By Daniel Froomkin
Press Watch (11/25/19)
After two weeks of gripping testimony that established Donald Trump’s flagrant abuse of power beyond any reasonable doubt, after an effectively uncontested accusation that Republican conspiracy theories about Ukraine advance a Russian agenda, and after the ostensibly “moderate” members of Trump’s party actually hardened their support for the president, there is precisely one huge, overarching news story that demands to be written: That the GOP has fully descended into lawlessness and lunacy.
But our elite political reporters simply can’t bring themselves to say so. Over in the opinion sections, that message is so common it’s a cacophony, almost entirely across the political spectrum. But in the news columns, the latest political development is just another story with two sides and reporters aren’t taking either one.
The problem of course is that on one side, facts don’t matter. So equating both sides is not a neutral act. It means facts don’t matter to you, either. It’s a nihilistic way to cover politics.
Case in point: The top of Greg Miller’s Washington Post article about Fiona Hill’s testimony last week was an extraordinary – possibly legendary — example of bothesiderism, in which Miller tried to recast Hill’s blistering indictment of Republicans into a commentary on “the insidious forces — including the spread of conspiracy theories — infecting American politics.”
All of American politics.
Miller wrote that Hill put the “unfolding Ukraine scandal in a broader political context” with her warnings “that the country’s susceptibility to baseless allegations and partisan infighting are more than unfortunate byproducts of this political era.”
The country’s susceptibility.
And “above all, she spoke with palpable concern about the extent to which partisanship in the United States’ political system has weakened the country’s ability to agree on objective reality. ‘Our nation is being torn apart,’ she said. ‘Truth is questioned.’
Truth “is questioned.”
But as even Miller eventually acknowledged, Hill’s testimony was actually “a bristling rebuke of Republican lawmakers — and by extension Trump — who have sought to sow doubt about Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election.” …
Soledad O’Brien’s Critique Of NPR Pence Puff Piece Sets Off Twitter Storm
The reporting is weak and the reporter never challenges her subject”
By Daniel Froomkin
Press Watch (11/26/19)
A series of tweets by Soledad O’Brien calling out an NPR puff piece on Mike Pence roused a Twitter rampage against the public radio network that is widely considered liberal, but engages in epic both-siderism.
NPR’s 11-minute report on Pence, by “Morning Edition” co-host Rachel Martin, was profoundly empty of skepticism about either Pence’s emerging role in the Ukraine scandal or the ostensible central topic: his “political path shaped by faith.”
O’Brien tweeted to her 1.1 million followers not to waste their time on the piece because “the reporting is weak and the reporter never challenges her subject.” Then, when Martin’s co-host Steve Inskeep smarmily jumped to his colleague’s defense, O’Brien really let loose – and so did her followers.
Poking the media bear is nothing new for O’Brien, an accomplished broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker — and former CNN anchor – who, as I wrote three weeks ago, has emerged as a powerful voice for improving political journalism. The Daily Beast subsequently called her “the mainstream media’s most outspoken critic.”
The NPR piece was ostensibly pegged to Trump-donor-turned-ambassador Gordon Sondland’s congressional testimony on Wednesday tying Pence to Trump’s Ukrainian squeeze. Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee that he had mentioned the quid pro quo at a meeting, and that Pence had responded with a nod.
But in her NPR report, Martin quickly dispatched that troubling accusation by quoting Pence’s response to a Wisconsin reporter that, as I wrote last week, was a classic non-denial denial – and accepting it on face value.
Then Martin was off to the races: “So how did Mike Pence end up here?” she asked. Her answer involved quotes from something Pence wrote when he was 21, from a talk Pence gave at an evangelical church in 2017 about finding Jesus, and from Pence’s former chief of staff when he was governor, Jim Atterholt.
The piece ended with Martin saying Pence “could find his own path to the White House” — and a quote from the Bible.
The backlash began with this tweet from Yale public health professor Gregg Gonsalves: “OMG: this piece by @rachelnpr on @VP. It represents everything that is wrong with media today and reads like piece written by Pence’s PR firm. Nothing goes challenged here by the reporter, editor (@speakeasyshe). Why? Why? Why? @moorehn @soledadobrien”
Gonsalves continued: “Kids in cages, rank homophobia, white nationalism, misogyny, probable involvement in impeachable offenses–but he’s a deeply religious man: ‘For me, for my house, it all really does come down to just wanting to treat others the way you want to be treated,’ he said.” …