With the impeachment story expanding every day, at times hour by hour, Margaret Sullivan, media writer for “The Washington Post,” notes that this promises to be a touch, challenging time for reporters inside the Beltway in this era of red meat politics.
And she saw some things she liked:
Scott Pelley of CBS pushed back hard when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tried to spin him on Sunday’s “60 Minutes.”
So did Chris Wallace of Fox News when Trump aide Stephen Miller refused to accept reality on the same subject: President Trump pressing Ukraine’s president to provide dirt on his political opponent.
So did Jake Tapper of CNN with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, and Chuck Todd of NBCwith Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.)
The Tapper interview “centered on Jordan misrepresenting the allegations focused on Joe and Hunter Biden — allegations that have been broadly debunked,” my Post colleague Philip Bump wrote in a piece that gives a telling blow-by-blow of several Sunday interviews.
But Sullivan also notes the pushback from this Administration promises to be unlike any other pushback the press corps has experienced.
As the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry ramps up, so, too, does the Trump disinformation campaign — spreading its fact-adverse surrogates throughout the media world in an all-out effort to sway public opinion.
Make no mistake, public opinion — more than any other factor — will determine what happens.
How can journalists rise to the challenge?
First, by being quick on their feet and utterly prepared, and, as noted, we’re seeing more of that.
One would think that would be obvious, but we have seen far too many instances of journalists caught flat-footed and ill-prepared.
“The New Right media isn’t just an opposition force to the mainstream media — it’s a parallel institution armed with its own set of facts that insists on its own reality,”Charlie Warzel, an astute observer of right-wing disinformation wrote in BuzzFeed News.
The second way that news organizations can meet the challenge of this moment is to stop booking those surrogates who are the worst of the inveterate liars. I’d put Trump shills Corey Lewandowski and Kellyanne Conway in this ever-growing category.
Conway famously touted her allegiance to “alternate facts” early in the Trump presidency — and has stayed right with the program.
And Lewandowski recently admitted lying to the media in recent congressional testimony: “I have no obligation to be honest with the media because they’re just as dishonest as anyone else.”
Then she steps into a highly controversial area:
Third — and this goes well beyond TV interviews — the mainstream media must end its addiction to both-sides journalism, which gives falsehood the same opportunities as truth.
The history of what is now called “both sides” journalism is rather hazy, but it can be traced back to the notion of “fair and balanced,” as in the coverage of both gay rights and abortion rights back in the 70’s and 80’s
But it is also fair to observe that “both sides” journalism has become about as useful as internet polling as a journalistic tool.
As Sullivan concludes:
I’m not suggesting that reporters, interviewers and news operations advocate for a particular outcome in the looming impeachment.
That’s not the job of the press in America’s democracy.
But they must carry out their mission: to get to the truth so citizens can make wise decisions and not be bamboozled by lies and distractions.