The Narrative of the ‘MSM Narrative’
Journalism is terrible except when compared to the alternatives.
Bulwark executive editor Jonathan V. Last has a superb essay titled “Andrew Sullivan and the Narrative of the ‘MSM Narrative.’” It’s ostensibly a response to a particular essay at The Weekly Dish but it goes to a much larger conversation. Because Sullivan himself, like Glenn Greenwald (also mentioned in JVL’s piece), is such a lightning rod, I’ll focus on the big picture.
What and/or who is “the mainstream media”? Is it the New York Times and the Washington Post? The AP? NBC News and CNN? Ryan Lizza’s Twitter feed? The Los Angeles Times? BuzzFeed? Axios? NPR? Maggie Haberman’s book?
The “mainstream media”—I’m going to stop putting that in quotes, but keep imagining that I’m saying it sarcastically—is probably made up of several thousand individuals and then a three-figure number of institutions. At any given moment, on any given story, some number of these people and institutions will communicate facts that are eventually understood to be misleading or incorrect. Some of these people and institutions are better at their jobs than others.
The point is that the MSM universe is so large that you’re always going to be able to cherry-pick examples to support the notion that “they” are feeding “us” false narratives.
Last goes through various such examples showing that, while some sources invariably got some big stories wrong, the vast array of outlets soon gathered more evidence and got the story right. Which, incidentally, is how Sullivan (and Greenwald and other critics) know that the stories were wrong to begin with.
Now, where Sullivan and Greenwald have a point—one that Last doesn’t engage—is that sensational early reporting often “sticks.” The Covington boys provoked an old Native American, a Capitol Police officer had his head bashed in with a fire extinguisher, and the Duke Lacrosse team are rapists in the minds of millions of Americans who never saw the much smaller, less sensational retractions.
I don’t know what to do about that, though.
And of the dozens of thousands of meta-stories the MSM has covered over the last five years, much of the reporting has added real value to our world, yes?
For instance, if you only relied on reporting from the MSM about COVID, you would have been much better informed than if you’d relied on, say, Facebook, or conservative media. Reporting on the 2020 election lawsuits and allegations of fraud in the MSM were, in the main, very helpful.
Like Last, I’m less conservative and far less Republican than I once was. There was certainly a point where I generally agreed with claims about The Liberal Media and even today I think the elite media tend to have a liberal bias, especially on cultural issues.
But here’s the thing: there has been no time in my adult life where I didn’t intentionally consume elite media. Indeed, I grew up watching the nightly network news (CBS until Walter Cronkite retired and then ABC because my father loathed Dan Rather) and continued that practice until the Internet all but replaced television as a news source. Even when I was listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching Fox News, I was still watching one of the network shows (primarily NBC, I think) along with as many of the Sunday shows and various talking heads shows on various networks I could.
Starting with when I was in graduate school, I became a regular NPR listener, especially “Morning Edition.” And I read the NYT in print when I could get my hands on it.
By the late 1990s, I was consuming as much content from NYT, WaPo, WSJ, Slate, the Atlantic, and various other traditional outlets as I could. By the time I started OTB in January 2003, I had started reading other blogs and even dabbled on more fringey sites like Lucianne. But, even at the height of my consumption of right-leaning sources, I never stopped voraciously reading the “mainstream” sites or even fairly hard-left ones (Mother Jones, The Nation, or Rolling Stone).
Because there’s so much out there—more than even a news junky with a relatively flexible schedule—could possibly consume, I quickly all but stopped reading the more strident sites. Not so much those with extreme views, which I value, but those whose argumentative style lacked analytical rigor. And sites that were repeatedly shown to be dishonest in their presentation of facts quickly left the list, too.
Even at the very height of my consumption of conservative-leaning commentary, then, there was never a time when I wasn’t consuming “mainstream” media. Or even a time that I didn’t consider the NYT a great newspaper.
But, of course, that doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes or have biases. That’s an inevitable product of any human endeavor.
Man oh man, I hope no one tells Sully about 60 Minutes and the forged George W. Bush Texas Air National Guard documents.
Or Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
Or the media’s handling of Alger Hiss.
Or how the media covered for the Rosenbergs.
I mention this history not to damn the mainstream media, but to show that what Sullivan laments isn’t new. There is no golden past. People in the media make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Bigger, even, than the “narrative” on the Covington kids.
Sometimes, as in the case of Walter Duranty, it takes decades to fix those mistakes.
Other times, as in the case of the Covington kids, it takes a week or two.
Again, even though I’ve voted reliably Democratic for five years now, I’m still more prone than most of the OTB commentariat to see a partisan/coastal bias in some of these mistakes. But that’s different than assuming dishonesty, or even an “agenda.”
After a long digression about the failures of “conservative media” and explorations of the personal motivations of Sullivan and Greenwald, Last comes back to a really good point:
The media is a vast space where actors and institutions are interconnected, but operate semi-independently, according to a variety of incentives. Sometimes independent actors make good-faith mistakes. Sometimes they make bad-faith mistakes. But in most cases—in nearly every case, actually—the marketplace of ideas eventually wins and the truth outs.
The MSM is like a giant peer-review system, but where the peer-reviewing takes place after publication. Jonathan Rauch talks about this at length in The Constitution of Knowledge—that the scientific enterprise and the journalistic enterprise have similar modes of operation. Is the journalistic mode great? No. Like democracy, it is the worst system there is—except for all the others.
