During a recent CNN interview, New Yorker editor David Remnick expressed consternation with the public’s refusal to accept at face value what the news media report about President Trump. Our intransigence, it seems, is a source of considerable frustration for the Fourth Estate: “We don’t understand why the evidence of things, why facts don’t penetrate so many of our brothers and sisters in the United States of America.” Remnick and the press corps for whom he presumes to speak evidently fail to comprehend that this patronizing attitude toward their “brothers and sisters” is precisely what created and still drives public mistrust of the media.
Nor does Remnick seem to realize that the erosion of public confidence in media began decades ago and continued apace during the past ten years. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who express “very little confidence” in television news increased from 31 percent in July of 2009 to 45 percent in June of 2019. Nearly half of the nation regards what they see on network and cable newscasts as biased or simply untrue. Newspapers and other media also lost considerable credibility during the past ten years. As to to overall veracity, Gallup reports that, in 2019, a mere 13 percent of Americans trust the media “a great deal.”
If Remnick and his media colleagues truly want to understand why, they should consider the vertigo-inducing volte-face executed by the Washington Post’s editorial board concerning the Democratic governor of Virginia. Governor Northam, you will recall, was embroiled in a scandal last February when a racist photo was discovered on the “Ralph Shearer Northam” page of his medical school yearbook. The shot in question featured two individuals, one in blackface (probably Northam) and the other in a KKK costume. The Governor admitted that one of the two was indeed him, and the editors of the Post called for his resignation:
Gov. Ralph Northam can no longer effectively serve the people of Virginia who elected him. His shifting and credulity-shredding explanations for the racist photograph on his medical school yearbook page, and the silence into which he then succumbed for days—after initially promising to do “the hard work” of atonement and apology to restore his standing.… In the case of Mr. Northam, the circumstances are decisive; what’s done cannot be undone. He must go.
Shortly thereafter, however, he rescinded his confession, claiming that neither of the people in the photo could have been him because he has donned blackface but a single time for a talent show. He added, “I have a lot of African-American friends.” When asked why Virginians should believe him, he offered the following: “I was the president of the VMI honor court. Our code there is a cadet shall not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do. That’s the most meaningful thing to me in my life. I tell the truth. I’m telling the truth today.” Northam was obviously lying, as everyone knew at the time, yet the Post has now given him absolution:
In February, most of Virginia’s lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, called on him to resign, as did an editorial on this page. Few of those calls were repeated for long, although the question of who is in the photo, if it is not Mr. Northam, remains unanswered.… It helped that Virginia Republicans, rarely bothered by President Trump’s race-baiting, lack any credibility to criticize Mr. Northam.… Most potent, it helped that he set himself an agenda on racial equity and pursued it single-mindedly.
It couldn’t be more obvious that the Post reversed itself for one reason — Northam is a Democrat who purchased his special dispensation with a leftward lurch that has included a radical gun control law and an extremist pro-abortion position. As the gratuitous and false cheap shots at President Trump demonstrate, there isn’t the slightest chance that any Republican would receive such leniency. Indeed, one week before the Northam scandal broke, Florida’s GOP Secretary of State had to resign after photos surfaced showing him wearing blackface 14 years earlier. The Post hasn’t attempted to rehabilitate his reputation.
The Washington Post is, of course, not alone in its hypocrisy. The Independent reports that a special dispensation was issued by CNN’s vice president of digital partnerships, Matt Dornic, when it was discovered by the Log Cabin Republicans that the network’s White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins had tweeted anti-gay slurs in college. When the news got out, Collins issued an apology via Twitter: “When I was in college, I used ignorant language in a few tweets to my friends. It was immature but it doesn’t represent the way I feel at all. I regret it and apologize.” Dornic followed up with a generous tweet in which he defended her:
I’m a proud gay man. And I am a proud friend of @kaitlancollins. Tho I’m disappointed that she ever used the word (even as a college kid), I can say with certainty it doesn’t reflect her feelings toward the LGBTQ community. She’s apologized and I accept that.
Does anyone believe that Dornic would respond as generously if similar slurs had been written by a White House correspondent for Fox or any other conservative media outlet? Collins is by no means the first “progressive” to commit this particular sin and get away with it. Last year, MSNBC’s Joy Reid came under fire for a series of old blog posts containing a variety of anti-gay slurs. According to Politico, Reid claimed that the site’s archives had been hacked by the denizens of the Dark Web for purposes of inserting the slurs. MSNBC accepted this nonsense and she continues to fabricate tales about President Trump and his supporters.
It’s not difficult to imagine what would happen if Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity had committed thought crimes similar to those of Joy Reid or Kaitlan Collins. Nor is it hard to visualize the manufactured outrage that would ensue if any Republican at any level attempted to remain in office in the face of revelations such as those which emerged concerning Virginia’s governor. Yet this just scratches the surface of the media malpractice to which the public has been subjected. So, why are David Remnick and his colleagues so mystified by public skepticism concerning their reporting of the President’s alleged crimes?
It should be clear that an increasing number of Americans intuitively understand what Mark Twain was getting at when he wrote, “A thunderstorm made Béranger a poet, a mother’s kiss made Benjamin West a painter and a salary of $15 a week makes us a journalist.”