I was standing in the Rose Garden when my suspicion was confirmed: The establishment media’s grudge against President Donald Trump is real, and it’s the basis for their bias.
I’m a longtime journalist, and last November I went to the White House to cover the traditional delivery of the Christmas tree that is displayed in the Blue Room. The annual event is a light-hearted affair, and it makes for an easy holiday story.
Not long after first lady Melania Trump received the tree and the ceremony concluded, an impromptu press briefing was announced for the Rose Garden, so I joined a rush of reporters as we lined up outside of the West Wing before heading into the courtyard.
Trump called the gathering to introduce Conan, the dog that chased Islamic State leader leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to his demise down a dead-end tunnel in Syria last October.
As reporters clamored for space, Trump exited the Oval Office, stood next to the dog and said, “He’s trained that if you open your mouths, you will be attacked. You want to be very, very careful.”
Trump grinned as he made the remark, but among the reporters around me who stood silent, stone-faced and solemn, the joke fell flat.
It was clear that, when it comes to covering Trump, the establishment media has no time for banter or humor when that coverage is based on disdain and rooted in bias.
Mind you, the Rose Garden incident wasn’t the first time I had witnessed the establishment media’s personal dislike of Trump. After spending more than 20 years in newsrooms, I know bias and subjectivity when I see it, and in the case of Trump, the two nasty elements are intertwined in today’s journalism.
While examples of bias from the national establishment media have been widely — and frequently — publicized, the same problem is prevalent inside the smaller newsrooms of cities and towns across the country. Having worked in such environments, it’s easy to understand why the president simply can’t get a fair shake from that media.
In March 2016, when the Republican Primary was heating up, I was working for a mid-sized daily in pivotal Pennsylvania, and I landed an exclusive interview with Donald Trump Jr. that should have been Page 1 material for the newspaper.
During the interview, Trump Jr. and I spoke at length about his passion for the outdoors, his connection to Pennsylvania and life on the campaign trail with his father. The next day, when the story ran on Page 3, I was shocked to see that my editor had tweaked the first paragraph in a major way, adding the word “controversial” before a reference to the elder Trump.
While the addition of a single word might not seem like a big deal, in this case it was very telling that a newspaper editor would describe someone as “controversial” in what otherwise was a straight news story.
In journalism, the use of such a term is dangerous. Just because some people might think a person is controversial, it doesn’t mean everyone feels that way. The fact that my editor thought it was OK to use such a disparaging generalization showed he was unable to put aside his personal dislike for Trump in the name of objectivity.
And the examples didn’t end there.
I’ve witnessed reporters gather around the newsroom television to cheer on CNN as pundits twisted and misconstrued Trump’s words. I’ve listened as reporters and editors held impromptu bull sessions, hammering the president on everything from his policies to his appearance.
The daily disdain for Trump in my newsroom got so bad that on an uneventful day in 2018, reporters and editors launched into an expletive-filled tirade against Trump when their phones buzzed with a “Presidential Alert.” (It actually was a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert system issued by FEMA, but why waste an opportunity to blame Trump for something?)
So while the bias of the national establishment media against Trump is cause for concern, the reciprocating mindset of community-based newspapers is just as troubling. These are the institutions the residents of small towns and mid-sized cities trust to keep them informed. There’s nothing worse a newspaper can do than betray that trust, yet less than four months before the 2020 election, that’s exactly what’s happening.
As the establishment media shows no sign of righting the ship and replacing bias with objectivity when it comes to President Trump, it’s no wonder that many of the smaller newspapers are cutting staff or closing the doors. People see through the charade, and their trust in the community newspaper is gone. That’s one reason why subscriptions are dwindling, advertising dollars are vanishing and the business model is broken.
Now more than ever, the public desires journalism that informs, enlightens and helps them hold elected officials accountable when it comes time to vote. Simply put, there’s a fine line between informing readers and telling them how to think, and the establishment media has crossed that line in their coverage of Trump.
Unfortunately, the establishment media is so committed to their hatred of Trump that it’s too late to simply go back to reporting both sides of a story and let the readers make up their own minds.
It’s a downward spiral that began when animosity toward Trump crept out of newsrooms and onto the pages of newspapers big and small.
Trump took a lot of heat from the establishment media in 2017 when he first called them “the enemy of the people.”
Three years later, it turns out he was right.
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