My own bias in this, as can probably be gleaned from my earlier discussion of the evolution of my news consumption habits, is that this system works best if one samples widely. Last’s quip about “the New York Times and the Washington Post? The AP? NBC News and CNN? Ryan Lizza’s Twitter feed? The Los Angeles Times? BuzzFeed? Axios? NPR?” almost exactly describes my news diet, with the exception that I don’t read as much of the LAT as I otherwise would because it’s paywalled and what I get of CNN, NBC, and NPR is almost exclusively from their websites these days.
But here’s the thing: so many people on the Right these days hold a much more extreme version of Sullivan’s view (he, after all, is very much a creature of the MSM) that it’s almost impossible to pierce their bubble. Presenting pieces from the NYT, WaPo, NPR, or the AP as evidence that their claims are wrong simply doesn’t work because, of course, those are Democrap sources filled with evil lies. And it’s pretty hard to find useful evidence if you’re limited to Gateway Pundit, Zero Hedge, and Newsmax.
Yup, to all of this.
But I still don’t know what we can do about “it’s pretty hard to find useful evidence if you’re limited to Gateway Pundit, Zero Hedge, and Newsmax” when a not insignificant portion of the population only consumes those sources and/or lives in a world populated by people who do.
A buddy of mine that lives in Georgia was up in DC pre-pandemic and we went out for a nice dinner. We’ve always disagreed politically but had great sport having it out with a lot of banter. We disagreed on the best approach but had at least some common ground on facts. We would expose soft spots in each others world views and presumptions. Something had changed last time. He’s a good guy, bright, healthcare business consultant, historically well informed but now? We were having issues having our usual discussions because the “facts” he had received and processed … weren’t reality-based.
I am always amused when someone on Facebook will start into “the MSM will never tell you . . .” and wondering, really? Where did you learn it then?
Indeed. You can’t argue sensibly with someone who believes that The Conservative Tree House has all the facts.
During the Obama administration, there was someone (or someones) calling himself The Ulsterman who ran a site featuring The White House Insider, who purported to give the lowdown on the sinister doings of Barack Obama. It was eventually revealed as a complete hoax. But the commenters at Lucianne.com hung on this guy’s every word.
I think that Newsmax, like Fox, is now regarded as too left wing to be a reliable source. OANN seem to have replaced both as the go-to source for hard, accurate information.
From some crackpot blog written by a semi-literate paranoid hysteric, of course.
Nice piece and I agree with you here. At heart I am really a numbers person so I really prefer data driven arguments. You really cant do that with most conservatives anymore as they dont accept any data source that does not specifically have a right wing bent. Included in stuff that they consider to be right wing are BLS numbers, FRED, all science and medical journals.
In particular this made discussion covid difficult for me. This is what I do for a living and it actually matters a lot to me. As Last points out we got some things wrong about the virus early on but we changed when we figured it out. For the right that constitutes evidence of a conspiracy. People on the right will only accept as valid literature that has ben screened and cited baby their own experts. So a meta-analysis that cites 20 papers with the conclusion they support is the study they believe. Pointing out that there are another 40 studies showing the opposite and that all 20 of their studies have serious flaws doesnt matter. (Usually internet studies, no controls, not random, too small, not prospective.)
All of this is why facts just dont matter anymore. I honestly dont think there is a good way to discuss most issues with conservatives anymore.
That the MSM has a liberal bias has been a concoction invented by the conservatives so they always have something to be riled up against, isn’t obvious by now? I don’t agree that there is even a liberal “cultural” bias but since you did not elaborate I’m not sure what you mean, that throw line is carrying a lot of water. No, media bias exists to creative narratives so they can sell papers: if it bleeds, it will lead, it always been so, it will always be.
Freedom of the press has always provided a path for truth and vehement chicanery. One need only look at our nation’s earliest news rags and their bent political content or the “yellow journalism” that led to the Spanish-American War to see the damage that results from voluminous falsehoods and propaganda. Fortunately, in my lifetime I witnessed the no bullshit mindset of that group of journalists, reporters, and broadcasters who witnessed the horrors of WWII. They didn’t settle for corporate interference in their newsrooms, the proto-fascist arguments of leaders seeking self-aggrandizing power, and pseudo-Christian preaching of charlatans. I miss that breed of news folks and am sorry that the generations to follow no longer have those examples to follow.
People who write for NYT, WaPo, the Atlantic, etc. or work for NPR or the major non-ideological broadcast networks come almost exclusively from elite universities and have views on religiosity, gender roles, abortion, LGBTQ issues, and pretty much any other cultural debate that range from far left to left of center. That’s perfectly natural, really, but comes across as biased if you have a culturally conservative worldview.
It is a sad state that simply being non-bigoted is now the domain of the “left”.
The NPR-NYT consensus on transgender issues is, like it or not, to the left of where most Democrats are. That’s not a criticism, as I think that’s the right side of the issue. But it’s objectively the case that most conservative readers will perceive the constant barrage of stories sympathetic to transgenderism as a direct assault on their values and naturally assume that the reporter is probably a Democrat (which is true) and is therefore slanting all issues through a Democratic lens (which is probably not true, other than in a “we’re all human” sense).
@James Joyner: Is it?
