To most journalists, the election of Donald Trump is Mourning in America. Trump won despite a massive effort by the liberal media establishment to discredit and destroy him, and they were still at it early Wednesday morning, even as it became obvious that they’d utterly failed to derail his candidacy.
On CBS, Slate columnist Jamelle Bouie painted the anti-Washington wave that carried Trump to victory as a racist “push-back against the advancement of African-Americans, of Hispanics, of women, of Muslim-Americans.”
On MSNBC, co-anchor Rachel Maddow also played the race card: “I’m thinking about President Obama too. I mean, to have the first African American President succeeded by a guy who was endorsed by the KKK....it’s a big deal.”
The Stop Trump effort among journalists has played out in newspapers and on TV screens for months now. Just look at the broadcast networks: The Media Research Center analyzed the spin of ABC, CBS and NBC evening news coverage from July 29 through October 20, and found an astonishing 91% of the coverage was hostile to Trump.
The networks spent far more airtime airing the details of Trump’s controversies than trying to hold Hillary Clinton accountable for her scandals. The GOP nominee was slammed as embodying “the politics of fear,” a “dangerous” and “vulgar” “misogynistic bully” who had insulted vast swaths of the American electorate. Reporters also bluntly called out Trump for lying in his public remarks in a way they never did with Clinton, despite her own robust record of false statements.
It wasn’t just TV of course; this anti-Trump attitude permeated elite journalistic circles. Go back to May 4, when Trump clinched the GOP nomination by knocking off Ted Cruz and John Kasich in the Indiana primary. The gang on CBS This Morning greeted RNC chairman Reince Preibus with a copy of the New York Daily News; co-host Charlie Rose laughingly read him the headline: “It says, ‘Republican Party 1854-2016; Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here today to mourn the GOP. A once great political party killed by epidemic of Trump.’”
Co-host Gayle King helpfully added: “There’s an elephant, Reince, in a coffin, just to make the picture really clear for you.”
Over the next six months, the Trump bashing reached epic levels. On MSNBC, host Lawrence O’Donnell derided Trump as an “imbecile candidate,” while NPR’s Bob Garfield slammed him for “racism, xenophobia, misogyny, incitement, breathtaking ignorance on issues, both foreign and domestic, and a nuclear recklessness, reminiscent of a raving meth head with a machete on an episode of Cops.”
CBS Sunday Morning contributor Nancy Giles, on MSNBC in June, speculated that Trump was “clinically insane.” MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski floated the same smear in late August: “It’s time to hear from somebody in the mental health community...There’s not anybody at this table who doesn’t think he has some sort of problem.”
ABC permitted left-wing author and MSNBC analyst Michael Eric Dyson to appear on This Week in June to claim Trump’s “nationalism is really a white racist supremacist nationalism that wreaks terror on the American democratic experiment.” Over on CNN, journalist Carl Bernstein agreed that Trump’s coalition “includes an awful lot of bigots and nativists and a lot of hateful people.”
“What’s the worst-case scenario for America if he [Donald Trump] wins?” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow mused to Rolling Stone, just days before co-anchoring her network’s coverage of the GOP convention. “I’ve been reading a lot about what it was like when Hitler first became chancellor....I think that’s possibly where we are.”
The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, appearing on HBO’s Real Time in September, suggested the end of American democracy: “American democracy will be in greater danger than it’s been since 1860, if Donald Trump were elected president.”
On CBS following the second presidential debate, ex-Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer was disdainful: “I just hope to God I don’t see another campaign like this one. America can do better than what we have seen here tonight. This was just disgraceful....This was WrestleMania, this wasn’t about presidential politics....I think Donald Trump gets most of the blame here.”
Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation on October 16, former Newsweek editor Jon Meacham sneered: “To paraphrase Henry Adams, the movement from George H. W. Bush to Donald Trump disproves Darwin.”
The anti-Trump venom was welcomed by a number of leading journalists, who openly lobbied their brethren to drop any pretense of objectivity and become full-throated anti-Trump partisans.
Back on August 8, in an obvious signal to campaign journalists, the New York Times published a front-page “news analysis” by media writer Jim Rutenberg suggesting objectivity was impossible if reporters believed “Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes.”
Rutenberg offered a conscience-clearing get-out-of-jail free card for reporters who wanted to tilt the scales: “It is journalism’s job to be true to the readers and viewers, and true to the facts, in a way that will stand up to history’s judgment. To do anything less would be untenable.”
In a piece for Time.com, Fusion anchor Jorge Ramos echoed Rutenberg: “If a candidate is making racist and sexist remarks, we cannot hide in the principle of neutrality. That’s a false equivalence.”
The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank agreed: “In an ordinary presidential campaign, press neutrality is essential. But in Trump....attempting neutrality legitimized the illegitimate.”
You don’t have to be a Trump fan to see this kind of thinking as a dangerous corruption of the news media’s role in our system. Reporters are supposed to supply honest and balanced information about both candidates, and then voters get to decide which is the better choice. Throwing those rules away means either that journalists have no faith in voters to select the “correct” candidate, or arrogantly presume to make the choice themselves.
Journalism’s own credibility appears to be the final casualty of reporters’ over-the-top campaign bias. According to a USA Today poll released October 26: “By nearly 10-1, all those surveyed say the news media, including major newspapers and TV stations, would like to see Clinton rather than Trump elected. That includes 82 percent of Trump supporters and 74 percent of Clinton supporters.”
An Associated Press poll found the same 10-to-1 perception of an anti-Trump bias in the media: “Overall, 56 percent of likely voters say the media is biased against Trump, just 5 percent say it’s biased in his favor.”
Now that Trump has won, journalists need to recognize that their unprecedented attempt to take destroy a presidential candidate has resulted in serious, perhaps permanent damage to their credibility.
Rich Noyes, is research director for the Media Research Center.