Make Media Great Again
It’s only February and 2019 has already yielded a bumper crop of fake news. Consider the three widespread deceptions propagated in recent weeks: BuzzFeed’s debunked allegations regarding President Trump instructing his attorney to commit perjury; the baseless smear of the Covington Catholic students; and now the gullibility of mainstream media’s embrace of the ludicrous Jussie Smollett hoax.
What is the common theme in all three stories? A willingness, even a zest, to toss asunder traditional journalistic fact-checking as long as a purported plot furthers preconceived negative narratives about President Trump and his tens of millions of supporters. No wonder trust in the mainstream media continues its depressing downward trajectory. Gallup polling reveals a steady four-decade decline in overall trust in mass media, reaching a 32 percent nadir in 2016, down from 72 percent in the 1970s. Regarding fake news, a 2018 Monmouth University poll found that 77 percent of Americans “believe that traditional major TV and newspaper media outlets report ‘fake news,’” up from an already-troubling 63 percent in 2017.
Instead of showing remorse -- or even a hint of introspection -- regarding the wholesale complicity of the media in spreading the Jussie Smollett scam, many prominent media figures instead have resorted to obfuscation, almost ensuring more such farces in the future. For example, anyone who knows Chicago well at least questioned the likelihood of random Trump-motivated thugs roaming a deserted street at 2 a.m., shouting into a brutally frigid night that “this is MAGA country.” As a relatively known Trump spokesman who is regularly accosted by complete strangers in Chicago, I can tell you with certainty that my hometown is not “MAGA country.” Yet, Vox’s Liz Plank tried to explain away the media’s lack of healthy skepticism by falsely asserting to CNN’s “Reliable Sources” that “the people repeating that quote were not news outlets. … We can’t confuse celebrity tweets with the media and press.”
I truly wish that only vapid celebrities leapt to falsely condemn Trump and his supporters because of Smollett, but the harsh reality directly contravenes Vox’s propaganda. For example, Washington Post’s Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah tweeted, “Smollett could have been killed by those thugs screaming MAGA. Let that sink in.” Similarly, White House correspondent April Ryan posted, “The attack on @JussieSmollett is a hate crime and should be treated as such!” Vanity Fair’s official Twitter account stated, “Jussie Smollett was hospitalized after suffering a racist and homophobic attack by two MAGA supporters.” BuzzFeed’s Ryan Schocket proclaimed that “these are the people our president is emboldening. This is what the red hat stands for.”
Contrast that torrent of defamatory coverage with the scant mainstream media reaction to an earlier act of actual political violence in the same city in 2016. The day after Trump’s shocking electoral triumph, David Wilcox was brutally assaulted and carjacked on a Chicago street, on camera. The criminals and onlookers specifically cited Trump during the attack, shouting: “You voted Trump…beat his ass…don’t vote Trump.” Mr. Wilcox had, in fact, voted for Trump, although no one in that crowd would have known his preference. Quite unlike the fake Smollett case, this real tragedy attracted little attention, and no condemnation at all from media luminaries.
Sadly, the Smollett case reaffirms a reality that I have been detailing ever since Trump ascended: The preponderance of mainstream media writers and broadcasters masquerade as journalists but, in actuality, serve as resistance opposition megaphones.
Given the already-frayed comity of our public discourse, our society desperately needs better behavior from the Fourth Estate. Anchors and reporters need to practice authentic journalism, and leave the punditry to transparently partisan operators like me. In addition, the condescending demonization of vast swaths of America needs to cease. MAGA hats are not KKK hoods, and supporting “America First” policies does not equate to Nazism. It is imperative in these polarized times that the press regain trust by reining-in systemic bias and reclaiming the honorable role of journalists as truth-seekers, first and foremost.