I see the consensus as:
1. Transgendered people exist.
2. We shouldn’t make their lives miserable.
3. We shouldn’t ostracize them out of society.
4. We should respect people enough to call them what they ask to be called.
How is any of that objectionable? What about that do you think is to the left of most Democrats? Or most people?
Coincidentally, just watch a two-part American Experience piece call Citizen Hearst about William Randolph Hearst. Newspapers were just wild back then in the quest for readers. And facts were just a way to make sales. Just they did drive people and policy. The Maine explosion and resulting Spanish American War is just one prominent example.
@SKI: I don’t want to turn this into a thread on LGBTQ issues. It’s indisputably an incredibly contentious set of issues where Democrats and Republicans are divided and where even Democrats (particularly Black Democrats) don’t all agree.
Promote evidence-based news, and promote patience.
People don’t want to know what happened. They want to know RIGHT NOW what happened.
It often takes time to gather the facts, the actual evidence, and to analyze what they mean. Impatience, both from the press and the audience, makes for bad reporting.
Sensationalism is another big problem, as noted.
And there’s the bias that often allows the first thing one hears to stick. It’s not that no one or few people later get the nuanced, better sourced pieces, but that the first tends to stick regardless.
Great article James. I especially like the distinction you made here between bias (intentional or unintentional) and dishonesty:
As far as the question of liberal bias, there is little question that based on past surveys, journalists overwhelmingly identify as liberal or Democrat (I believe it’s in the area of every 3 out of 4 who have responded to surveys). In terms of actually measuring bias in reporting, the reality is there isn’t a great way to do it. Some models show liberal bias, others do not. It is clear from Pew’s work that liberal viewers definitely gravitate to certain sources over others.
Generally speaking, I think James is generally correct that there is a subtle liberal bias in most reporting and a stronger one when it comes to the editorial page.
I used to read Sullivan’s Daily Dish regularly, and one of the things that was charming about it was he would have a big emotional reaction to a news story or sometimes go off the rails on a weird topic. But he then spent the following week posting pushback, reader objections, and other perspectives, so you got to see his thinking evolve, even if you didn’t agree with him. Maybe he still does that and I just only see the initial blow up? Or maybe he’s gotten crankier in his old age? I dunno.
Greenwald, it seems, has been consumed by negative partisanship. I used to think of him as an ideologue who stood his ground against all sides. Lately he’s morphed into a partisan who gives cover to the Tucker/MAGA crowd and has the most boring, predictable twitter feed of anyone I follow.
And, man, can that guy hold a grudge! I think one of the things about these “elite critics of the elite media” is that not only is there a lot of cherry-picking but also it’s weirdly personal (and perhaps career-driven) for them, in a way it’s not for those of us who are mere consumers of the media.
Sure. But the business of news is business. If we had, say, a BBC model, it would be possible for the gatekeepers to simply refuse to report until the facts had been triple-verified. But, in a model where there are dozens of “mainstream” sources, it’s inevitable that they’re going to compete to “break” news and do so in a manner that’s sloppy. And, even if we could somehow inculcate in all of the “mainstream” outlets a professional ethic that caveated what was known versus still in dispute, partisan outlets would inevitably cherry-pick and sensationalize the early reports.
This is something that I bring up a lot. The “Golden Age” of American journalism–think Cronkite and All The President’s Men–was exceedingly short. And it came about because Hearst, Pulitzer, the Knights, and others wanted to buy legitimacy. That, combined with media consolidation and limited platforms, enabled a different form of reporting.
For better or worse, today’s media landscape is much closer to the traditional American news landscape than the Golden Age ever was.
@matt bernius: “there is a subtle liberal bias in most reporting”
I work on climate change policy, and I would say there is a lot of MSM reporting with what you might call a “corporate status quo” bias.
A few years ago, when David French and Jonah Goldberg were still at the Nat’l Review, one of them had an article pointing out the first level journalism for all stories that became commented on by the general press was nearly always conducted by some strand of the MSM. At times that might be WaPo or WSJ, and even freelance stringers reporting to the NYT or BBC from often remote villages in Africa or Asia. Other times the MSM were reporters on local TV stations or what is left of local newspapers. The reality is that w/o MSM, all we would be left with is press releases and propaganda.
@James, if no one has pointed this out, spell check changed Last to last in several places.
This is all blah, blah, blah.
Just today I’m watching a major effort by the media to rehab Chris Christies reputation.
The media is largely responsible for Trump winning the nomination and the Presidency in the first place.
FFS…Trump killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, and then attempted to overthrow the Government, and the media still treats him and his kids and his minions as legitimate people.
Just yesterday the media chose to give Steve Bannon – a well-known commodity – a big-ass soapbox to spew his hate and propaganda from. Nothing could make this ass-hat happier than what the press did for him yesterday.
And that’s just the recent stuff.
We have suffered thru 50 years of trickle-down economics, largely because the press has never addressed it for the scam that it is.
If the press had done their job there never would have been an friggin’ Iraq War.
Death Panels for criminy’s sake.
Would we have had 11 Benghazi Investigations if the press hadn’t been stenographers?
And her emails, for the love of gawd.
