Cable’s Trump Obsession, Liberal Bias, and Knocking Fox: Eight Stelter Takes on NRO Podcast

September 14th, 2018 5:10 PM

1. Well, That Was Fun....

Well, That Was Fun....

Published on Wednesday, the latest edition of National Review Online’s The Jamie Weinstein Show podcast featured a lively, hour-plus conversation with CNN’s Reliable Sources host Brian Stelter. The full podcast is highly recommended as Stelter delved into his upbringing and his (sadly, wrong) views about media bias in addition to solid, universal career advice.

Upon having listened to the whole podcast and transcribed over 36 minutes from the 91-minute file, the following slides offer a few relevant Stelter takes that’ll leave you shaking your head.

2. ‘Journalists Have Stood Up Tall in This Moment’ to Hold Trump Accountable

‘Journalists Have Stood Up Tall in This Moment’ to Hold Trump Accountable

In the first chunk, Stelter offered a defense of how the news media covered Trump early on (which came at the expense of his Republican opponents). Stelter told Weinstein that he went back through his own show transcripts, “across CNN” and cable news, claiming that Trump “wasn’t getting free publicity.”

“He was getting really skeptical, probing coverage. People were challenging him from the first day he entered the race, which is why I say if he were watching, he wouldn’t have thought it was a good show,” Stelter argued.

Sure, one could make the case that the media were blasting Trump from the get-go, but Weinstein correctly pointed out at the end of the podcast that Trump received so much coverage period during the campaign. As one MRC study after another found, the broadcast and cable networks were far more interested in Trump than his 16 other opponents. 

One such study that examined two weeks of CNN primetime coverage found that, starting with August 24, 2015, Trump fetched 77.57 percent of the coverage while his next closest opponent was Jeb Bush at 11.75 percent.

Stelter also elaborated on how he thinks the media have done covering Trump the President:

I think there’s an all-of-the-above version of this answer, but I think when you look at major news outlets, that we would think of as, you know, your standbys — mainline outlets that we all grew up watching and reading — most of us grew up watching and trusting. The NBCs, the ABCs, The New York Times, The APs, CNN. There’s been up close and personal, aggressive coverage trying to hold him accountable and trying to figure out the meaning of this moment in time. I mean, sure there’s plenty to criticize, but I think that journalists have stood up tall at this moment and tried to explain what’s unusual, what’s concerning, what’s fascinating about it. You know, we all have to be able to look back in 10 or 20 years and be proud of what we said and did in these moments because they are such unusual moments....There are times, I think, Trump overwhelms the central nervous system of the media, so much misinformation that we can’t keep up.

Stelter also took a jab at the evening newscasts and those that cover a variety of topics instead of skewing towards Trump:

I think we just that central that he’s overwhelmed our kind of collective media body with so much that’s false and confusing and that, as a result, there has to be a prioritizing of stories....[W]ith that in mind, what I say to myself is are fully telling the Trump story and are our existing formats for the news even capable of telling the Trump story. I like to pick on the evening news because it’s easy, right, 30 minutes. Might see ads, 22 minutes. How in the world can you tell the Trump story in 22 minutes, knowing that most of the back half is some of the human interest stuff. It’s just not possible. He overwhelms our kind of body in that way. 

3. Stelter Ducks Question on Cable’s Outrage Machine, Defends CNN Obsessing Over Trump

Stelter Ducks Question on Cable’s Outrage Machine, Defends CNN Obsessing Over Trump

Weinstein next shifted to pressing Stelter on the reality that, when it comes to cable news shows (particularly in primetime), “the goal is to keep everyone in a perpetual stage of outrage” and, to piggyback on his point, stoke fear in their audiences to keep them huddled in their ideological corners.

“Do you see that — that kind of, you’re stirring up the audience in certain ways, whether it’s CNN or MSNBC or Fox in primetime, different audiences, but does it seem that...there’s these focus points they find within the each of those audiences to kind of to keep them — keep them watching,” Weinstein continued.

