-second video that is absolutely devastating for Trump”; why “Donald Trump is suffering from mushroom breath”. And so on and so balefully forth.
Preston goes on to say that he thinks British journalism is more objective. I disagree, and so did a number of readers, whose comments follow.
On the media’s double standard towards Clinton and Trump:
… while the press is obsessed with Trump, they have no problem with Clinton putting up a no press barrier. With Trump you’d gush about the fascist demagogue, but with Clinton you seem to have no problem. It’s as if you can only measure the world in sound bites. At the end of the day your angst is rather worthless.
The onus is on the public to discern truth from hype:
… The fact that we do have to fact check most everything puts journalism in a poor light, today, the reader is required to be the investigative journalist …
To which someone replied:
You’re right, and even fact checking web sites can cherry pick which things they want to fact check. It all depends on the political leanings of the owner of the media device …
I think journalism should be like a religion. When you decide to become a journalist, you should take a vow of poverty and lead a life unobscured by money and material possessions. That way, the corrupting influence of money will not swerve a writer’s opinion one way or the other. They just report on truths, and balance those truths equally amongst the political spectrum.
The media does seem to be pretty biased against Trump. It’s a shame that Jeremy Corbyn [embattled Labour Party leader] and Bernie Sanders on the left, and Nigel Farage and Donald Trump on the right, aren’t really given a fair hearing. If anything, it just entrenches support for them.
That said, when a candidate for President has said some of the stuff he’s said, Trump should be scrutinised and his comments shouldn’t simply be shrugged off. It is difficult, but I think journalists have been a bit too biased against Trump, and I say that as someone who loathes him, and loathes the culture which supports him.
has mr preston missed the Guardian’s coverage of Trump over the past few months?!
its hardly been ‘balanced’ … nor has it addressed him in the political and socio-economic context in which American (and other) democracies find themselves in.
the fact of the matter is that the so-called ‘progressive’ sections of the press have been leaders of a lynch mob … its probably done more to reinforce support for Trump than anything else.
One pointed out a recent Guardian headline, which I also saw a week or so ago:
Trump should not be a problem for the media, simply scrutinise what he says to the same level as Hilary Clinton. I think the guardian highlighted last week that he had a slip of the tongue and said it was Friday when in fact it was a Thursday. This was a headline. So long as Clinton is flagged up when she does something similar then this would be objective reporting.
However, there appears to be significant ingrained bias within the majority of the media which makes objectivity on many issues difficult to find …
One man asked simply for the facts:
… If Trump is a monster, give me the facts and all sides, and I will see it myself. However, by being so blatantly bias[ed], I as a reader am forced to ask, “Why are they so biased and scared of Trump? Whose interests are they protecting? What are they scared of? What are they hiding and not reporting?” I do not know if these once reputable news agencies realise that their bias[ed] coverage is counter productive, in fact helps Trump, and destroys the trust people once had in them. In future they may report a truth on another issue, but the trust they once enjoyed, they themselves destroyed in their one-sided coverage of a man called Trump.
Another reader is fed up with the media full stop (first emphasis in the original):
… There is no balance in the media. Any of it. The BBC is nothing more than the state’s propaganda arm. It should be shut down …
The press as a whole are a swamp of political bias. Peddling influence over their readership. There is nothing redeeming about any of the mainstream media, including The Guardian.
The light at the end of the tunnel for truth is the Internet …
Good riddance, and may you all end up on the streets begging for your next drink.
Several readers voiced similar opinions, including this one:
More and more we are hearing the media`s bias view of the news and it is becoming increasingly tiring and counter productive and incredibly boring. The level of articles is generally not very informed and one would expect better in the 3rd form [sixth grade].
What we need is the unvarnished news , with no comment please of what you think! We are not in the least interested unless it is completely objective giving us both views and sides for us to ponder and make our own minds up ?
We do not want spend hours poring over the news trying to extract news from fiction and political spin.
Just give us the news !!! Heavens sake !!!
… media is more interested in manipulating the public for the reasons of their owners. Whether it be greater profits or to be a mouthpiece favourable to a particular set of political or economic or social interests, it is no longer an institution charged with the sacred task of trying to cut through all the noise and feed readers a brand of unblemished truths, to aide them in their outlooks on a variety of topics.