While not with regard to the media at all, Freddy deBoer’s op ed in this AM’s NYT gets to the heart of what the two of you are arguing about. The hard truth is that the ideological center of the Dem party is not even as far left as the commentariat here at OTB and to not acknowledge a natural liberal bias in parts of the press is to have blinders on. While here at OTB, @James has a conservative bias to his analysis that he is nearly daily taken to task for, but he is doing analysis and not reporting.
Another case in point…today’s economy.
The 4th Estate Stenographers Pool is breathlessly repeating the Republican Talking Point that the sky is falling.
But Walmart today reported 200,000 new hires in the last 3 months. 2,200 people a friggin’ day. Hmmm…so much for not being able to find workers.
Their inventory is up over 11%. Hmm…so much for supply chain woes.
October sales up over 16% from last year. Hmmm…so much for sagging consumer confidence.
But what’s going to get the headlines? The sky is falling? Or Walmart’s fact check?
Tim, I totally understand your position (I work on criminal justice and social safety net stuff).
The corporate status quo is part of the problem with climate change reporting. The far bigger one was the way that, for a variety of reasons, the MSM handled “objective” reporting for quite a while: which was “give equal time to both sides.” That gave places like the Heartland Institute way too big a platform for years.
The other big challenge is that most outlets don’t have a particularly good science reporting staff.
Also big +1 to @Sleeping Dog.
So now we know where you went wrong.
If by “works” you mean the objective is an accurately informed electorate.
But, if the objective is authoritarianism, or merely minority rule, then the muddling of fact with fiction and discrediting of any arbiters of truth – be they journalists, or scientists, or technical experts – is what “works best.” There’s a whole section on this in The Autocrat’s Handbook.
Especially when it seems impossible for much of the news media to make any kind of profit.
My offered solution suffers from the usual problem: we know what we need to do, or part of it, but we have no clue how to get any of it done.
For the moment.
The logical end point is a “news” network that consists of nothing but 1) Trump ranting, and 2) reports on trump’s rants.
Last seems to have elided Sullivan’s main point, which is not criticizing the so-called MSM for making errors, but for the notion that those errors are almost always slanted in one ideological direction.
Last’s list of counterexamples unintentionally proves the point – three of his examples are from decades before I was born and simply aren’t relevant to today’s media. If you’ve got to go back to the 1930’s to find counterexamples, then that’s telling. The Dan Rather 60’s minutes thing is actually an example that supports Sullivan’s point considering it was conservative bloggers who uncovered the deception and not journalists.
In my view, the liberal/progressive bias in journalism generally is quite evident. That’s going to be the case as long as journalism as a profession and the vast majority of people in the profession are ideologically to the left of the median American. Twitter and other things that tend to promote groupthink have only made this worse IMO.
But that doesn’t mean that I rush over to OAN or Fox News and drink deeply from their koolaid. As always, reality isn’t a binary choice. I read the NYT, WAPO, and others daily. But I do maintain a high degree of skepticism unless the facts of a story are completely established. And for “news” that comes directly from the Twitter echo chamber, like the Covington boys story, my skepticism will be quite high.
So my view is that no one should “trust” the media whether it’s “mainstream” or not. It is after all a business first and foremost and the current business model comes with incentives that can run against the goals journalism is supposed to be about.
Yes. That seems to be the direction they’re taking.
It would make the 1984 telescreen programming interesting and captivating in comparison, to those outside the Cult of the All Mighty Cheeto.
Last’s list of examples was to show that the kind of errors that Sully was pointing out have existed in the press for nearly as long as there has been a press and in more distant past is was worse.
At its base, Sully’s complaint is that the press doesn’t measure up to his measure of objectivity, but of course, Sully’s view naturally reflects his bias. While here at OTB some of the complaints about press coverage of Biden and the Dems is simply complaining that the coverage is all warts and there isn’t enough bothsiderism. The press should be pointing out that it is R intransigence! Well like Last, we can pick a topic and likely find press coverage we like and some we don’t.
@matt bernius: there are plenty of liberals who would argue that the MSM has a conservative bias, perhaps because they’re overcompensating for their perceived “liberal bias.”
For example, think of the dozens of “Trump supporters in diners” stories that have been written over the last five years—even now when he’s no longer in office! There haven’t been any comparable stories trying to understand Clinton voters or Biden voters.
Think of how Democratic politicians are attacked vs Republican politicians, often for petty or unnamed source reasons. CNN ran a fluff piece on Chris Christie the same weekend it ran a hit piece on Kamala Harris.
And a comment I read recently made a good point about the MSM in 2016: there’s no way that email server management is inherently more sensational than the prostitutes/charity thefts/ Russian spies of Trump’s life, yet somehow the MSM made the former a bigger, more scandalous story.
THIS IS STILL BLOWING MY MIND.
When exactly did the media figure out that the Iraq war was being fought on false pretenses that they themselves helped disseminate? Was it when it became embarrassingly obvious to the entire world that Iraq possessed no WMD? Because it was pretty widely held to be fact that they didn’t have any before the war started. FFS – the IAEA didn’t think IRAQ had any. The British government found no evidence that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons or any other weapons of mass destruction and that Iraq posed no threat to the West.
I have no interest in re-litigating Iraq.
But today the same thing is happening again.
AN ATTEMPT TO OVERTHROW OUR GOVERNMENT IS BEING WHITEWASHED AND REPUTATIONS BEING RE-HABBED.
I cannot wait for the 4th Estate Stenographers to realize the error they are making. Someday. Maybe.
