Journalists these days bemoan the adherence to “both sides” reporting. Too often, they say, it misleads readers into thinking there are two legitimate sides.
“I’m convinced that journalists — specifically those who cover politics — must keep a sharp focus on truth-seeking, not old-style performative neutrality,” wrote former Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan.
Because, you see, democracy is at stake.
Sullivan didn’t need to preach this sermon, because the press has already been living by this credo.
The problem is that dumping “old-style neutrality” hasn’t made news coverage more accurate, it’s just led the news media even further into the swamp of hysterical partisanship.
It’s left them prone to hoaxes and forced them to issue countless retractions and corrections. Any story that makes Republicans look bad gets paraded around before lifting a fact-checking finger — from Russia collusion to Jussie Smollet to the supposedly racist Catholic schoolboys.
Immediately after the attack on Paul Pelosi, the press jumped to the conclusion that his attacker was some sort of MAGA nutjob. He’s hardly that.
Just as bad, the non-neutral, truth-seeking press does its level best to keep the public in the dark about any scandals (Hunter Biden, anyone?) and crises that make Democrats look bad — a challenge that gets harder by the day.
Truth, it turns out, now matters far less to the “truth-seeking” press than ever.
Consider the recent string of events involving President Biden.
In the span of a few days, he called Kamala Harris a “great president,” got disoriented at an event on the White House lawn, claimed that his student loan giveaway was a law passed by Congress not his own executive order, misstated the name of Britain’s new prime minister, suffered another embarrassing teleprompter failure, appeared to nearly drift off into sleep during a TV interview, got confused about how to exit a stage he’d climbed up just moments before.
A neutral press would be demanding answers from the White House about Biden’s condition. They’d be talking to experts about the grave risks of having a president suffering from dementia in charge. They’d have their pollsters ask the public about its concerns with Biden’s mental health. (Something our Issues & Insights/TIPP has done).
Instead, reporters are feverishly sweeping Biden’s rapid deterioration under the rug. Indeed, if it weren’t for conservative news outlets, the public would have virtually no idea of how disturbing Biden’s decline has become.
They did the same thing with John Fetterman, the Democrat running for a senate seat in Pennsylvania. Reporters covering Fetterman haven’t been truth-seeking. They’ve been truth-denying about the debilitating effects of the stroke he suffered in May.
The public had virtually no idea how bad Fetterman’s condition is – until Fetterman’s debate with the Republican Mehmet Oz, which exposed it for all to see and has led to a sharp decline in Fetterman’s poll numbers. Why didn’t Pennsylvania voters know? Because the press was covering it up for fear that reporting on Fetterman’s condition would only help Oz, which could then lead to — horror! — Republicans taking control of the Senate.
The border crisis is another example. A little over a week ago, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agency released its latest report on illegal border crossings, and the numbers are truly shocking. In the last fiscal year, they’ve encountered 2.7 million illegals, up from 1.9 million in 2021 and four times the number in President Trump’s last year in office. Try to find news coverage about that report from the “truth-seeking” press.
How about the economy? At a time like this, the press would be seeking the truth about the struggles Americans are facing because of four-decade-high inflation rates. Instead, when the Biden administration went into denial mode about the recession, the press dutifully fell into line. And when the third-quarter GDP number came out showing a modest 2.6% increase, reporters didn’t dig into the data, they parroted White House talking points about a big rebound. Had they bothered to seek the truth, they would have been reporting something very different.
How about the rapid rise in violent crime? Nothing to see there. The needless harm of lockdowns and school shutdowns during COVID? Not a story. The radical things schools are peddling while trying to lock parents out? Can’t be bothered.
These are all issues that today are of the most concern for voters right now and are driving them into the arms of Republicans.
But instead of reporting honestly about them, the press has been fixated on Jan. 6 and abortion and how voting for a Republican is a threat to democracy.
This hyper-partisanship hasn’t improved the public’s knowledge or understanding of events. It has destroyed the public’s trust in the media. Our I&I/TIPP poll found that 58% of Americans say they have little or no trust in traditional news outlets. A mere 12% have a lot of trust. Many other polls have found similar levels of mistrust.
Sorry, Margaret, but “old-style performative neutrality” is precisely what journalists need to re-learn. Otherwise, they will never regain their grip on reality or the public’s trust.
— Written by the I&I Editorial Board
P.S.: Before readers start complaining that we are guilty of rank partisanship ourselves, keep in mind that we are an opinion site, and don’t hide our conservative, free-market viewpoint, which we apply to all politicians and policies, no matter their party affiliation and which, by the way, is far more grounded in reality than leftist dogma.