Last week, the Florida Republican Party held its annual Sunshine Summit, which was marked by a new policy: The mainstream media was not permitted to cover the event. Instead, the only “news” would be transmitted through conservative-approved sources. “We in the state of Florida are not going to allow legacy media outlets to be involved in our primaries,” Florida governor Ron DeSantis said. “I’m not going to have a bunch of left-wing media people asking our candidates gotcha questions.”
The next day, the Washington Post published a detailed reported story on the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank whose scholars have supported the Trump administration’s efforts to secure an unelected second term. The Institute’s president, Ryan Williams, replied on the record that he saw no need to explain any of this. “The Claremont Institute,” he wrote, “is not interested in participating in the fiction that the Washington Post is a legitimate media outlet, or that its chronically discredited journalists are dispassionate fact-finders intent on bringing their readers objective news.”
As long as it has existed, the right has loathed the news media. Figures like Joe McCarthy and Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler used the tactic of pointing to alleged media bias to discredit reporting that challenged their lies. But, as David Freedlander noted, the right’s war on independent media is reaching a new stage of blanket refusal to acknowledge its legitimacy.
It’s difficult to analyze this subject without forming a view on the underlying question of the media’s bias, and there are few questions more subject to bias than the subject of media bias itself. My view is that the mainstream media does have an overall liberal lean, and that it has grown over time, as legacy media brands have hired staff from newer online organs that have no tradition of objectivity. But those changes have made their strongest mark in the coverage of culture and lifestyle, while political news has mostly retained its traditional character.
Whether the news media treats the Republican Party more or less harshly than the Democratic Party is a question that can’t be measured, and which most people settle by resorting to anecdotes. Partisans cling to examples of the media treating their side unfairly, with especially noxious examples hauled out of storage to be gazed at repeatedly, like cherished family heirlooms.
For the purposes of my argument here, I’d like to bracket it. The only point I need to make is that the mainstream media does routinely report critically on the Democratic Party. If you are watching CNN or reading the New York Times, you have encountered a steady stream of articles questioning whether Joe Biden is too old for the job, noting high inflation, pummeling the Afghanistan withdrawal, and so on. Whether you believe this level of criticism is excessive or insufficient is a matter of perspective, but the clear fact is that it exists.
Nothing like this exists within the conservative media. The communications apparatus of the conservative movement was established with the goal of advancing the right’s political interests. Its organs often borrow superficial conventions, like bylines and the inverted-pyramid structure, to create the simulacrum of a traditional news medium. But the people working in these institutions understand they are working for the conservative movement, not on behalf of the public’s right to know. Their approach to malfeasance by their side is to ignore, distort, or change the subject to some agreed-upon sin by the enemy (a practice called “whataboutism”). [Continue reading…]