Conservatism has become increasingly distant from reality and conservative media, led by flagship FOX “News” has led the retreat. What is generally described as “liberal” bias can also be described as a “bias” toward reality. We currently have two huge examples before us, COVID and election integrity.
I subscribed to his new newsletter for the first year and can vouch that the answer is “no”. He doesn’t seem to have any interest in meaningful pushback. Worse, day by day he embraces his prejudices more and more. If I were to describe Sullivan now to someone who had never read his stuff I would say that he embodies the erudite bigotry, sexism and racism of, say, a William Buckley, except for the one issue that directly concerns him: homosexuality. He shares all the prejudices of the Pat Buchanan’s of the world, except that one.
I wouldn’t say the MSM has a liberal bias so much as a pro-establishment bias. It is liberal in the areas where the establishment is liberal, but not in the areas where the establishment is not.
So, for example, when something like BLM happens, the MSM will back a lot of feel good stuff like DEI programs, but fights hard against anything like meaningful restraints on police power.
As other’s pointed out, it’s ironic that Andrew Sullivan’s “stories the MSM got wrong” list didn’t include his obsession with who the “real” mother of Trig Palin’s baby was.
I wonder when the MSM will get the Colin Kaepernick story right?
How does the President get away with completely mis-representing a protest against racial injustice without the MSM being an accomplice?
—-Best summation, evah!
“Modern journalism is all about deciding which facts the public shouldn’t know because they might reflect badly on Democrats.”
@Daryl and his brother Darryl: @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Thank you for those examples of the supposedly liberal MSM stenographing for the GOPs. Let me add an example now birthing. The 2-1/2 year old Durham investigation issued it’s third indictment, against Igor Danchenko, for allegedly misleading the FBI about sources for material he supplied to the Steele Dossier. The Steele dossier was reported as raw intelligence, not legally established fact. And it was hardly the only cause for suspicion of a president, campaign, and administration up to their eyebrows in suspicious Russians. But conservative media are eagerly seizing on this, claiming not only that the Steele dossier was a Hillary driven plot with no basis in fact, but implying it was the entirety of the case against Trump and therefore a) Trump is pure as the driven snow, and b) the MSM deliberately misled the nation. And the supposedly liberal MSM is cheerfully going along with it.
@gVOR08: Not to litigate the Steele Dossier but let’s not memory hole the fact that it was originated by conservative Paul Singer and the Washington Free Beacon.
I’d just love to hear what facts you are thinking about?
The “fact” that the election was stolen?
The “”fact” that the COVID vaccination makes you magnetic?
The “facts” about the pedophile ring Hillary ran out of the basement of a pizzaria that has no basement?
The “fact” that John F. Kennedy Jr. is expected to appear any day now in Dealey Plaza, and thousands of your Q friends are there waiting for him?
We will wait……..
Tea Partyish friends have accused me of uncritically accepting what the government and MSM tells me. I became politically aware during the Vietnam War FFS. It’s ingrained in me that the government and MSM lie.
The trick is to know when. It’s not entirely simple. But if they’re drumbeating for a new war, or supporting an existing war, they’re almost certainly lying, a lot. When it comes to COVID, the government lied when TFG was downplaying it for political reasons. Fauci, CDC, et al lied about masks back when transmission was murky and we didn’t have enough masks, and they overstate consequences in an effort to motivate proper behavior. But they are generally reliable, with caveats. The government will lie to support questionable policy. The MSM like to think they mold opinion, but in general they’ll follow rather than lead. The MSM will go along with a popular war parade and support the biases of what they believe to be an elite readership, otherwise known as the socially-liberal-fiscally-conservative cop-out.
In recent years I think there is a strong argument for this. It’s a different manifestation of the “tell both sides” affliction that journalists previously had.
It’s important to note that the media doesn’t exist in a vacuum and there’s a lot of self-reflection in the news business and reports like this one:
I would also argue that part of the problem that we see has been the utter errosion of firewalls between editorial and the newsroom–in particular in TV and web journalism.
Yes, and as I noted, that doesn’t address Sullivan’s argument.
In other words, the problem with journalism today, according to Sullivan, isn’t that the press is making mistakes – even big ones. I think everyone agrees that mistakes are inevitable. The issue for Sullivan is that the mistakes and assumptions all lean in one ideological direction, with very few exceptions.
This is flattening the story a lot. Yes, the first part of the investigation was started and funded by Singer. That material didn’t form the core of the Dossier.
The second part and the final Dossier were funded by the Democrats (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steele_dossier#Research_funded_by_Democrats_produces_dossier).
Rather depends on the location of one’s own Overton Window. If you think gay people are evil, the MSM is liberal. If you think late-stage capitalism is evil, the MSM are conservative.
@matt bernius: Your addition to the story is properly noted. In the interest of unflattening the story let’s also note the Clinton campaign didn’t use the material and before the election the FBI denied there was any investigation of Trump.
@Andy: “In other words, the problem with journalism today, according to Sullivan, isn’t that the press is making mistakes – even big ones. I think everyone agrees that mistakes are inevitable. The issue for Sullivan is that the mistakes and assumptions all lean in one ideological direction, with very few exceptions.”
30 years of believing any accusation against the Clintons.
The Iraq War.
Treating Birtherism and the Tea Party with resepect.
