Another media fail
The article described a White House where Biden’s “folksy demeanor” belies a “short fuse and an obsession with details.” Apparently, Biden is guilty of… “gasp”… taking his job seriously.
His apparent crime, according to the article, is taking his time making decisions, consulting experts, and considering multiple points of view. Sometimes, he even agonizes over decisions for days. He is really kidding himself. What does he think his job is, making life and death decisions? Making policy for the most powerful country in the world? The nerve!
After all, his fastidiousness comes after four years of a president who wouldn’t read his briefing documents. And rather than sitting through long, drawn-out policy discussions, he wanted his policy briefings “with maps, charts, pictures and videos, as well as ‘killer graphics,” as former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo put it.
So just who does Biden think he is?
Well, that is actually what The New York Times seemed to imply in its article published over the weekend. That attack was ironic indeed considering that the Times editorial board criticized Trump for his lack of attention to the details of governing.
But this article is evidence of a long-standing practice not just of the New York Times, but of most reputable mainstream media sources. They believe in the credo of “both-siderism.” The argument goes that since an argument is made by a political official, especially a high-ranking one such as the President, that statement becomes news. People can take the information and make a determination as to its credibility.
The problem arises when politicians make statements based not on facts, but on outright lies. If people go to the newspapers looking for information, and the newspaper simply covers both sides of the issue in the interest of balance, then the reader cannot determine the veracity or lack thereof of the statements printed in the paper.
This is exactly the dynamic the fossil fuels industry used to muddy the waters regarding climate change. Rather than reporting the fact that virtually all scientists regard the human impact of climate change as fact, newspapers felt the need to treat it as a political issue and simply report both sides. For every scientist explaining how CO2 emissions from human activity are damaging our environment, the reporter would find another “expert” arguing the opposite position. It mattered not that what one side was saying was pure, malicious bunk.
The New York Times committed a similar transgression less than a year ago. After covering the murders under color of law of Black people, and also covering the widespread outrage and protest over these actions, the Times published an editorial written by Republican Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), arguing that the United States should violently repress these protests. The editorial was filled with lies and racist invective.
But the newspaper had a duty to publish alternative views, argued the editorial page editor. “Times Opinion owes it to our readers to show them counter-arguments, particularly those made by people in a position to set policy,” Mr. Bennet wrote in a thread on Twitter.
That argument fell flat, and the editor responsible ultimately resigned. But the fact that the editors felt it was responsible to publish such a deeply flawed article demonstrates the affliction of both-siderism.
The wise journalists leading these responsible institutions believed such balance would immunize them from attack. They believed giving both sides equal time — no matter how much the facts supported one side over the other — would enhance their position as one of the pillars of American society, the fifth estate as it were.
Unfortunately, this approach has not worked for them. It did not stop Donald Trump from icing them out of the White House briefing room. It did not stop a partisan federal appeals court judge from calling them “Democratic Party broadsheets.” It has not stopped much of the public from determining that the mainstream media has no credibility. It hasn’t even stopped Supreme Court Justices from arguing to limit press freedom.
Most of the citations in this post refer to New York Times articles, illustrating the central role that organization still plays in our media landscape. Indeed, it is worth noting that many of the articles airing the debate over the Tom Cotton editorial are from the New York Times. Such self-reflection is hard to imagine in Fox News. And when Biden deserves criticism, the New York Times has a duty to raise them, as they did over his use of executive orders.
But such transparent efforts to appear objective by giving both sides equal time have to come to an end. At a certain point, despite what the cynical Republicans claim, there is an objective truth, and the duty of the news media should be to report that truth. If that truth makes some people unhappy, then that is likely evidence that the newspaper is doing its job.