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It was a year that required the press to be at its best — a year when a vengeful, unstable president failed to deal with a national health crisis, while launching the most divisive, dishonest re-election campaign in White House history.
Time and again though, the Beltway press failed to meet the crucial challenge. Here's 12 times when the press let us down. Viewed separately, the transgressions might seem minor. Cumulatively, they're part of a larger pattern where the mainstream press has stumbled badly in recent years.
• Reporting that Trump had recently met with deranged, conspiracy-minded "election fraud" aides in the White House to discuss the possibility of imposing martial law while the U.S. military seized voting machines across the country, the New York Times buried the stunning revelation on page 28, and obscured it on the Times website.
• As Trump unleashed the most aggressive campaign against free and fair elections in America, targeting state election officials, spreading lies about fraud, and refusing to acknowledge his defeat, CNN reported that Congressional Republicans had "no choice" but to sign onto his election sabotage. (Simultaneously, Politico dismissed Trump’s anti-democratic rampage as “performance art" and "bad sportsmanship.")
• One week after Joe Biden tallied 81 million votes and flipped five states, including long-time Republican bastions Georgia and Arizona, ABC News' Martha Raddatz inexplicably interviewed a handful of Trump voters (zero Democratic voters) for "This Week." The Trump loyalists were given a national platform to traffic in debunked election claims.
• Falling for a flat-out GOP fabrication pushed by Trump on Twitter, NBC's "Today" show reported that during a campaign interview, Biden had become confused and seemed to think he was running against George W. Bush. It turned out, Biden mentioned "George" in response to a question because he was being interviewed by entertainer George Lopez.
• Wolf Blitzer launched into a heated argument with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi last October, demanding to know why she wouldn't accept a White House Covid relief proposal, even though Senate Republicans didn't support it, which meant the White House proposal was never going to be voted on. Not once this year did I see Blitzer angrily confront a member of the GOP regarding Covid relief, which the party opposed for ten months.
• Asked point blank last fall if he would agree to the peaceful transfer of power if he should lose the election, Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to refuse to say yes. Following its four-year tradition of normalizing Trump's extreme behavior, the Times tucked the story inside the paper on page 15, gently noting that he "declined an opportunity on Wednesday to endorse a peaceful transfer of power."
• Historians will never understand the press’ long-running refusal to call a pathological liar like Trump, a liar. From the Times’ Fact Check team which, like so many this year, played a sad semantics game:
— "Trump Misrepresents"
— "Trump Falsely Claims"
— "Trump’s Baseless Claim”
— "Trump’s Falsehoods"
— "Trump’s False Claims"
— “Trump’s Inaccurate Claims"
• MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski in August claimed that during the 2016 campaign Hillary Clinton failed to properly warned the nation about Trump's monstrous ways. That was categorically false. (Clinton called him "dangerously incoherent.") Worse, the gaslighting came from Brzezinski who relentlessly bashed Clinton during the campaign, while propping up Trump's run.
• Straining to produce a Both Sides debate about the pandemic, USA Today's editorial page foolishly provided a national platform to then-senior Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro, who has no medical background and who used the newspaper to condemn America's top doctor fighting Covid-19. At the time, the White House was waging a reckless disinformation campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci, and USA Today decided to help. Days later, the paper apologized for running the column, claiming it did not meet the paper’s fact-checking standards.
• When right-wing Trump supporters began staging small “re-open” rallies in protest of pandemic lockdown orders, the press wildly overplayed the significance. One of the strangest media dispatches came from the Washington Post regarding a minuscule Louisiana event. The paper reported "more than a dozen protesters" had gathered near the governor’s mansion demanding the state's stay-at-home order be lifted. I can't recall the last time the Post bothered to document a protest that involved "more than a dozen" people.
• Giving his first non-Fox News television interview since the pandemic began, Trump in May sat across from "ABC World News Tonight" anchor David Muir. Rather than be grilled on his historically incompetent pandemic response, and the constant stream of lies and misinformation he had been peddling about the crisis, Trump was greeted with a soft-as-a-pillow Q&A, where Muir sought zero accountability, at a time when 70,000 Americans had already died from a virus Trump claimed would not strike the U.S.
• Given Trump’s complete lack of concern about the pandemic today, it’s hard to recall the press once actually praised his Covid leadership. Back in April, journalists were rushing to give him undeserved credit for changing his “tone” about the crisis, aggressively assuring Americans that Trump now “gets it,” as CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta stressed following one briefing. "I have never seen the president like this." Added NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, "The tone and seriousness was different today."
Here’s to a brighter 2021.
📈 GOOD STUFF:
It’s astonishing how hollow Trump’s claims of election fraud were this year. Conversely, it’s amazing how well the national election process worked given the huge increase in participation in 2020, coming during a pandemic.
WSB-TV in Atlanta reports on the latest Georgia vote-counting findings that prove both points, “GBI Finishes Signature Audit in Cobb County, Finds Only Two Mismatches”:
The limited signature audit required teams of [Georgia Bureau of Investigation] agents and state election investigators to examine about 15,000 absentee envelope signatures, which were separated from the actual ballot when they were processed. That ensures a secret ballot, a right that’s cemented in the state constitution. Signatures were matched twice during the ballot count process.
The signatures were then compared to public state records, including driving services forms.
👱🏽FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Lori McKenna, “This Town is a Woman"
From one of my favorite albums of the year, and from one of our most gifted singer-songwriters. McKenna’s uncanny ability to create acoustic, melodic portraits of life’s smaller moments remains a treasured skill.
You memorized her every curve
She took you in, she gave you nerve
She whispered all those dreams in your ear
But if she can't make those dreams come true
She knows you'll leave cause they always do
She'll wish you well and wait for you right here
Cause this town is a woman