The past few days have been very interesting to me as someone who has worked in the media and cares about journalism. We have come to a point in American journalism where there is a reporting divide as big as the Grand Canyon, with liberals on one side and conservatives on the other.
Closing the reporting divide by hiring conservatives?
I’m reminded of L. Brent Bozell of the Media Reasearch Center‘s book “Weapons of Mass Distortion: The Coming Meltdown of the Liberal Media.” I read the book when it was first published in 2004. Over the years, one of Bozell’s predictions on the future of the mainstream continues to be proven incorrect. Bozell theorized that mainstream newspapers, cable news outlets, magazines, etc., would have to begin focusing on hiring conservative journalists if they wanted to maintain their credibility as neutral arbiters of the news.
At the time I was skeptical of Bozell’s prescription because, having worked in newspapers for about a decade at that point, I wondered where these media organizations were going to find experienced, competent conservatives. I knew that reporters and editors were overwhelmingly liberal, and absent a serious effort to recruit conservatives, I didn’t see how that would be successful.
In the years since, I can think of only two people (there may be a handful more—but not more than that) who went from a conservative publication to the “mainstream” press: Robert Costa at The Washington Post, and Elaina Plott at The New York Times. Both of them worked for National Review earlier in their careers.
Now, 16 years after Bozell’s prescription was published, it’s clear he was wrong. The mainstream media has chosen to go another way.
Deepening the reporting divide, not bridging it
Instead of increasing the ideological diversity in their newsrooms, many—unconsciously or not—adopted the marketing strategy of Fox News’ Roger Ailes who famously said that he built that network into a cable news juggernaut by serving the half of America that is conservative.
MSNBC has been most notable in embracing this idea, with CNN and a plethora of other outlets, both broadcast and print, following as well. Most notable on the print front has been The Washington Post with its “Democracy Dies in Darkness” Trump era slogan along with its formerly conservative columnists Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot.
Solidifying the reporting divide
The past week may have been the time when this conservative vs. liberal (or mainstream or institutional) reporting divide may have finally succeeded in creating two distinct realities based upon the what they’ve chosen to cover.
Last week, The New York Post, one of America’s oldest and largest newspapers, ran a story alleging that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, had used his connections to his father to enrich himself.
The only new details unearthed in this story are things that confirm what we already knew using our common sense: Hunter Biden was paid $50,000/month to sit on the board of Ukrainian oil company Burisma not because he’s some expert in the energy field, but because his father was vice president of the United States and had a lot of sway over our government’s relationship with Ukraine.
This kind of political corruption is nothing new
The fact that the families and associates of prominent political figures seem to be able to enrich themselves at a level that is vastly more than their own skills and abilities could achieve is nothing new. Hillary Clinton made a lot of money trading cattle futures, despite having no experience or knowledge of the market. Her daughter Chelsea got a reporting gig at NBC News to the tune of $600,000 despite having no experience and, frankly, not being particularly good at it.
George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna Bush Hager got a similar boost with a job at the Today show, but she’s made that into a career and while her famous name likely got her in the door, it’s clear, unlike Chelsea, that she has an aptitude for it.
Even the sainted Michelle Obama was the beneficiary of this kind of influence-seeking as her $300,000/year job running community affairs for the University of Chicago hospital looked like little more than political payback for her husband, then Sen. Barack Obama, who earmarked $1 million for a new hospital pavilion. Shortly after her husband was elected president, Michelle Obama left that job. The University of Chicago Hospital then eliminated the position.
I have little doubt the Trump family, including his orangeness himself, are finding ways to benefit from the presidency.
And don’t get me started on the now-defunct Clinton Foundation, which appears to have been little more than a place to store Clinton functionaries and maintain goodwill with the Clintons until it would pay off with an eventual Hillary Clinton presidency. Once it was clear that wouldn’t happen, the money flowing into the foundation plummeted.
Big Tech and the Reporting Divide
This Biden emails story from the New York Post made some waves early on not because of its content, but because of Big Tech’s reaction to the content. Twitter declared the reporting a result of “hacking” and made it so the link to the story could not be shared via its platform. Twitter also locked the accounts of the Post and others, including that of the White House Press Secretary and the Trump campaign’s account.
Facebook considered the Post’s reporting “disinformation” and made moves to slow and limit the story’s spread on its platform.
Laughably, Twitter’s “hacked materials” policy was applied for the first time to a reputable media business as a result of the Post’s story, when, if Twitter was being consistent, it also should’ve been applied the the New York Times’ Trump taxes stories that hit the news more than two weeks ago. In that case, whomever provided those files to the Times violated federal law. From the Post’s reporting, its receipt of the Hunter Biden emails was not the result of any violation of law.
As of the time of the writing of this article, the New York Post has still been locked out of its Twitter account for refusing to delete the links to its own story.
Today, the reporting divide widened
It’s one thing for the social media giants to prevent bona fide reporting from proliferating on their networks to the benefit of a politician and political party. It’s something altogether different for every news organization to ignore information and downplay developments that might threaten the success of their favored candidate.
Imagine if in 2004, in the wake of the CBS News “60 Minutes” expose on George W. Bush’s (forged) national guard records, that no major newspaper picked up the story. None of CBS’ competitors on broadcast or cable rushed to follow-up and get more information.
That’s what’s happening today.
As Fox News, The New York Post, National Review, The Federalist, The Daily Caller, and other right-of-center media outlets are “pouncing” on leaked text messages that appear to assure Joe Biden a 10 percent cut in a deal with a Chinese energy company, you won’t find that information from other, traditional outlets like CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, or even the once reliably right-wing Drudge Report. (There is an NBC News story that touches on the controversy briefly, but it’s buried within a story about QAnon conspiracies and human trafficking.
This reporting divide is leaving is with a bifurcated media landscape. People who rightly pride themselves on being well, if not broadly, read news junkies can find themselves completely oblivious to this developing story despite consuming a lot of national political reporting.
These political reporters on the left side of the reporting divide go on Twitter and, to the approving retweets and replies of their colleagues and other blue checks, justify why the can’t, won’t, and/or shouldn’t report on news that the other half of America is talking about.
This divide is not just bad news for journalism that continues to see its respectability wane, but also for our democracy. Iowahawk’s famous line that “Journalism is about covering the important stories…with a pillow, until they stop moving” shouldn’t become this obviously true.
For those of you who are interested in the latest developments today, having not been well-served by the left-side media, check out this summary from The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel.