The me­dia: A proven em­bar­rass­ment

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Ruben Navarette Jr.

— If you’re an­gry at how the me­dia have be­haved in this elec­tion, you have a lot of com­pany.

It’s not just that some news­pa­pers and broad­cast net­works have largely aban­doned any pre­tense of ob­jec­tiv­ity as they set out to elect one can­di­date and de­stroy the other. Pub­li­ca­tions that never en­dorse can­di­dates are tak­ing pride in the fact that they’ve ditched their neu­tral­ity in or­der to op­pose Don­ald Trump.

And it’s not just that the me­dia ap­ply one set of rules to scan­dals in­volv­ing Democrats, and an­other when it comes to Repub­li­cans. For in­stance, any woman who makes an al­le­ga­tion of sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety now ought to be be­lieved even though this isn’t the case when the ac­cused is Bill Clin­ton.

And it’s not just that the me­dia have gone from be­ing a sup­pos­edly im­par­tial ob­server who may have slightly fa­vored one com­bat­ant to a full-blown sur­ro­gate who joins the fight. It’s like those old skits in pro­fes­sional wrestling where a grap­pler pre­tended to be a sub­sti­tute ref­eree but wound up slug­ging and pin­ning one of the wrestlers him­self.

And it’s not just that — thanks to the re­lease of pri­vate emails by Wik­iLeaks — we now see just how cozy a re­la­tion­ship the me­dia have with Demo­cratic Party in­sid­ers. The ar­range­ment seems to in­clude plant­ing sto­ries and invit­ing jour­nal­ists to pri­vate, off-the-record din­ners at the homes of top sur­ro­gates for Hil­lary Clin­ton.

Guess who’s com­ing to din­ner. Ac­tu­ally, they al­ready came to din­ner in April 2015 — at the Wash­ing­ton home of Clin­ton cam­paign chair John Podesta. At­ten­dees included about 20 hand-picked reporters who were ex­pected to be cov­er­ing Clin­ton’s cam­paign.

I bet some of these reporters didn’t even tell their edi­tors where they were spend­ing the evening. And what do you sup­pose they talked about? Cer­tainly not Clin­ton. Why, that would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

I don’t care that these jour­nal­ists got a free meal. I care that they got spun, and that they might be tempted to go easy on Clin­ton so as to get a re­turn in­vi­ta­tion.

The guest list included CNBC’s John Har­wood — who would, sev­eral months later, mod­er­ate a cringe-wor­thy GOP pri­mary de­bate where he bick­ered with the par­tic­i­pants. Af­ter­ward, he claimed in an email to Podesta that “the op­po­si­tion party” had gone “off

SAN DIEGO

the rails” and that this vin­di­cated his tough ques­tion­ing of Trump.

Also in­vited was Mag­gie Haberman, who was then a re­porter for Politico and now writes for The New York Times and with whom a Clin­ton op­er­a­tive said the cam­paign had a “very good re­la­tion­ship.” The op­er­a­tive ex­pressed con­fi­dence that the cam­paign could “do the most shap­ing by go­ing to Mag­gie,” and then he laid out the com­po­nents of the story they in­tended to feed to Haberman.

Holy smokes. Were the Clin­ton­istas look­ing for pos­i­tive cov­er­age, or some­one to take dic­ta­tion?

The me­dia can’t make up our minds whether we want to be a fly on the wall, or a player on the field.

One minute, we cover the news; the next, we are the news. One minute, we’re incog­nito; the next, we’re in your face. One minute, we’re pre­tend­ing to be fair; the next, we’re dy­ing to tell you how we re­ally feel.

The joke is on Trump. The me­dia helped him get his party’s nom­i­na­tion with mil­lions of dol­lars of free air time. Trump loved the at­ten­tion but he made the mis­take of not spend­ing enough of his own money on ads that made his case to vot­ers. And what the me­dia giveth, the me­dia taketh away. Now that Trump is fac­ing off against Clin­ton, all the cov­er­age is neg­a­tive. And the me­dia are get­ting a per­verse sat­is­fac­tion from help­ing slay the dragon they cre­ated.

Re­cently, Van­ity Fair posted an on­line ar­ti­cle — orig­i­nally writ­ten as a com­men­tary for the Poyn­ter In­sti­tute — that bragged about how The Wash­ing­ton Post and The New York Times have swayed the elec­tion. The head­line: “How Two News­pa­pers Brought Down Don­ald Trump.” Fel­low jour­nal­ists shared that ar­ti­cle on Face­book, cit­ing it as ev­i­dence that news­pa­pers still have power.

There’s the rub. One of the first things I learned when I started writ­ing for news­pa­pers 27 years ago is that, in this busi­ness, the quick­est way for jour­nal­ists to lose what lit­tle power we do have is for us to start be­liev­ing we have it.

The truth is, in this elec­tion, we in the me­dia only had the power to em­bar­rass our­selves. And we did.

Ruben Navarette Jr. is a syn­di­cated colum­nist from the Wash­ing­ton Post. His email is reuben@ruben­navarette.com.

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