By Sam Wolfe
Once upon a time, when the world was a happier place and things were easier, I laughed along with my progressive friends when the conservative media produced nakedly partisan moments. I giggled in 2012 as Fox News hypothesized that “Black Panther enforcers” might be intimidating voters. I laughed harder on election night when Karl Rove, almost in tears, tried to explain that “conservative counties” had yet to be counted and that Romney, despite the glaring evidence, was set for a comeback win. I howled when E.D. Hill tried to make sense of Barack Obama’s fist-bump (was it “A terrorist fist jab?” she wondered). “Man, these people are dumb,” I thought. “How could anyone watch this?”
Indeed, the left writ large watched such moments with smug glee. “That’s partisan hackery,” they’d say. “We don’t do that.”
I still laugh when these moments come up, but there’s an acrid taste in my mouth. That’s because it is now painfully, painfully clear to me that the left is no better. Oh, sure, I would’ve always acknowledged that there were pockets of lunacy in any movement. The left couldn’t be exempt from that. But big progressive media? The Vox-es, the Slates, the New Republics? They were great!
Before I continue, here’s a disclaimer: There are good journalists who work for all of these publications. Even the bad ones probably think they’re doing the right thing. But these good journalists are the minority in an ocean of mediocrity and nihilistic hackery. I am picking on big publications because they have the biggest responsibility, but they are by no means the worst.
If you regularly read left-wing news, I’m now going to ask you to perform a thought experiment. Ask yourself: How many articles have you read over the last year that put a positive spin on something Donald Trump has done or said? Have you read one that even intimated that there was another side to the story, even if the overall tone was negative? (If your answer is “no, but that’s because he has not done a single vaguely redeemable thing,” you are forever lost).
Does it strike you as natural and normal that Trump’s first executive action, a cancellation of an Obama regulation on the Federal Housing Administration, would be to “screw over homeowners?” There he goes again, that Trump, destroying the country with every move that he makes! Of course, it wouldn’t have been hard for Mother Jones, the site I’ve linked to, to add a little line acknowledging that this move will shore up the FHA’s fiscal position. It wouldn’t have been hard to write, “The move reveals a preference for fiscal austerity over federal assistance to the disadvantaged.” I mean, that still makes Trump sound evil. But no, they cannot stop halfway.
Perverse financial incentives are partly to blame because when Trump delivers his inauguration, no one wants to hear if it was okay, some good moments and some mediocre, mostly a reiteration of his campaign themes. That won’t get you clicks and advertising revenue. No, people want to hear that Trump, with the very first words of his Presidency, has “already let America down.” People want to read that Trump pandered only to his “loyalists,” despite his speech literally containing the words “There is no room for prejudice” and a commitment to “all Americans.” Similarly, when a story breaks that Trump might’ve had a party with Russian sex workers, no matter how farfetched it might be, if you want page views, you report that.
It is truly easy to find ways to criticize Trump. He has done and said despicable things. But the progressive media cannot stop there. They have to spin every single moment, every step Trump takes, every policy he floats into the actions of Satan himself.
It is the epitome of black comedy when a website like the Huffington Post publishes an article lamenting political polarization. The same Huff Post that was so blindly pro-Hillary that its forecast model gave her a 98% chance of winning on the eve of the election. But “reality has a liberal bias,” declare two separate, identically titled Huffington Post articles. No, it doesn’t. You are just an idiot.
The last year has been a disgrace for the media industry. To those in the media: Ask yourself why you became a journalist. Whose fault is it that 32 percent, one third of the country, has any faith whatsoever in you?
This is a painful column for me to write, because I have long aspired to be a journalist. I cannot imagine doing so in such a putrid intellectual environment.
Contact Sam Wolfe at swolfe2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.