Column: The Arrogance of the Media Creates an Illiberal Bias

January 3rd, 2024 5:49 AM

An essential ingredient in the stew of hysteria over a second Trump term is heavy-breathing concern for “vital institutions” like the press. On the badly named public-radio podcast Left Right & Center -- originating from KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, California -- former NPR morning host David Greene furiously pushed the panic button in a year-end review on December 29.

Greene is supposed to be the “center” in this program’s name, but he never is. Pondering a Trump re-election, he kvetched about how he “lived through” Trump’s presidency at NPR, where they had the “hardest conversations” ever in newsrooms.

They couldn’t figure out how to cover Trump. The more they would cover him, the more they wanted to “fact check” him, and “then your fact-checking became this very self-validating thing.” But this self-righteous Trump-bashing only led to the feeling that Trump was using you, playing off your self-validation. You just became part of Trump’s “constant show.”

Greene quoted from journalist George Packer in a special issue of The Atlantic magazine, chock-full of jeremiads about a second Trump term. Packer’s article is titled “Is Journalism ready? The press has repeatedly fallen into Donald Trump’s traps. A second term could render it irrelevant.”

This is the purple prose that Greene shared: “Trump doesn’t have to have journalists poisoned. He doesn’t even need to have them investigated. His most powerful weapon is his ability to convince large numbers of Americans that the press has no particular value for democracy and deserves no special protection.”

Greene left out what came next: the notion that the media are “just another racket of corrupt self-serving elites.” Did that cut too close to the bone? They can’t believe anyone would think they’re self-serving while they’re energetically “self-validating.” He’s like Packer, who couldn’t imagine The New York Times is “supposedly unfair.” Their bubble is impenetrably thick.

Democracy needs a free press. The problem for leftists like Greene is they think their voices are the only essentially voices, that their media outlets are the only “vital institutions” that help democracy function. They refuse to acknowledge that the Republican half of the electorate thinks they’re all stooges for Democrats, and they can’t imagine that conservative journalists have any important function in holding Democrats accountable.

Sarah Isgur, the current “Right” member of this cast, pressed Greene with a quote from James Bennet, who was fired from The New York Times for publishing an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.). Bennet wrote the newspaper’s “problem has metastasized from liberal bias to illiberal bias, from an inclination to favor one side of the national debate to an impulse to shut debate down altogether.”

Greene sputtered at this, saying this was the “heart of the problem,” that people complain about a liberal bias while the media worried about “elevating extreme voices,” like the elected president. He lazily claimed that after he asked four follow-up questions, “I could show why your argument is really weak. But I’ll set that aside.” He did not elaborate.

So good for Isgur, but it was even better when the “Left” of this equation, Democrat Mo Elleithee, quoted from the late Fox News chief Roger Ailes when he said “we are the balance” at Fox News, the corrective to all the liberal tilt. Elleithee surprisingly said the solution to rebuilding trust – with conservatives and with minorities who feel unrepresented – is to “diversify, in every way.”

Fat chance! But if NPR was ever forced to admit any confident conservatives in to work there, that old Greene lament about the “hardest conversations ever” in the newsroom would pale by comparison.