In 2016 the nation’s top two newspapers responded to Donald Trump’s election with arrogant new slogans, virtually declaring war on him. The New York Times aired TV ads proclaiming “Truth: It's more important now than ever.” Apparently, truth hadn’t been that important when Barack Obama or Bill Clinton were president.
The Times even sold T-shirts with the slogan, pairing with a Japanese fashion company and seeling them for a mere $300 – a funny way to fight red-state Make America Great Again populism.
The Washington Post chose a new motto that is now published on its masthead every morning: "Democracy Dies in Darkness." Look out! Trump was going tyrannical and by God, the Washington Post was going to stop that.
"This is actually something we’ve said internally for a long time in speaking about our mission," Shani George, communications director at the Post, told The Huffington Post in explaining the motto. "We thought it would be a good, concise value statement that conveys who we are to the many millions of readers who have come to us for the first time over the last year."
Like many in the media, they have described Trump as waging a "war on the press," and then denying they were involved. "We're not at war with the administration," proclaimed Marty Baron, the Washington Post editor. "We're at work."
That’s not the truth. “Democracy Dies in Darkness” is a call to war.
To underline the chumminess between these two beacons of truth and forthrightness in this Trump era, the New York Times published a story that attempted to shame Trump’s attack on the "Amazon Washington Post," with media reporter Sydney Ember including a bucket of defensive quotes from Baron, saying he would not be “cowed” by the president’s invective. “We cover him the way that we feel any president should be covered,” he lied.
In 2016, Baron pitched a fit when the Trump campaign temporarily withdrew press credentials from the Washington Post. This didn’t mean they couldn’t cover Trump. It just meant Post reporters couldn’t travel on the campaign plane. The Post editorial board harrumphed that “Mr. Trump capped a day of assaulting fundamental liberal democratic values by announcing he would ban Post reporters from covering his campaign events. If this is his inclination now, imagine how he might wield the powers of the presidency.”
Holy smokes. The Post is that essential to the Republic?
That’s hypocritical, and they knew it. The Post didn’t write an outraged editorial in 2015 when the Hillary Clinton campaign banned right-leaning reporter David Martosko of the London Daily Mail from her campaign print pool. They expressed no editorial-page outrage as the Obama administration routinely insulted and avoided Fox News, describing it as “not a news organization.”
There was no editorial when, days before the 2008 election, the Obama campaign kicked three McCain-endorsing papers off their plane – the Washington Times, the New York Post, and the Dallas Morning News – to make room for the enthusiastic Obama-promoting magazines Ebony, Essence, and Jet. “Reporter Off Obama Plane: Times Editor Squawks,” read the headline on a brief Post news item about it.
We embrace the notion of a free press as a hallowed institution essential to the democratic process, providing checks and balances to our system of government. But no such honor exists in the industry today. There is no system of checks or balances when the Democrats are in charge; however, once Republicans are in office, their idea of “balancing” power is to savage them mercilessly.
Underneath all their “war on the press” outrage, the media are suggesting that no one has the right to check or balance them. To resist the “Resistance” is somehow undemocratic. They paint themselves as dangerously "under siege" when their political agenda is exposed and their commitment to “the truth” is questioned.
Donald Trump mocks them energetically as "Fake News" factories, and they’re horrified that anyone would dare treat them so. In their minds America has entered an "authoritarian" phase and the ignorant deplorables just don’t see it. Chanting "CNN sucks" at a rally is a rigorous, if coarse, exercise of freedom of speech. It is not a repeal of the concept. It is, however, a rejection of an industry that wraps itself around that concept as a means of advancing a far-left one-sided narrative.
During the Trump transition, CNN’s resident media expert Brian Stelter attacked Trump’s attempt to “delegitimize” the press and “create the idea that someone out there is the enemy.” He pushed reporters to use the A-word: “I talk to international correspondents who say to you, ‘This is exactly what authoritarians do. This is what strongmen do. This is what happens in authoritarian regimes.’ I think we need to start using those words on TV, at least, to discuss the possibilities before us.”
In the middle of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court fight, however, Stelter appeared on a press panel discussion in Washington and admitted this cavalcade of panic was overwrought. “I think some of the greatest fears of the Trump era have not come to pass. We have not seen mass jailings of journalists. These were true fears after election night in 2016, given the president’s awful rhetoric toward the press.”
Translation: I panicked. Sorry.
It’s been a regular trope of Stelter & Co. that Trump’s “awful rhetoric” would put reporters in danger. “When we see people booing journalists at rallies, when we see the death threats that come in over social media, it's all part of this hate movement,” Stelter argued.
When a deranged man – who had no political motivations – shot and killed five employees at the Annapolis Capital-Gazette in Maryland, Stelter immediately turned the beam toward Trump. “There's been a sharp rise in threats against journalists in recent years. .... Which just reinforces why it's important to call out this dark strain of anti-media sentiment, apart from the attack in Annapolis.”
So critics of the press – which includes him – were fueling mass murders? Does that mean that the relentless criticism of Donald Trump as a democracy-killing authoritarian could be endangering his safety?
It never seems to occur to the Stelters on the media scene that perhaps “awful rhetoric” against Republicans might be a problem. The crazed leftist who shot at Republican congressmen during a baseball practice – almost killing House Majority Whip Steve Scalise – listed “The Rachel Maddow Show,” “Real Time with Bill Maher” and the radical left public radio show “Democracy Now” as his favorites.
Do we then blame MSNBC or HBO or Brian Stelter for the shooting? According to the media’s own rules, that’s exactly what should happen. Perhaps it’s time for those in our Fourth Estate to blather less about criticism of the press and start shining some light on the numerous vicious attacks against pro-Trump and conservative Americans coming from their own ranks.
Because democracy dies in darkness, you know.
Adapted from "Unmasked: Big Media's War Against Trump" (Humanix Books, June 4, 2019).
Tim Graham is the Executive Editor of NewsBusters.org and co-author with Brent Bozell of the forthcoming book "Unmasked: Big Media’s War Against Trump."