[NOTE: I wrote the draft of this post before yesterday’s press conference, in which Trump certainly did call on hostile press representatives from liberal news outlets. So Cillizza’s very specific complaint (that Trump only called on friendly sources) no longer applies. But the more general points made in this piece still do, so I’m posting it anyway.]
Chris Cillizza thinks we should be scared, very scared.
Cillizza notes that President Trump has had 3 press conferences with foreign leaders so far, and that the format these usually follow is that a president takes two questions from the domestic press and one from the foreign press. He says that Trump has taken questions from the following outlets: NY Post, Fox, ABC 7 (Sinclair), Daily Caller, Christian Broadcasting Network, and Townhall. He then adds: “All six of those outlets are conservative or conservative leaning.” He also says that both Obama and Bush were different from Trump; Obama called on USA Today, WSJ, AP, Reuters, and Bloomberg, and Bush called on AP, Reuters, NBC, Fox, AP, Reuters, CNN, NBC, and Fox.
…there is a difference in taking questions from outlets with a partisan lean and taking them from mainstream media outlets who are absolutely committed to playing it straight. If Obama had only taken questions from the Huffington Post, Daily Kos and Rachel Maddow, conservatives would be up in arms. And rightly so!
There is much to mull over in those two sentences. The first is Cillizza’s astounding assumption that—as opposed to Fox, the NY Post, etc.—news operations such as AP, NBC, AP, Reuters, and CNN “are absolutely committed to playing it straight.” He is supposed to be a person who keeps up with things, and as a journalist he cannot fail to have noted that polls indicate that the vast majority of people distrust the MSM and think it is biased.
Maybe, though, Cillizza thinks all those people believe it’s biased towards conservatives, and that it’s Fox they think is the one not “absolutely committed to playing it straight,” unlike all those others. Well, um, not really (results from a poll taken shortly after the 2016 election):
7 in 10 (69%) voters do not believe the news media are honest and truthful.
8 in 10 (78%) of voters believe the news coverage of the presidential campaign was biased, with nearly a 3-to-1 majority believing the media were for Clinton (59%) vs. for Trump (21%).
Even 1/3 (32%) of Clinton voters believe the media were “pro-Clinton.”
So the vast majority of people believe that the MSM is biased against Trump and against the right. They don’t seem to believe in that “absolute commitment” that Cillizza claims. In fact, many people would find Cillizza’s statement mildly amusing in a sadly ironic sort of way.
Cillizza goes on:
That’s a very dangerous precedent — and should worry you whether you voted for Trump, voted for Hillary Clinton or didn’t vote at all in the 2016 election. Why? Because the partisan press is not the same thing as the free and independent press. (That’s true of outlets on the right and the left.) The partisan press is playing to an audience who shares a certain viewpoint. The independent media is trying to hold power to account. That’s not the same mission even though those things do, sometimes, run in the same direction.
Hate Trump or love him, the idea that he is purposely freezing out mainstream media reporters because he doesn’t like the sort of questions they ask is chilling. Down that path lies nothing good for journalism — or democracy.
Ah Chris, Chris: welcome to 2017. We agree that “the partisan press is not the same thing as the free and independent press.” We just disagree that there is much of a free and independent press left.
By the way (this is just an aside, Chris) the independent media’s task is not to “hold power to account.” That’s a leftist meme; you might want to rethink that if you want us to believe you are impartial (not to mention how little “holding to account” the MSM did when Barack Obama was in power). The goal of an independent press should be to report the truth, find the truth, ferret out the truth, wherever it may lie.
Let me add, Chris, that we already went “down that path” long ago. You just didn’t notice it (or want to acknowledge it) because you weren’t the one being frozen out. That high and mighty “free and independent” rag you write for, the WaPo, isn’t thought of that way by most of America. But you want us to believe what you say rather than our lying eyes.
Perhaps you also forget when Obama excoriated Fox News in a rather Trumpian way. Let’s refresh your memory:
After months of taking incoming fire from the prime-time stars of Fox News, the Obama White House is firing back, charging that FOX News is different from all other news.
“FOX News often operates almost as either the research arm or the communications arm of the Republican party,” said Anita Dunn, White House communications director.
“If media is operating basically as a talk radio format, then that’s one thing, and if it’s operating as a news outlet, then that’s another,” Mr. Obama said.
And the White House has gone beyond words, reports CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield. Last Sept. 20, the president went on every Sunday news show – except Chris Wallace’s show on FOX. And on Thursday, the Treasury Department tried to exclude FOX News from pool coverage of interviews with a key official. It backed down after strong protests from the press.
“All the networks said, that’s it, you’ve crossed the line,” said CBS News White House correspondent Chip Reid.
Tension between presidents and the press is as old as the Republic. FDR was so incensed by the war reporting of one New York Daily News correspondent he tried to present him with an Iron Cross from Nazi Germany. John Kennedy tried to get New York Timesman David Halberstam pulled out of Vietnam; and Vice-President Spiro Agnew’s assaults on the network press is legendary.
“We have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism,” Agnew said.
What gives this dust-up special irony is that FOX News success comes in no small part from its ability to convince its viewers that the “mainstream” media are slanted to the left. Now, the White House is arguing that the network is not a real news organization at all, and that has brought some mainstream media voices to its defense..
…Such as, for example, CBS (the source of that story). That’s how bad what Obama did was. And note all the other precedents for what you call “a very dangerous precedent” set by Trump.
Ah, but surely Cillizza wasn’t around when Obama’s Communications Director Anita Dunn called said Fox News would be treated as “an opponent” at “war” with the White House, and was not acting like a “legitimate news organization.” This set what would seem to be a bad precedent (unless a person thinks Fox is fair game because it’s not the independent and impartial source that the WaPo is). Well, it turns out the Cillizza was around; here’s what he had to say when Anita Dunn left her administration post and her deputy Dan Pfeiffer came in to replace her:
On Oct. 11, speaking on CNN, Dunn attacked Fox News as “a wing of the Republican Party.” Her comments sparked a fresh battle between the White House and the network. In response to the criticism, Fox News executive Michael Clemente said in a statement that Obama’s aides had decided to “declare war on a news organization.”
A source in the White House, who was not authorized to speak about strategy meetings, said at the time the Dunn went out front against Fox first and foremost because it was her job, but also because it potentially gave the administration the opportunity to distance itself from the flap with the Roger Ailes-led news channel once she leaves the communications job.
Translated: she was about to leave anyway, so she became the attack dog for Obama on Fox so that he could maintain plausible deniability once she left.
But my original question was: who does Cillizza think he’s fooling? My answer (and I bet many of you will disagree) is that I don’t think he thinks he’s fooling anyone. I think he believes what he’s saying. Fish don’t realize they’re swimming in water, and Cillizza (and much of the rest of the MSM) doesn’t see his own biases. After all, they are surrounded by people who agree.