Of course, Stelter denied this for CNN, MSNBC, and a select few at Fox but not Fox News pundits, who intentionally deceive their audiences by ignoring “Trump’s failures and Trump’s troubles.”

Another interesting part of the entire podcast was Weinstein correctly observing that, when, for example, something Mueller-related breaks on CNN, they devote “four hours of coverage on one small aspect of which we really don’t know” with “different panels composed with people.”

Weinstein pressed Stelter if such a news operation is “really...enlightening people” or “making news entertainment” to the detriment of other topics, but the CNN host ducked and dodged the question for long stretches. Eventually, he arrived at the issue and, naturally, defended establishment media for “cover[ing] what’s newest.” 

Stelter then launched into another defense with this one being why CNN obsesses over one story at the time:

To me, the internet and mobile phones have fundamentally changed what we can do and what CNN can be and here’s why. CNN is no longer a TV channel. It’s a website and mobile app that also has a TV channel. And yes, most of the profits still come from TV. But you have to think of it as a giant operation that has a TV channel and that TV channel is one version of our product and then the website is another version of our product and, to me, I try to distinguish this way because, on TV, thus we can really focus on what we can do best on TV, which is not to tell your 30 headlines in 30 minutes anymore because the phone has replaced that. If you do that, it makes no sense because the phone is better at that, right? It’s a — the phone is a better delivery mechanism than what cable news used to be, which was a bunch of headlines. So I guess I look at CNN now, where I look at MSNBC now and I think the reason why it’s more of a rolling news and talk show focusing on one big story at a time is because of the internet’s revolution....And by the way, you layer on top of this whole, one-story-at-a-time because that’s what TV can do best, what digital can’t and the layer on top of that — a crisis at the White House and then of course we’re going to focus on one big story at a time. I mean, you know, this is — this is — this is it. This is the game.

He also demanded that the insistence from his “Twitter trolls” that “‘CNN is 24/7 Trump’ is not true” even though “Trump is the biggest story in the world,” so people should turn off the TV and open up or the app to read other things. 

Meanwhile, the MRC took a look at one entire day of CNN coverage early on in the Trump administration (May 12, 2017) and found that 92 percent of their airtime focused on Trump.

4. Knocks Tucker for Not Doing What He Wants Him to Do, Using ‘Earmuffs’ to Ignore Big Stories

Knocks Tucker for Not Doing What He Wants Him to Do, Using ‘Earmuffs’ to Ignore Big Stories

Predictably, a part of the podcast turned into Stelter venting about Fox and how, to put it simply, they’re not covering the news the way he and CNN want them to. But first, he hilariously tried to defend CNN’s embarrassing coverage of the missing Malaysian plane.

“There hasn’t been a plane crash in a while. But you’re talking about the missing plane, which was one of the biggest stories of our world....People like knocking CNN for the missing plane even though it feels like it was a century ago. I would argue that story got bigger every day. Every day that plane was missing, that story was a bigger story. Where the hell did the plane go? We still don’t know,” he complained.

Stelter emphasized that “news judgement takes on many different forms” and the newsmakers are largely making the right ones concerning Trump because his “presidency may end in any number of ways.” 

But for Fox, he used Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity as foils:

You know, I look over at Tucker Carlson, who is a fascinating broadcaster for a number of reasons. And he’s purposefully making choices not to cover the biggest stories of the day. He’s purposefully not talking about Trump. That’s a judgement call and, you know, I think that’s interesting to fight about. I’m, you know, I want there to be room for lots of those judgement calls. I guess I’m happy to be at a place where we know what the big story is and we’re not afraid to, like, talk about it. We just talk about what’s going on. There is a crisis and I don’t think people are going to — I mean, look....I think if you’re someone like Sean Hannity, are you going to be proud in 20 years...The reason I call out Tucker with regards to pretending like he thinks Trump isn’t the President sometimes is because that’s a convenient smokescreen to distract and avoid what are otherwise some pretty, you know, troubling stories and some pretty problematic scandals. It just sometimes feels like he has earmuffs on like he’s trying to avoid the truth that’s like screaming in his face....There is clearly a programming logic to his choice to focus on immigration as you said, to focus on campus craziness, to focus on these other hot-button subjects of interest to his conservative audience.