Downplaying Trump, a man whom everybody in NYC knew well – except for the NYT.
and Sully perceives and speaks from the fountain of truth? Why should his view be more valid than anyone else? No one is disagreeing that a general liberal bias exists, but there has also been evidence presented that the press seeks to compensate for that bias. Probably the most accurate statement regarding the press came from @Stormy Dragon:, yes the press has a bias, it is toward the establishment.
I’ve began reading Sully when he was at the New Republic and nearly daily at the Daily Dish beginning before he moved it to the Daily Beast. He has always been prone to hobby horses and when feeling injured, finding one to ride down the nearest rabbit hole. He was booted from NY Mag because he hurt the fee-fees of the woke. He was right to be insulted and most of us will agree that the woke can be intolerant, but most would make a point and move on. Not Sully, this has become a cause celebre for him and damned if he won’t be Custer at the Little Big Horn.
Like all complicated issues in life, there is no one consistent answer.
Yup. The entire Steele Dossier thing is uber complex and everyone’s interpretations on it is colored by their own biases.
Which I think gets to the biggest thing that pops up in these discussions of bias and media sources: confirmation bias (itself a form of cognative bias). We are as a whole, really bad at trying to assess things from a neutral PoV (if such a thing exists). And most of us are not great at accounting for our own confirmation biases (usually either under or over correcting for them).
I think the proliferation of Trump-voter-in-diners stories was caused by the fact that none of the reporters could believe that someone as egregiously loathsome as Trump could actually have fans. I’m serious about this.
@CSK: that’s true— in 2016 and 2017. Why did such stories continue to be written long after that? Since such stories have become repetitive, and few or no stories have been written about any other voters, what new insights are reporters hoping to glean by still traveling out to those rural diners?
ETA: in response to a tweet by a news outlet about some recent political issue, and how they had asked some Trump supporters to comment on it, a Twitter user responded, speaking for many of us as indicated by the upvotes: “Do you all give a f*ck about any other Americans at all?!”
@Sleeping Dog: “He was booted from NY Mag because he hurt the fee-fees of the woke.”
Actually, he quit the magazine because his little fee-fees were hurt when he wasn’t rapturously accepted by the staff, who were not amused by the man who published The Bell Curve and still insists it proves Blacks are genetically inferior.
On culture issues, I think you’re right that there is a liberal bias. On economic issues the bias is at best establishment if not directly conservative. Debates about minimum wage, consumer protection, Social Security start at the center and move right.
@wr: Sullivan also wrote this a few days after 9/11: “The middle part of the country–the great red zone that voted for Bush–is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead–and may well mount a fifth column.”
In case anyone need a reminder of what the fifth column is, here is the online Merriam-Webster definition of fifth column: a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders.
Maybe some staffers at NYMag were put off by sharing office space (figuratively) with a guy who called them traitors.
It can take anthropologists decades to understand cultures so radically different they may as well be aliens.
The way Sullivan, freed from editorial restraints, immediately spiraled down an alt-right rabbit hole suggests that “the woke” may have been more perceptive about what was actually driving his writing than you give them credit for.
Because those Trump voters are rural, and therefore a relatively unknown species to urban reporters. But it’s not just that. I think the whole phenomenon of people who’d not just vote for a blatantly crude, stupid, boorish, crooked, bigoted ignoramus who’s also a sexual predator is so mindboggling that we all keep trying to figure it out.
The most salient culture issue covered by the MSM the last many months is CRT which definitely has a conservative bent. Proper coverage would explain that the whole thing was concocted by a right winger in his basement for the purposes of creating a wedge issue driven by false narratives, but instead, by just repeating the phrasing and nothing else, the MSM furthers the right wing framing. So no, I don’t buy the notion that the press has a “cultural” liberal bias.
It’s not that hard. They watch FOX “News” and worse. So they believe all of that is deep state, elitist, globalist fake news. On the other hand, if I believed what they believe about Killary and Sleepy Joe I wouldn’t have voted for them either. It’s not really that the GOP base are evil people, the fraction of deplorables aside, it’s that they’ve been lied to by evil people.
@senyordave: Yup. It’s the first reason I’ve always despised him, and never understood why so many otherwise intelligent people fell for his schtick.
Sure. But they’ve heard Trump himself say these things. They heard him talk about Mexican rapists. They heard him trash John McCain. They heard him talking about grabbing women by the pussy. And they loved him for it. Why?
Via Balloon Juice, Jennifer Szalai’s delicious takedown of Jonathan Karl’s book.
Journalists have been treating politics as a game, with no real consequences (at least for upper middle class elite journalists, editors, and let’s never forget publishers), for decades. It’s made them, like Karl, awfully slow to see what the Republican Party has become. I think Szalai was being a bit snarkywhen she spoke of Karl’s “decency”.
“The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it.” – G. B. Shaw
@CSK: There was the “its just locker room talk” narrative that Trump fans used. That was debunked by numerous professional athletes. One was a former punter who played in the NFL for almost a decade and noted that locker room talk does often discuss athletes sexual exploits with women, but he stated that in all his years in football he never heard anyone brag about sexually assaulting women.
The so-called Christian right supporting him boggles the mind, and there really is no possible explanation that can justify that support.
