In a memorably elegant turn of phrase recently, legendary investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald described the elite media as “stenographers for the state.” Did this Pulitzer Prize-winning liberal finally hit the nail directly on the head?
Well, whether you call them activist media, propagandists, fake news, or respectable mainstream journalists, the latest evidence is in and from as unimpeachable a source as can be found. The conclusion from Pew Research Center: Major media has treated Joe Biden more softly in his first days in the Oval Office than any president in – wait for it – at least 30 years. They measured just the five current and most recent presidencies. If they went back further to the days of Ronald Reagan and Bush 41, it would likely extend to more than 40 years. And this is merely a measurement of presidential coverage. A comprehensive examination of media treatment of prominent conservatives and leftists over these last three decades, particularly in the previous five years, would likely accelerate the trend.
Remember that In a majority of those 30 years, during the presidencies of Bill Clinton and especially Barack Obama, the press was hardly, shall we say, oppositional. In fact, one would often hear the word “fawning” to describe the media’s largely undisguised veneration of Obama. To think that any president could surpass Obama, especially a 78-year-old establishment fixture in decline who stands in such stark contrast to the strapping young 44th president, seemed almost inconceivable.
And yet, Joe Biden has indeed won the media lottery. He has gotten a free ride that should make Clinton and Obama envious – and Trump, of course, furious. In analyzing coverage by the major TV networks and newspapers during the first 60 days of the five most recent presidencies, Pew discovered that only 19% of Biden stories were negative, one point lower than even Obama. Compare that to Trump’s 62% negative.
In the same survey, Clinton and Bush 43 both came in at 28% negative – meaning even Clinton had about 50% more unflattering coverage than Joe Biden. Is this 46th president getting the deluxe red carpet treatment from the media because he’s a warm, cuddly old guy? Is it because he is somehow the fulfillment of their most deeply held beliefs? Is it because he is so unchallenging to cover, and they are just flat-out exhausted after the daily tumult of the Trump years? Or is it for the same reason that got the guy elected in the first place – that he’s simply not Donald Trump?
Whatever the excuse, here is the relevant question: Did the framers of the Constitution build unprecedented protections for the Fourth Estate into the law of the land for this? The very first phrase of the Bill of Rights states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” There it is: Freedom for the media equal to the speech of the common man and the beliefs and practices of the religious. That is a power-packed right, providing cover for all manner of journalistic extravagance.
Because of these extraordinary freedoms granted to the press, some states balanced those rights with responsibility. Article 1 in the Indiana Constitution, for example, adds concluding language which some may wish had been included by the framers in the federal version: “No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever, but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.”
Does what we are witnessing in the national media qualify as an “abuse of that right”? And if so, how are they to be “held responsible”? Did the framers place the independent press in the loftiest position of all – at the head of the Bill of Rights – so that they might behave like a fifth column disguised as a Fourth Estate? Were the framers upholding an institution designed to prop up its preferred political leaders and destroy those they hate?
It’s not like we haven’t seen media empires over the years with a point of view – from those of the titan William Randolph Hearst in decades gone by to Rupert Murdoch. But in an age already dominated by online behemoths Facebook and Twitter – and their radiating bias – how exactly does the one-sided view of the world presented by American elite media distinguish it from the state-run operations in China, North Korea, or Venezuela?
These days, not much.
Read more from Tim Donner.