After failing in its attempt to delegitimize and defeat Donald Trump through persistently negative coverage of the candidate throughout the recent campaign, the establishment news media might have been expected to acknowledge its failures and make some effort toward restoring objectivity to journalism.
However, the American public, which has lost confidence in the news media due to its antagonistic approach to President Trump and his supporters, has little hope that the media will cover the Trump presidency in a fair and objective way, according to the findings of a recent Investor's Business Daily/TIPP Poll.
For much of our nation's history, the press earned the trust of the American people with a tradition of objective reporting aimed at providing the public with the facts. During the American Revolution, newspapers were instrumental in both keeping colonists engaged in the effort and inspiring many to join the fight.
Nearly 200 years later, the Washington Post's coverage of the Watergate scandal also demonstrated how American journalism, when dedicated to the pursuit of the truth, can shake up the power structures and create change.
However, the media elite's relentlessly negative and antagonist coverage of Trump, both before and after the election, has damaged trust in the news media, giving rise to a significant credibility gap between the establishment news media and the American people.
The public's growing distrust of the establishment news media has been captured by a number of recent polls.
According to an IBD/TIPP Poll conducted in December, more than half of Americans (55%) report they have less trust in the news media as a result of its coverage of the 2016 election. While Republicans hold the highest share of Americans (71%) who are losing faith in the news media, a majority of independents (56%) also say that they trust the media less in the wake of the recent election.
In addition, a Media Research Center/YouGov Poll conducted between Nov. 9 and 10 found that nearly 7 in 10 voters (69%) do not feel that the news media are honest and truthful. Further, according to a Gallup Poll conducted in September, only 32% of respondents report having a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media's ability "to report the news fully, accurately and fairly," the lowest level in the poll's history of gauging confidence in the media.
The American people's waning confidence in the news media is largely due to its overwhelmingly negative coverage of Donald Trump throughout the presidential campaign. While enclosed in their bubble of cosmopolitan elitism, the media ran story after story that promoted the narrative that Trump was a racist demagogue bent on destroying American democracy. In doing so, the media sought to cast Donald Trump as unfit for the presidency, and to discourage his supporters from voting.
The establishment media's credibility was further marred by most pundits' and pollsters' pre-election prognostications of a stinging defeat for Trump. Pointing to numerous polls that gave Hillary Clinton a comfortable lead, many journalists and media pundits called the race for the Democrat days before the election.
As one example, Washington Post columnist George F. Will echoed many of his media peers as he predicted a landslide victory for Clinton, in an article titled, "Donald Trump may find a place in history — by losing just that badly."
Further, nearly all the election models published by media organizations had Hillary Clinton as the odds-on favorite to win the presidency. Heading into Election Day, the New York Times' The Upshot put the Democrat's chance of winning at 85%, while giving Trump a mere 15% chance to prevail. The Huffington Post's forecast was even more favorable to Clinton, assigning her a 98% chance of becoming president, and predicting a landslide 323 electoral-vote victory for the Democrat.
Thus, as Election Day showed, the media elite's attempts to sway the election by painting Trump as a dangerous and unhinged candidate were not only unsuccessful, but also self-defeating. By the end of the campaign, most Americans perceived the media's anti-Trump bias.
For instance, an Associated Press-GfK Poll released at the end of October 2016 revealed that 56% of likely voters believed the media are biased against Trump, with a mere 5% saying that they were biased in his favor. Further, nearly 9 in 10 Trump supporters (87%) felt that the media were biased against their candidate.
Americans' awareness of the establishment media's opposition to Trump was also uncovered in an IBD/TIPP Poll in September. According to the poll, the share of registered voters who perceived the media's coverage of Donald Trump as being "too tough" (33%) was twice what it was for Hillary Clinton (16%).
Accordingly, in opposing Donald Trump through a constant barrage of negative news stories, the news media unwittingly set itself against a large segment of the population that felt Trump gave a voice to their discontent. During a campaign that witnessed a surge in populist sentiment, many of Trump's supporters, particularly working class Americans, perceived that their values were being derided by the media elite. They rallied behind the candidate who also faced the media's disdain — and who was successfully fighting back.
This was explained brilliantly by Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz during an appearance on America's Newsroom the day after the election: "A lot of the people who support him (Trump) or are inclined to support him despise the media, see us, collectively part of the establishment, and he was fighting against us. He was fighting for them."
Thus, in electing Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, the American people have dealt the establishment media — which strongly opposed Trump throughout the campaign and expected him to lose handily — a striking repudiation, putting its credibility on life support.
Goal One: Delegitimize The Trump Presidency
Despite being handed what amounts to a vote of no confidence from American voters, the news media do not appear to be ready to return to objectivity any time soon. In fact, the media's coverage of Trump has only become more negative and hostile since Election Day, as Democratic-leaning pundits and journalists attempt to delegitimize the Trump presidency.
The news media have devoted much coverage to reports of Russia's alleged hacking into the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign in order to promote the narrative that Trump was illegitimately elected. Although there is no credible evidence to suggest that Russian interference had swayed the outcome of the election, the media has used the story to insinuate that Trump may have been elected with help from the foreign power.
Hence, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, in a piece published on Dec. 12, claimed that the 2016 presidential election was a "tainted election," which Trump won "only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement."
Various television news programs also used reports of alleged Russian election meddling to cast doubt on the legitimacy of a Trump presidency.
For instance, on the Dec. 11 installment of "Face the Nation," host John Dickerson and Slate correspondent Jamelle Bouie discussed "new" information gathered by the intelligence community which, says Dickerson, indicated that Russian interference was "targeted to help Donald Trump."