They seem to have invented a whole mythos in which Trump, a so-called “baby Christian,” meaning one who’s fairly recently seen the light, has settled down to being a faithful husband, a devoted father and grandfather, and a true servant of the Lord after committing a few youthful indiscretions.
The main issue I have with the worldview is that it comes from claims freedom and liberty as the central ethics of their ideology. Yet every once of the issues on your list are examples of one particular group objecting to the independent choices of others and/or the mere existence of difference.
Abortion is more complicated, but still an example of a group of people who claim to be worried about government overreach willing to use the state to limit the choice of others in cases that have nothing to do with the lives of the complaining group.
The notion that freedom and equality are opposing ideals and form a zero sum relationship to one another is one of the most pernicious false assumptions in our political culture.
Picking examples from your list:
Freedom of religion apparently means the right to exclude anyone who doesn’t practice one particular form of one particular religion. The presence of Muslims or gay neighbors in no way interferes with a person’s practice of their own religious beliefs. The only way to guarantee religious freedom is to put all the different belief systems equal status and protection.
The view that an LGBTQIA girl recounting her experiences of bullying and violence in school in front of the school board is indoctrination, but imposing a narrow worldview of normative behavior is freedom is Orwellian. And yet those people are quite likely to invoke 1984 liberally.
May I ask, for anybody who has reliable experience, do state-sponsored news sources like the BBC suffer from the same reputation as the MSM does in the States? And why or why not? How does NPR compare?
I think I have an answer for this. At long last. First of all, white people are in distress. Especially rural, working-class white people. Between opiate addiction, and manufacturing flight and a few other trends, things are not generally “getting better” for them. I posted a chart in the open thread today showing how inflation is much bigger in the “red states” than the coasts and (oddly) Texas.
Now, there’s scapegoating going on. All this terribleness is blamed on the blacks, the Jews, the gays, the trans, and so on. Oh yeah and the “coastal elites”.
The thing about Trump, and here’s where his coarseness works for him, is that that very coarseness signals to them that he will take nothing off the table in fighting for their concerns. Most of the supporters I talked to him (and media accounts confirm this) suggest that they know quite well what a problem of a person he is, but they don’t see any other means to address their issues, which they often wrongly attribute to above-cited scapegoats.
They’ve heard lots of promises by lots of people that came to nothing. The coal mines still closed. The jobs still left. The drugs still came. They are fearful and distrustful. To them, the very coarseness means Trump’s positions can’t be walked back, and he won’t compromise. They believe in him because they need to.
My hypothesis is they love Benito because he gives a, don’t laugh, respectable voice to their prejudice.
Yes, I did say “respectable.”
Remember two things sanitize nearly everything in modern American culture: money and fame. El Cheeto claims to have a lot of the first, and he certainly has lots of the second. So if he’s rich and famous, he’s respectable. And if he repeats their prejudices, and honestly shares them, as well as many of their worst instincts, then the xenophobia, misogyny, racism, etc. they hold dear is respectable, and not something to be ashamed of as the America-hating socialists have been telling them for decades.
the rest is rationalization. And keep in mind the Harari Principle: people neither believe nor practice the tenets of the religion they claim to believe and practice.
Exactly this. It bears repeating, over and over.
@Jay L Gischer:
Yes, but in four years, did Trump actually keep any of his promises? He didn’t build the wall. He didn’t make Mexico pay for it. He didn’t end opiate addiction.
I agree with you that Trump made it an aspiration to be a malevolent churl.
Proper coverage would have noted that CRT was an advanced course, and then dug into what the Republicans meant by it, and looked into the causes of those beliefs — from just plain racism, to a desire to reclaim control of schools that aren’t responsive on a number of issues, to…
There are a lot of good stories there that are not just “it was created in a basement”. For instance, why did this thing created in a basement resonate?
“CRT” is just the wrapper.
@SKI: At the risk of starting a cascade of disagreements, I still think that it’s important to note that for some segment of the people engaged in the disagreements that what you’re saying is not what they are hearing. As to whether they need to hear better or others need to speak better, the point is probably moot. The baggage people carry into the topic is probably as much a problem as the message.
@CSK: See, he blames the “Deep State” and the Democrats and the RINOS for that. But he fought hard. People are saying just how hard he fought!
Didn’t he say he did?
Then he did.
Anything said to the contrary is fake news from the lamestream media enemy of the people, etc. etc. The news outlets these people follow do not contradict him.
Remember the hurricane Sharpie map? How many of his supporters believed the official NOAA map included Alabama?
If you trust a source of information, you believe what they tell you. Not many people stop to question its veracity or accuracy.
It certainly is depressing, and a puzzle. But I still think the explanation is FOX et al, plus GOP pols. If your told every day that He Whose Name I’m Tired Of cares about people like you, that he’s fighting to protect you from immigrants, that he’ll magically protect your coal mining job, that only he can stop the North Korean missiles, that he’s the only one who can save
WhiWestern Civilization, then these things you list become minor peccadillos. If they think about them at all, they were probably blown way out of proportion by the elitist media. Motivated reasoning is a powerful drug.
The electorate is pretty much the electorate we’ve always had. If anything, on average a little better educated, better informed, and less racist. What’s new is FOX, the Web, and a full party of pols who have abandoned any sense of responsibility or ethics.
@Jay L Gischer:
Yes, that’s always the excuse: The Deep State.
How could I forget the hurricane Sharpie map?