Now I don’t know where to turn for a dose of reality and it is most frustrating. I feel like I’m constantly being lied to and I have no one to complain to. Or no one will acknowledge that I’m being manipulated or lied to. It makes me have zero faith in the reality that is always presented to me.
Another reader said:
This is the first piece I’ve seen which actually points out how inaccurate and skewed the reporting of this election has been. Trump is loathsome, but I have actually found the hysterical reports in the press more troubling even than him. The media has been largely unabashed in its agenda to get Hillary elected, and surely even her supporters should find that troubling.
Another points out what media outlets have omitted:
What Lazy News Editors NEVER Mention:
–Trump’s massive rally numbers are crushing Hillary’s.
–Trump is crushing Hillary in social media followers by a huge margin.
-Trump crushes ALL “independent” online polls averaging 87%.
-Trumplicans are crushing CNN’s Twitter site with complaints of bias.
-Trumplicans crushed CNN’s TV ratings to below Home & Garden TV.
REAL progressive liberals are not democrats who defend authority now instead of challenging, doubting and questioning authority as they used to.
REAL progressives never say; “You can’t say that!” or “I don’t like his tone.”
Trumplicans are the new rebels and Dems are the new neocons of corrupt power.
One reader pointed out the sheer lack of media scrutiny of the Democrats:
Many important points in this article! But also, is it fair that the DNC and Clinton gaming of the system to make Hillary the nominee has been totally underreported!
PS. It really is incredible that Hillary now is the champion of ‘women’s rights’ etc. when one thinks of how her husband behaved while POTUS (and when Governor)!
Another voiced a similar opinion:
Because Clinton has told her fair share of lies. For a politician of experience, she has an appalling track record to be running for president. Constant flip-flopping, lying, scandals, etc. There is basically zero coverage of this. It’s all about whatever nonsense Trump has said today. It’s overwhelming the news and choking out any semblance of a fair and unbiased fourth estate. Like it’s supposed to be.
Here’s something for media outlets to investigate — concerning the DNC:
Three DNC staffers have died in two weeks. Natural causes, no suspicious circumstances and no connections to anything else. A bit like Vince Foster really, just bad luck and coincidence.
Gateway Pundit has the story — these deaths are highly mysterious.
In closing, on Friday, August 12, the Boston Herald — right of centre — had an editorial which said that media bias could well play into Trump’s hands. Chris Cassidy looked at the warnings from media pundits in this regard:
… overhyping Trump’s extreme comments may feed into the very narrative Trump is pushing — that the media is out to get him and put Clinton in the White House, political operatives said.
“It feeds into this system-is-rigged thing really well, that this is all the Washington media,” said New Hampshire Republican strategist Dave Carney. “Yeah, it will help him.”
People are picking up on it in New England. A Vermonter wrote:
Went to a church function last night and some of the discussion was about the so obvious bias by the MSM. Not sure if sympathy would be the word, but more like reality that the Republican candidate cannot be fairly reported by the MSM. Other venues are more honest.
One man objected to the media’s handling of Trump’s comments last week on the Second Amendment versus what Democratic candidates have said in the past:
… why is Trump’s comment generally interpreted as a call to violence but Clinton’s and Kerry’s are not? Media bias is a problem – especially when it benefits one particular political party. Last I looked, we live in the USA and not the USSR.
A man from Seattle wrote:
You have to wonder why they aren’t going after Hillbilly the criminal Clinton 24-7 for all the different email scandals. There’s hardly a mention and when there is it’s excuses why she did what she did.
We need more sources like wikileaks.
Someone rightly took the Herald to task for their own coverage:
So the Boston Herald, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal….those are ALL conservative media outlets. Did they devote their space this week to discussing Trump’s economic proposals in detail? Nope – they focused on the Obama founder of ISIS statements also. So maybe not a liberal thing, but an eyeballs and sales thing.
A Maine resident said:
I work in the public sector and would be afraid to put a Trump bumper sticker on my car.
In conclusion, this is where media bias gets us, in the US and abroad.
It was the same with Brexit. Most Leave voters keep quiet about their leanings, even today.