Appearing on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward criticized the media for their commitment to Trump bashing:
“I think it’s time to dial back a little bit… because there are people around […] who are kind of binge drinking the anti-Trump Kool-Aid. And that is not gonna work in journalism. Let the politicians have that binge drinking.”
Joe Scarborough followed that assessment with his own advice for the media:
“Context. Everything is not Watergate, everything is not the biggest scandal ever. The job is to report and to provide context.”
Then on Thursday, Woodward followed that assessment up during an Axios forum, said that onlookers see that media as too smug:
“I worry, I worry for the business, for the perception of the business, not just Trump supporters, they see that smugness. […] I think you can ride both horses, intensive inquiry, investigation, not letting up […] at the same time, realize that it’s not our job to do an editorial on this.
In both occasions, Woodward did praise the work that had been done in the last several months by investigative journalists. Citing a renewed old-fashion newspaper war between The Washington Post and The New York Times and noting that despite a particular outlet’s leanings, “fake news” is not a real thing:
“Left, right, center, you might disagree with it but it’s not people sitting around saying ‘let’s make stuff up.’ Yes, sometimes we make mistakes, but it’s done in good faith.”
Noting that during the Nixon Watergate scandal, The Washington Post had a one-year moratorium on using the word ‘impeachment’ and compared that to what he calls “hyperventilation” over the Trump administration:
“‘When’s the impeachment coming? How long’s he gonna last? Will he make it through the summer? and so forth…’”
The hysteria surrounding Trump is not entirely unwarranted, as the President has certainly been divisive to say the least. However, Woodward is correct in pointing out that the media has been breathless in their criticism (or on the conservative side, praise) of the Trump administration.
There has been a genuine confusion between editorial content and real news. The lines between reporting and commentary have continually blurred. The Ring of Fire, for instance, does not profess to be anything other than a progressive editorial outlet. However, for organizations like MSNBC and right-leaning local news channels like those owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, there is plenty of bias without transparency.
The ‘smugness’ in media has led to historically low amounts of trust in the news media. Some surveys show that as few as six percent of people have a great deal of trust in the press. However, as much as the public wants fairness and accuracy in the media, people are consuming more and more editorialized content, rather than classic journalism.
Rachel Maddow’s commitment to spouting Russian conspiracy theories has earned her the top spot in cable news. Stephen Colbert’s political musings have catapulted him above Jimmy Fallon, and Saturday Night Live just wrapped up their most watched season in 23-years on the back on Alec Baldwin’s Donald Trump characterization and Melissa McCarthy’s Sean Spicer portrayal.
This is the fundamental problem with corporate media, when the only thing that matters is viewership, truth and accuracy are no longer a priority. News outlets have two products to sell, that work in tandem: content to the viewer and space to advertisers. Therefore, more than ever news organizations are having to report what their audience wants to hear, so that they can attract more viewers, to sell more advertising.
So, if you are looking for hard-hitting yet honest journalism, the corporate media is going to continue to let you down. That is not to say that there are not real journalists out there doing amazing work, but the business of news is simply going to keep feeding the public more and more vapid content. What advice does Woodward have for journalists in this new media climate?
“Stick to the reporting.”