Media experts say the polarized reaction by American news outlets after the killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike ordered by President Trump Thursday night demonstrates the impact partisanship has on their coverage.
“Unfortunately, the liberal media has fallen into a familiar pattern with everything that concerns Trump,” Cornell Law professor and media critic William A. Jacobson told Fox News.
“Take any topic and they portray Trump as irresponsible and ignorant. This time those portrayals are on steroids, with Trump being portrayed as a warmonger surrounded by sycophants isolated from reality.”
NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell expressed “grave concern” that Trump acted without a plan, while CNN’s Max Boot said “this is a crisis that President Trump has created,” after claiming that the relationship between the U.S. and Iran had been steady since President Obama’s nuclear deal in 2015.
The Washington Post even referred to Soleimani as “revered,” while many liberal cable news pundits condemned the airstrike that killed the head of Iran's Quds Forces.
“For some CNNers, it was a rough night,” NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck wrote to accompany a montage of CNN analysts including Fareed Zakaria and Boot bashing the decision, almost exclusively because they don’t trust Trump’s judgment.
Media Research Center vice president Dan Gainor told Fox News that the response by the mainstream press has been 100 percent predictable.
“Traditional media blame Trump as they do for everything,” Gainor said. “There’s almost no mention how Iran killed 600 American troops in Iraq and wounded and maimed hundreds of others or any connection of the attack on our embassy. The media that ignored Iran’s terrorism before is doing so again.”
Gainor said the narrative among liberal media is that “Trump escalated this even though Iran’s proxies invaded our embassy,” while “most conservative media have sided with Trump, as they should when a deadly terrorist is killed.”
MSNBC’s Chris Hayes broke the news by calling it an “almost incomprehensibly massive escalation” and quickly compared it to a hypothetical situation of David Petraeus being assassinated back in 2007. The argument among liberal pundits repeatedly noted Soleimani should not be mourned, but Trump shouldn’t be trusted.
“During the primetime pearl-clutching on MSNBC’s ‘The Last Word,’ a panel of journalists and former Obama administration officials were busy suggesting there was no plan and ‘if’ Soleimani deserved what he got, Trump was the ‘wrong’ president to dish it out,” NewsBusters analyst Nicholas Fondacaro wrote. “Towards the end of the show, host Lawrence O’Donnell basically went around the room and had his panel of lefties quickly reiterate their gripes about the strike that they made throughout the show.”
DePauw University professor and media critic Jeffrey McCall told Fox News that this story “demands the media take a measured and fact-based approach and resist urges to play partisan games,” and analysis and commentary should be offered only by people with specific knowledge about the region and the broader diplomatic perspectives.
“This is not the time for shrill commentators on the left of right to try to make polarizing hay out of an international event that has dangerous potential. Grandstanding politicians and hair-on-fire pundits need to be on the sidelines for now and media producers and editors need to keep them there,” McCall said.
“Sadly, we have already seen evidence of anti-Trump news outlets exploiting this situation to ride their high horses about Trump having no policy, being impulsive, and being dangerous on the national stage," he added. "That has been their narrative since Trump took office.”
McCall said that there are many questions surrounding the airstrike that killed Soleimani and nobody can surely know what will happen in the days ahead.
“For now, the media should stick to basic information and informed analysis by people in the know, providing as much context as possible without angry and blatant partisanship,” McCall said.
NewsBusters executive editor Tim Graham told Fox News that many mainstream media members consider “Trump as more offensive than the Iranians,” a drastic change from the Obama era, when the press “was deeply cooperative” with everything Obama wanted to do to negotiate with Iran.
“Look at any network interview with Iranian officials in the last four years, and observe how they are treated with much greater deference and respect than Donald Trump has ever received. Even if now, our media admit that Iran is responsible for a lot of American deaths in Iraq, they obscured that reality as it happened during the Iraq war,” Graham said.
Media executive-turned Fourth Watch editor Steve Krakauer told Fox News that the media reaction has largely “captured the dual nature of the historic foreign policy moment — the incredible evil of Soleimani as well as the very real unknown his death leaves for the entire region,” and he’s interested to see how coverage develops.
“I’m most curious to see if the Obama foreign policy team, led by Ben Rhodes, which shaped the media coverage during the Iran Deal, will once again exert their influence and spin the journalists and pundits they are cozy with. Rhodes and his team are not quietly hiding away — they are active on Twitter and on cable news panels,” Krakauer said.
Rhodes defended the Iran Deal on Friday morning, saying it “successfully rolled back Iran’s nuclear program and averted a war” but “Trump’s decision to pull out has led to Iran resuming its nuclear program and started this dangerous cycle of escalation that we are still on.”
Rhodes fired off a series of tweets as the news unfolded on Thursday night, many of which have already been echoed across cable news. He also asked his followers, “Does anyone think Donald Trump is equipped to handle a complex, enduring, international crisis that could play out in many countries and demand expertise, rigorous process, and judicious decision-making?”
Krakauer said that if pundits continue pushing Rhodes’ talking points then “we’ll know they successfully spun the media once again.”
Conservative strategist Chris Barron didn’t hold back when asked about the partisan coverage of Soleimani’s death.
“Sadly, everything these days is politicized. It is absolutely amazing – and disgusting – that the same Democrats who were advocating risking American lives to protect Kurds in Iraq are attacking the President for responding to Iranian aggression by taking out a terrorist responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans," Barron said. "The left in this country is fundamentally broken and morally bankrupt.”