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Eager to document the latest right-wing attack on science, the New York Times recently published a long piece about Republicans making Dr. Anthony Fauci a target of their midterm campaign wrath. Treating the despicable behavior as a little more than a “smart” campaign strategy, the Times ended up quoting no less than fourteen Republicans without bothering to quote a single Democrat to give a counter-balancing view, or put the GOP’s outlandish conduct in perspective.
The Times’ massive omission has become standard among Beltway journalists in recent years, as they feverishly detail whatever phony outrage Republicans are cooking up. Time and again reporters simply hand over the reins to the GOP, let them spread their misinformation, gently suggest to news consumers that the allegations may not be true, and then shut out Democratic voices, denying them an opportunity to weigh in on the political attacks being levied.
The Times’ Fauci piece, which came complete with a cliched interview of Trump voters conducted inside a Midwestern diner, was just the most recent and egregious example of this misguided, one-sided coverage.
Convinced that Fauci will become a midterm issue among Republican voters, the Times sent Sheryl Gay Stolberg to Ohio to report on the GOP “stepping up their attacks.” The newspaper matter-of-factly announced the vicious smear campaign had become a symbol of “the deep schism in the country, mistrust in government and a brewing populist resentment of the elites, all made worse by the pandemic,” and that Fauci is seen by his critics as “a high-and-mighty know-it-all who enjoys his celebrity.” He “seems the obvious person to blame,” the Times announced, adopting a GOP talking point —even though there’s nothing “obvious” about blaming the country’s leading immunologist during an unprecedented global pandemic, which is being prolonged in the U.S. by Republicans who refuse to get vaccinated.
The article is filled with Trump sycophants who call Fauci a “petty tyrant,” a “ridiculous tyrant,” denounce “Faucism,” claim he’s “playing God,” and brand him “one of the biggest frauds in American history.” At the ubiquitous Ohio diner, one Trump voter announced Fauci has “violated the Nuremberg Code,” the set of research ethics developed after the Holocaust, and that the Covid vaccine “is nothing but an experiment!”
Responding to a critique of her piece that I posted on Twitter, Gay Stolberg replied, “This is a lame criticism. Story exposed all the ways GOP is attacking Fauci. It was not a he-said, she-said on how people feel about Fauci. It exposed Republican attacks and traced the roots of vile rhetoric aimed at him. It included GOP praise of him.”
It’s true the Times article was about Republicans, which is made clear from the headline, “Republicans, Wooing Trump Voters, Make Fauci Their Boogeyman”. And that means mostly Republicans would be quoted. But when stories like this revolve around outlandish, unethical GOP behavior, like comparing America’s Covid Dr. to a Nazi war criminal, it’s essential that the Times give Democrats a voice, especially since the GOP’s anti-Fauci campaign is being wielded as a weapon to defeat Democrats in November. This was an article about politics and elections and the Times only quoted one party.
This latest newsroom failure has become the Times’ new norm. Trying to cover Ron DeSantis in glory last year as Florida was consumed by Covid, the Times religiously refused to include quotes from Democratic lawmakers from the Sunshine State who could put the Republican governor’s radical, pro-Covid policies in context.
Publishing a long, loving profile of South Dakota Republican governor Kristi Noem — she “eagerly projects a rugged Great Plainswoman image” — the Times quoted 9 Republicans, 0 Democrats, even though Noem was spotlighted because she might run for president against a Democrat.
The night before the January 6 insurrection, hours before Trump’s army stormed the Capitol, the Times ran a news article about the unprecedented attempt by “Trump loyalists” in the Senate to derail the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. Only Republicans were quoted in the piece — 8 in total. Members of the GOP were plotting to overturn a Democrat’s White House win and the Times quoted zero Democrats for perspective! The party wasn’t even referenced until the article’s final paragraph.
The Times is hardly alone. Last June, the Washington Post wrote a long, overly impressed piece about how Republicans were using the then-new topic of Critical Race Theory against Democrats. Seven Republicans were quoted, zero Democrats, even though the premise of the article was that the CRT movement was bad news politically for Democrats. (“Republicans trying to win the senate will use the issue, along with other cultural ones, to paint Democrats as “leftist and extreme.”)
More recently came this headline from Politico, “Republicans See Political Gold In Democrats' Race-Sensitive Covid Drug Guidance.” It was another example of the Beltway press eagerly touting a bout of phony GOP outrage targeting Democrats. Seven Republicans were quoted, one Democrat.
This is all part of the media’s long-running obsession with amplifying Republicans over Democrats. During a three-month span in 2018 when Trump was president, the network Sunday morning news shows featured 33 right-leaning guests, compared to 6 left-leaning guests, according to a Media Matters study.
If you think because there was a Republican president and a Republican Congress that’s why the Sunday shows booked so many Republican guests, think again. Back when Obama was in office, the same Sunday shows were still booking more Republican guests than Democratic ones.
As for the Times’ misguided Fauci piece, any reporter in 2022 who finds themselves inside an Ohio diner interviewing Trump supporters should stop and ask, why?
(Photo: Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)
Iconic author and 60’s historian Todd Gitlin recently passed away. The favorite thing I learned from his recent obituary was that he graduated valedictorian from New York City’s prestigious Bronx Science High School — at the age of 16. Gitlin was also a gifted media critic and his eagle eye will be missed.
From Michelle Goldberg’s remembrance, “Requiem for a Liberal Giant”:
I spoke to him many times about the failings of various parts of the left, which became one of his great subjects, but I don’t recall him ever seeming embittered. Some people, disenchanted by the left, make a whole politics out of that disenchantment. But Gitlin’s broad ideals remained consistent, even if his onetime radicalism was chastened by experience. He threw himself into the fight to get universities to divest from fossil fuel corporations. He was excited by Occupy Wall Street and by the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020.
FUN STUFF — BECAUSE WE ALL NEED A BREAK
Anais Mitchell, “Brooklyn Bridge”
It’s the perfect Gotham City valentine.
The multi-talented Mitchell explains her romance: "Having left New York, I was able to write a love letter to it in a way I never could when I was living there. It was like, fuck it. This is how I feel. There is nothing more beautiful than riding over one of the New York bridges at night next to someone who inspires you."
Over Brooklyn Bridge
In a taxi
Over Brooklyn Bridge
You and me in the backseat
Finally got you by my side
Riding high at the end of the night
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They keep saying “The story wasn’t about X; it was about Y” as if that’s not the problem.
Republicans are the protagonists in American life—I forget who said that, but it’s how they think.
Which, again, is illustrative. Because the 40-year descent of the Republican Party from being wrong about everything but still a basically normal political party, into an authoritarian ethnonationalist cult of personality working actively to spread a deadly virus—that IS a big story, with Republicans at the center. And the people with the access to tell it refuse to. People would click on it!
It was somewhat heartening to read the utter disdain expressed in the Twitter thread in response to Stolberg's lazy reporting. We're in the interregnum between a backsliding democracy and authoritarianism, and too many journalists are averting their eyes. Literally every story should be viewed through the lens of whether it bolsters or harms democracy. Journalists pandering to Republicans will not be spared by a SCOTUS systematically eradicating civil rights, especially one that is preparing to eviscerate the libel precedent that has protected the media for decades.