5. Stelter on Liberal Journalists: ‘What Does That’ ‘Derogatory’ Term ‘Even Mean?’

Stelter on Liberal Journalists: ‘What Does That’ ‘Derogatory’ Term ‘Even Mean?’

And now we get to the real meat and potatoes of the podcast. Paraphrasing a question Weinstein received from a Twitter follower, Weinstein posed this question:

Can an industry which is, I think, you know, largely staffed by liberals, you know, does that provide the perspectives and cover news as objectively if there was more diversity here or does it need to be more ideological diversity in the media?

Stelter first argued that the need for “more ideological diversity” is as necessary as more “gender diversity as well as ethnic diversity,” but it should be a given. As for the point that journalists are liberals, Stelter actually said that he “wonder[s] where that assumption comes from” and asked “[w]hat does that even mean?”

The senior media correspondent further blasted this view as a “derogatory” term:

But again, we have to define our terms here. CNN has thousands of people working around the world. What does it mean to be a liberal journalist? What does it mean to be a liberal journalist if you’re covering conflicts? What does it mean to be a liberal journalist if you’re covering science? I just think we should step way back and remember these are loaded, sometimes derogatory terms are thrown around, mostly in regards to political coverage in the U.S. They don’t even apply to, like, these global news organizations....I don’t want to fall for this language. I don’t want to fall for this language. 

At the tail end of the podcast, Stelter actually opined that he doesn’t “buy into the idea that The New York Times is some liberal newspaper where all the reporters are, again, going back to that term ‘liberal journalist’” because the paper “has actually a remarkable amount of diversity.” 

When David Brooks, Ross Douhat, and Bret Stephens count as your non-liberal voices and stories like the one put out by Gardiner Harris about Nikki Haley are published, one has to wonder what world Stelter is living in.

6. Stelter Mentions NewsBusters, Argues Addressing Media Bias Is ‘Boring,’ Done Everyday in Newsrooms

Stelter Mentions NewsBusters, Argues Addressing Media Bias Is ‘Boring,’ Done Everyday in Newsrooms

Ah, yes, it was only a matter of time before Stelter mentioned this site and our parent organization, the Media Research Center. 

Stelter built up to that by suggesting that, as per the contents of the last slide, the cries that there’s a lack of ideological diversity in newsrooms is “a settled argument” because “when newsrooms, based in big cities,” they “sometimes do not reflect the views of the audience at large.”

If that has been a “settled” discussion for years, Brian, then why is it still being alluded to? Why is the whistle being blown day after day on examples of liberal media bias, both on small and large scales?

Upon being asked what’s being done, Stelter laid out how newsrooms supposedly thwart liberal media bias and alluded to the site you’re reading:

I think it’s addressed everyday, yes. So I guess the answer is yes. I think it’s — I think it’s — there’s an awareness of various biases everyday and I think, everyday, there are convers — but here’s how I think it trickles down. And this is boring, right? This is not interesting to NewsBusters. This is not interesting to the Media Research Center. For them, this is all black and white. Love those guys, but this stuff is lot more complicated than it’s portrayed on the Web. Everyday in editorial meetings, there are conversations about who’s the right person to book and are we representing that point of view and what is the best question and what questions are we bringing to the table based on our experiences in life that — that, you know, we need to make sure we’re compensating for and that’s happening everyday, but it’s boring. Like, it’s not as interesting as “Reporter says mean thing about Trump!” Which then becomes a headline, which then becomes Hannity yelling about liberal bias, which is a boring topic that’s been debated for decades. To me, the more interesting biases are conflict bias, corporate bias, class bias. There are all sorts of biases within our journalism structures as we know them....I just think when we say ah, well they’re all liberal journalists, it almost shuts down this discussion as opposed to opens up a real interesting discussion.