During the segment, Bouie explained how this "news" could call into question the legitimacy of the recent election: "If it is true, if we have further verification of this, then what it suggests potentially is that the election was in some sense illegitimate."
Further, appearing on "Good Morning America" last month, ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl related to anchor George Stephanopoulos how it was unlikely that Trump would retaliate against Russia for alleged hacking activity since it "arguably helped him get elected president."
Some in the media went beyond insinuation, unabashedly declaring that Vladimir Putin and Russia were directly responsible for the election of Donald Trump.
On MSNBC's "Hardball" at the end of December, Jason Johnson, politics editor for the Root, referred to the election as an "amazing coup" by Putin, who "took over the United States and got himself a Manchurian candidate."
Not to be outdone, Keith Olbermann, host of the webshow "The Resistance" for GQ.com, has referred to Trump as a "puppet of Putin" and lamented that, as a result of Russian interference in the recent election, "we are no longer a democracy, we are no longer a free people, we are the victims of a bloodless coup."
It is not surprising, therefore, that some have even considered the possibility of holding another presidential election, a "redo" of sorts, over alleged Russian interference. For instance, in an appearance on "CNN Newsroom" the day after the Washington Post published its story on the CIA's assessment of Russian meddling, Robert Baer, an intelligence and security analyst for CNN, stated that, if Russia interfered in the election, "I don't see any other way than to vote again."
The media elite's eagerness to delegitimize the Trump presidency was most evident when CNN and BuzzFeed reported on a suspect intelligence report that claims Russia holds compromising information on Trump which could be used for blackmail. Buzzfeed's publication of the unverified dossier, which contained salacious allegations against Trump, was roundly criticized, even by some in the establishment media, such as the Atlantic and Vox.
In a recent interview on "Fox News Sunday," Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bob Woodward of Watergate fame referred to the dossier as a "garbage document" that should never have been published.
However, Trump may actually benefit from this blatant attempt by the media to undermine his presidency. CNN and Buzzfeed's reporting on the unsubstantiated document, which contains bizarre allegations that are obviously fictitious, gave credence to Trump's claims of media bias. It also demonstrates why the media have lost so much credibility in the eyes of the American people.
Besides attempting to delegitimize the Trump presidency, the media elite have also tried to cast doubt on Trump's fitness to serve, both morally and mentally. For example, a number of media pundits and columnists have claimed that racism played a significant role in Trump's victory, and have stoked fears that his presidency would resemble an authoritarian regime.
Soon after Trump won, CNN's Van Jones declared on air that the election "was a white-lash against a changing country, it was a white-lash against a black president."
In a Dec. 7 article for the New York Times, columnist Andrew Rosenthal also suggested that Trump ran a racist campaign, claiming that it offered "a platform to white supremacists." He chastised Trump supporters who, wittingly or not, voted for "a candidate who espoused racism and xenophobia and told lie after lie without remorse."
Impeaching Trump: A Media Goal?
Some in the media portrayed Trump as an authoritarian, even before he officially took office. On "Meet the Press" in late December, MSNBC correspondent Joy Reid expressed concern that, by electing Trump, America could "slip casually into authoritarianism," as his approach to government already contains, in her words, "some real elements of authoritarianism."
Daily Beast contributor Dean Obeidallah echoed these fears, but with more specificity. On the Dec. 9 edition of CNN's "New Day," Obeidallah accused Trump of creating a cabinet that amounted to a "dream team of anti-Muslim hate."
Some in the media elite have even questioned the state of Trump's mental health. In an article titled "Is Donald Trump Mentally Ill? 3 Professors Of Psychiatry Ask President Obama To Conduct 'A Full Medical And Neuropsychiatric Evaluation,' " Richard Greene of the Huffington Post claimed that Trump satisfies the criteria of a "narcissistic personality disorder," and thus represents a "serious danger to the country and the world."
Questioning a president's moral and mental fitness could be dismissed as partisan attacks or as talking points aimed at boosting support. However, as the Washington Post's Richard Cohen demonstrates in his Jan. 9 piece, "How to Remove Trump From Office," some may be questioning Trump's fitness to have him impeached. Cohen writes that Trump should be subject to "impeachment by the House and conviction by the Senate," using the 25th Amendment, which he says provides a way to remove a president from office if he or she is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."
As grounds for this, Cohen cites Trump's alleged bullying, lying and demagoguery: "Donald Trump is a one-man basket of deplorables. He is a braggart and a liar. He is a bully and a demagogue. He is an ignoramus and a deadbeat, a chiseler and either a sincere racist or an insincere one, and his love for himself is matched only by my loathing of him. He is about to be president of the United States. A constitutional coup may be in the offing."
Objectivity's Bleak Outlook
However, as was the case before the election, Americans recognize the news media's anti-Trump frenzy and have little hope the media elite will cover Trump's presidency in an objective way. In our latest IBD/TIPP Poll, nearly half of respondents (45%) believe that the news media are rooting for President Trump's failure, compared with 10% who say that the media want him to succeed. Meanwhile, only 38% of Americans report that the media are indifferent to Trump's success or failure.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the public is highly skeptical that the media will fairly cover Trump. According to our poll, 49% of Americans feel that the news media will be "too tough" in their coverage, while just 24% say the coverage will be fair and balanced. Digging deeper, nearly 9 in 10 Republicans (85%) and close to half of independents (48%) expect the media's coverage of President Trump to be "too tough."
Thus, if the establishment media maintains its negative coverage of Trump, in which nearly every move he makes is subjected to excessive outrage from pundits and columnists, they risk widening their credibility gap with the American people, and will continue to lose to a president who knows how to take on the media and win.
The media's antagonistic coverage of Trump insults the intelligence of Americans, who are beginning to tune out. Will they abandon the establishment media for good?
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