Mark Grimm


Trump and Journalism’s Death Spiral

Mainstream American network and print journalism is in a death spiral (First though, this caveat. Journalism is a thousand voices and each voice should be judged individually on its merits). That said, come on people. How can anyone watch the nightly network news, or CNN or read the NY Times and not concede they have declared war on President Donald Trump.

They have reason to be defensive. Trump has launched an all-out assault on their credibility. But their response — to wage a battle to the death attempting to destroy him — makes them even less credible. They should answer President Trump the old fashion way, by being as fair and objective as possible (even if they can’t stand the guy). That is the only way they will restore their tattered credibility.

CNN reporter Jake Tapper looked into the camera and told the president to “stop whining” and get to work. The NY Times printed an opinion piece with a headline questioning if Trump was “a threat to democracy.” Yes, Mr. Trump’s biting personality is unprecedented in the Internet age, but so too is the media coverage. It’s never the media’s job to get back at anyone. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Let’s be clear, I’ve never been blind to the President’s flaws. The adolescent side of Mr. Trump, who spent his first full day in office complaining about crowd size estimates, or spent a week feuding with the parents of a dead war hero, has added a match to the burning hatred that consumes his critics. They have the right to protest from now to doomsday if they wish. But the press should not be part of the chorus. My own local newspaper actually did an editorial asking duly elected Trump delegates not to vote for him.

Media managers used to hide behind the “we have reporting and we have opinion pieces” defense. That line has been obliterated. Reporters routinely opine on the very stories they cover. Many major media outlets have now decided to cater to the audiences that agree with them. For example, imagine the difference in viewership between Fox News and MSNBC. News networks and major papers have become opinion news more than journalism. Mr. Trump has accelerated this death spiral but he did not start it.

Journalism has morphed into something else. The profession’s declining credibility could not have come at a worse time for it. In the 21st century, people are increasingly getting their news from each other, often from friends they agree with on most issues. The truth is nearly every network and every major newspaper has an agenda and none of them is truly objective (C-Span remains a rare exception).

There’s a silver lining. There are still many people in journalism who remain dedicated to the pursuit of the truth. I’ve worked with many of them. They must operate in this difficult environment. It is up to us to get our news from as many sources as possible and reward the ones that do the best job at being fair and objective. We can provide this badly-needed incentive. They are the ones that must survive.

Mark Grimm is a former TV news anchor/reporter, media professor and radio host who runs a public communication business.

The Subtleties of Media Bias: Spotting Spin

The very competitive GOP presidential primary has produced a thought-provoking dichotomy after each battle — there’s the score and then there’s how the media covers the score.

On Super Tuesday, 10 states were contested. This was the lead paragraph of the NY Times story the next morning:

Mitt Romney appeared to pull off a narrow victory in Ohio on Super Tuesday but lost several other states to Rick Santorum,  a split verdict that overshadowed Mr. Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates and all but ensured another round of intense infighting on the road to the Republican presidential nomination.

Is there any doubt in your mind the writer is hoping the race continues? It makes for good copy and sells more newspapers. But is that lead really an objective treatment of what happened?

Note the subtleties in the lead. There was a consensus Ohio was the big prize on Super Tuesday. Romney won it, yet that win is immediately contrasted to Santorum victories in three states, not with Romney’s wins in five others. The lead suggests the “split verdict” overshadowed Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates. Who says it “overshadowed” it? That’s the reporter speaking. And what does he mean Romney’s “claim?”  He collected the most delegates. The numbers are what they are.

How often are three items (the number of states Santorum won) referred to as “several?” Wouldn’t you typically refer to three as a few?

Media bias is often a thousand cuts disguised in subtlety.

Here’s a more objective description, very factual, with the appropriate emphasis on states and delegates:

Mitt Romney won twice as many states as his closest opponent on Super Tuesday, including the biggest prize, Ohio. The wins expanded Romney’s lead in the delegate count. Rick Santorum won three states, strengthening  his claim he is Romney’s chief rival.

My analysis is of a news report, not commentary. The pundits are allowed to say whatever they wish and, often times, they have their own agendas. But that’s not news reporting, it is commentary. Unfortunately, the line is getting harder and harder to find.

The writer is a former TV news anchor/reporter and current adjunct media professor.

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