It actually opens a discussion as to what news organizations are doing to change that perception, but that’s just me.

7. Stelter Lashes Out at Those Calling Out CNN’s ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Stunt; ‘It’s Shit’

Stelter Lashes Out at Those Calling Out CNN’s ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Stunt; ‘It’s Shit’

Another interesting exchange transpired when Weinstein invoked a widely-mocked piece of fake news peddled on CNN’s air from 2014, which featured an entire panel standing in soliditary with the Black Lives Matter movement by doing the sign for “hands up, don’t shoot” even though it was widely debunked. 

Stelter was eager to discuss this, first complaining that he still sees it on Twitter in an attempt to prove CNN’s leftward tilt. But then Stelter unspooled with disdain for this meme even being raised because it happened for only a few seconds on a weekend featuring people that were participating in a pilot for a show “that never even went forward.” 

He continued to lash out at this example because “CNN’s a 24 hour channel” and “[w]e produce tens of thousands of hours of content,” so “how is it possible that, as a screengrab from one minute of airtime, would represent anything other than one minute of airtime and four people’s opinions about a topic.”

Going even further, Stelter deemed it to be “shit” that’s being “sen[t]...around” and illustrates “what’s broken about our social media dialogue.”

He also seemed to take a shot at people who call out CNN (and possibly this one) as only “couch potatoes” and not “real media critics”:

I do not see critics doing that. I see them throwing pictures back and forth using memes like swords to win lame arguments and I’m sorry — I’m not going to give my precious time to those silly arguments. I just — and I’m picking on this example. I think it’s interesting because this is what most media criticism on Twitter boils down to, which is here’s a meme in your face, here’s another meme in your face, CNN’s ratings suck. Well, actually, we’re doing really well. It’s just this silly back and forth and it means nothing and it makes me want more real media critics and fewer couch potatoes. 

Seeming to forget a lot of what he does inside the Reliable Sources newsletter by attacking a snapshot of what’s being covered on any given Fox News program or what underlings like Oliver Darcy and Tom Kludt do for a living, Stelter decried the entire notion of basing your judgement on a show or network based on one still shot:

That’s an interesting conversation, but what I notice all too often in criticism of cable news, including at Fox, and I want to make sure I’m not guilty of this as much either, is that folks will take a screengrab of one moment of airtime and they’ll throw it in everyone’s faces and say “haha, they suck.” And it’s literally like a minute worth of thousands of hours of remarkable programming and it’s disappointing to me to see what could sometimes be like the worst dumb moments of cable news become symbols of the media because, I don’t know about you, like I think about cable news and I think about the potential.

8. Stelter Again Defends Campaign Coverage, Claims Media Were Obsessed with Hillary E-Mails

Stelter Again Defends Campaign Coverage, Claims Media Were Obsessed with Hillary E-Mails

Much later in the podcast, Stelter touched on the Russian server hacking involving the DNC and the Clinton campaign, alleging that “in the final weeks of the campaign, there was an obsession with Hillary Clinton’s e-mails that was proved, in large part, by a foreign power” that more or less could have robbed Hillary Clinton from the White House.

An MRC study published on October 25, 2016 by Rich Noyes on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts found that 40 minutes of coverage from July 29 to October 20, 2016 involved Clinton’s e-mails, but they were topped by 53 minutes on Clinton’s age/health and 102 minutes on Trump’s mistreatment of women and calls of sexism. Other journalists lamented that Hillary’s e-mail scandal wouldn’t go away, so they made it go away by ignoring it.

Stelter repeated that CNN didn’t kowtow to Trump by “rolling over,” but again, study after study showed that broadcast and cable news were enthralled with the Trump show and thus suppressing his opponents.