Nothing else makes much sense than that, does it?
I laughed out loud. Sullivan’s point is typical Sullivan, painfully devoid of self-awareness.
The two most geopolitically and historically consequential MSM errors of the last 20 years were a) their Iraq war cheerleading and b) their anti-Hillary Emailghazigatepalooza witch hunt that destroyed her high post-State approval and elected Trump, while he embraced a Russian propaganda campaign.
Of course, Sullivan and Greenwald and Taibbi and their ilk never mention these errors, slanted firmly in the direction of the right with disastrous results. Sullivan and Greenwald were all in for Iraq, both attacking skeptics as insufficiently patriotic. All three were all-in for the But Her Emails nonsense.
Jussie Smollet and Covington Catholic are small bore teapot tempests by comparison. (So too are Sully’s debunked Bell Jar race-IQ foolishness he still won’t retract. Or his bizarre Trig Palin truthing he has memory-holed.)
At least, as Last points out, the MSM (pretty quickly) correctrd reporting on the named “errors” slanted towards the left. We know better than to hold our breath waiting for smug hypocrites like Sullivan and Greenwald to ever do the same.
Where does Hillary go to get her apology?
I think that’s about right depending on what one means by the establishment. Journalism has become much more of an elite activity – the days of working-class journalists without degrees, much less degrees from prestigious universities are pretty much over.
But therein lies the problem.
I think that the Mom does have a bit of liberal bias but it is overblown. The right wing media is dedicating to heavily covering and never letting us forget when a mistake is made. The right wing media makes mistakes also, yes there eis a right wing media. However, when they make a mistake it isn’t immortalized and magnified by a concerted MSM effort. Clearly left wing media will take potshots but the MSM will report it and move on. (My all time favorite right now being the Fox News story that there were gangs of lesbians with pink pistols patrolling our subways trying to kidnap and turn people into gays.)
OK, that was my favorite but just realized that can be laughed off. There are many others like the Fox and other right wing stories about the Dominion voting machines. Those didnt stop until they got sued. Note that this was a story with national implications. Compare that to something like the Duke lacrosse team which is still brought up as an example which was really a local story without national policy or security implications. Note that the MSM eventually ferreted out the truth about the lacrosse team. Fox only gave up its lies when threatened with a suit.
Andy, I’m honestly not sure what you are getting at here. Or rather you are conflating a couple issues with a bit of ahistory.
The professionalization of Journalism began over 100 years ago (1908) and many were founded by the 20’s. So by the early 70’s the majority of journalists entering the field were college graduates. 1971 was the year, based on surveys, that for the first time the majority of journalists (58%) had college degrees. By 1981 it had jumped to 71% and has continued to rise since them (topping off somewhere in the low 90s). So most of us have spent our adult lives in a period where most journalists had college degrees.
As far as working class, I’m not sure what you mean by that. If you mean lower middle class, most journalists working at daily news sources probably fall into that category (the average pay for a newspaper reporter is $45-$50K a year).
Or does “working class” here simply mean non-college educated?
Admittedly, if we start to talk about national and elite news, then things shift a bit. The pay is a little higher and usually, they do have graduate degrees from more elite universities.
But I guess my point is, we really haven’t had majority of non-professionalized journalists since the 1970’s. So I’m not sure that’s necessarily the issue at play.
@Daryl and his brother Darryl: LOL! I have always wondered…what is the color of the sky in your world?
Here on Earth, many have wondered about the phony Steele dossier, Cuomo’s inability to tell the truth, rising crime stats in Chicago despite Democrats being in power since the 1930s, Biden’s mental deterioration, Kamala Harris’s existence, and Bernie Sanders, et al wanting to exchange the Stars and Stripes for the hammer and sickle. Jus’ sayin’.
There are a few moving parts here:
– Journalism has shifted over time from being more of a trade to be being more of a profession, including requirements for higher education
– Along with that jobs in journalism have stratified and become so competitive that getting a job at one of the premier outlets today basically requires elite advantages – getting into and graduating from an elite school, being able to afford unpaid or low-paid internships, and the kinds of networking that the wealthy can manage but others usually can’t. Despite
– The result is that the people practicing journalism are increasingly coming from society’s elite, they are increasingly wealthy and privileged, and the opportunities for working class people to compete are diminishing. I think this also partially explains why there are so few black people working in journalism today.
– Ultimately this is making the profession less diverse, more insular, and less representative of the American population.
And the point is that these effects (and others) are evident in how journalism is done today, some of which Sullivan highlights, as well as some of the incidents that have happened recently where people are fired or forced out for normal center-left viewpoints, making the highest tiers of the profession even less diverse and less representative of the median American.
Ok, that’s helpful.
I think that is far older of a trend than came across in your post. But I also might have been reading into it. I think this has been the status quo for at least two decades of not four.
Unfortunately the stagnation of reporters salaries combined with the reduction in staff positions isn’t helping either.
To your and Sullivan’s points, I need to think on them a little more. I will also point out that too some degree Sullivan himself is someone who benefited from the very system he appears to be criticizing.
Yes, the trend has been happening, but it takes time to replace personnel.
Definitely. There is a glut of journalists and many fewer workplaces. And the high-status places like the NYT, WAPO, and others can be choosy – which advantages those with elite educations and connections.
And of course, there’s the effect of the internet on the business model, which is a massive factor.