The Columbia Journalism Review inspired me to become a reporter. I discovered untouched stacks of the periodical in my college library when I was an undergrad and found them joyous distractions to writing term papers and studying for exams. My grades suffered but CJR was the reason I aced the entrance exam that gained me admission into Boston University’s graduate journalism program.
CJR in the 80s covered the media through the now-dated prism that journalism was a calling that required humility and objectivity. The magazine took on sacred cows like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the three major networks because Fox News hadn’t yet been founded and Tucker Carlson wasn’t old enough to shave. CJR steeped in me the importance of public credibility and perceived impartiality.
An example of how I applied this mindset was when I was a reporter with the Detroit News and chose not to challenge a Grand Rapids victim of a mortgage scam orchestrated by a Jewish person when he said the problem with Hitler was, he didn’t finish the job. The comment angered me, but I felt it was important that people be allowed to speak to reporters openly and honestly without fear of censure or judgment. My job was to shut up, listen, and report.
Journalism values and ethics have changed, and so has CJR. The publication doesn’t take issue with reporters interjecting themselves into stories or posting tweets that undermine the appearance of neutrality. The publication ignores, or glosses over, egregious instances of journalism wrongdoing, such as the New York Times promoting dubious allegations about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh that prompted even die-hard media apologists to cry foul. The oversight was understandable because one of the reporters involved in the Times’ Kavanaugh fiasco is married to CJR’s editor. The editor’s ex-wife also works at the Times. CJR of yesteryear railed against this sort of conflict.
CJR covers journalism from the perspective the media deserves and still enjoys public influence and respect, particularly the New York Times. One example is this CJR advocacy commentary by Lee Siegel declaring that after Trump was acquitted in the Senate, the Times should have run across its home and front pages an editorial “declaring a national emergency.” For good measure, Siegel said CNN should have devoted its entire coverage to panels declaring the same, as should have “every other liberal, or relatively non-partisan news entity.”
Siegel is among those who believe that journalists know best, an arrogance responsible for the majority of the public perceiving reporters as focused on promoting their agendas rather than objectively reporting facts. Trump’s favorability ratings inched higher after his acquittal, indicating that half the public wasn’t moved by the media’s breathless coverage of the “historic” impeachment hearings. I suspect many Americans have grown weary of the media continuously telling them that Trump’s demise is imminent. The New York Times and the Washington Post are doing a tidy business feeding their readers this narrative.
Siegel mistakenly clings to the notion the New York Times has the gravitas it once carried. The Times endorsed Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for president: Warren’s popularity coincidentally declined shortly thereafter and while Klobuchar had a nice showing in New Hampshire, polls showed it was because of a strong debate performance. Even the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, who’s in the top tier of Trump media haters, has called out the Times for its condescension and inflated sense of importance.
Bernie Sanders’ emergence as the Democratic frontrunner has forced CJR and other media critics to recognize and call out the industry’s bias. Jon Allsop, CJR’s daily newsletter columnist, did a stellar job outlining myriad instances of the media slighting or ignoring Sanders and failing to recognize Sanders’ momentum. Among his other insights, Allsop noted the media disregarded Sanders’ denial that he once told Elizabeth Warren that a woman could never be elected president and continuously harped on the allegation. The Onion, a satirical publication, best captured the media’s bias with this headline: “MSNBC Poll Finds Support For Bernie Sanders Has Plummeted 2 Points Up.”
Regretfully, Allsop failed to see the forest for the trees. What’s notable about Sanders front running status is that he’s achieved it despite the media’s dismissiveness of him and his electability. Indeed, among the commonalities of Trump and Sanders supporters is their intense disdain for the media. “I don’t like the press,” a Sanders supporter declared when declining to speak with a New Yorker reporter at a New Hampshire rally. Sanders has repeatedly derided the “corporate media” and Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel conceded that Sanders’ arguments are merited.
Unlike his Democratic rivals Sanders doesn’t suck up to the media, as MSNBC knows all too well. When Sanders met with journalists from the New York Times, he told them: “I’m not good at pleasantries. If you have your birthday, I’m not going to call you up to congratulate you, so you’ll love me and you’ll write nice things about me.” While Trump desperately wants the media’s approval, Sanders only demands fairness.
Sanders has benefited greatly from the media’s fickle flirtations with his rivals because it has allowed him to burnish an image very much at odds with who he is and the people he surrounds himself with.
Take Sanders’ insistence that he’s a “democratic socialist.” Not according to Jonathan Zatlin, a history professor at Boston University, who says Sanders isn’t a democratic socialist “in any sense of that term,” nor is Sanders’ frequent sidekick, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Sanders said AOC will play a major role in his adminstration. If their proposal on how to regulate the credit card industry is indicative of what to expect from a Sanders presidency, America is potentially headed for a serious economic downturn.
Then there is Sanders’ position that the cost to implement Medicare for All “is impossible to predict.” If the CEO of any corporation proposed to his or her board a business plan whose costs “were impossible to predict” they would be summarily fired. Ironically, the only Democratic candidate with the proven experience to undertake such a massive undertaking is Mike Bloomberg. Alarmingly, no one in the media has asked Sanders how he’d combat massive Medicare fraud that would result from his initiative; even in its limited form Medicare fraud cost taxpayers more than $50 billion in fiscal 2017.
Where Sanders would especially be dangerous is foreign policy, particularly with regard to Israel. Some of his most die-hard supporters are fervent anti-Semites and activists who want to weaken Israel. One of Sanders’ biggest proponents is campaign surrogate Linda Sarsour, an ardent supporter of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and various Palestinian terrorists. Sanders may be Jewish, but Sarsour supports him because “he’s the best on Palestine.”
Israel is a critical and strategic U.S. ally, and major tech companies, as well as GM and Ford, have invested heavily in the country hoping to tap into the country’s advanced research and development. Yet, Ilan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who also are major Sanders advocates, likened Israel to Nazi Germany and proposed legislation advocating a boycott of the country. Sanders said the U.S. would rejoin the United Nations human rights office; my guess is that Sanders will tap Omar or Tlaib to oversee the position as they have demonstrated their unwavering suitability to promote the organization’s agenda.
The liberal media is now running scared about the possibility that Sanders will secure the Democratic nomination and cranking out article after article about how he isn’t electable and that his momentum must be stopped. Sanders can count on getting the full-throated media pounding that Trump has sustained throughout his presidency. A day before the Nevada primary the Washington Post published an article saying that Sanders is Russia’s preferred Democratic candidate. My immediate thought after seeing the “scoop” was, “Here we go again.”
If Sanders gains the nomination despite a slew of negative press, it would underscore just how irrelevant the media has become. If he’s denied the allegation, his supporters will have good reason to declare the system is rigged and they, too, will declare the media is “the enemy of the people.”
America is in a very dark place. The country more than ever needs a responsible and impartial media that engenders the public’s trust and respect. Unfortunately, under its current industry ownership and leadership, the media is nowhere near up to the task.