[guest post by Dana]
CNN’s Jake Tapper was interviewed by Ana Marie Cox at Austin’s SXSW Festival, where he had a couple of interesting things to say.
First, Tapper made a comment about “Fake News,” which is amusing because, well, CNN. As we know, the network has previously demonstrated, on numerous occasions, that they have integrity issues. Consider there was that little incident involving the election debates and Donna Brazille, there are examples of the reporting being less than objective, and on top of that, there is the undeniable partisanship of some its reporters. These are but a few examples. Nonetheless, here is Tapper:
Tapper, who’s been a favorite piñata of the alt-right in recent weeks, compared Trump’s statements on “fake news” to that of his own 7-year-old son. He said the boy will notice when he’s not in a good mood and will react by using an exaggerated hand gesture and screaming, “Fake news!” Said Tapper with an underlying condemnation of the president’s maturity level, “Except, my 7-year-old knows it’s a ridiculous, childish thing.”
But what was of more interest to me was his comment about fact-checking presidents:
“To be completely candid, I did fact checks about Barack Obama, too, not at the same rate, nor was there a need for them at the same rate,” he said. “I know people that hated me back then but now like the fact checks I’m doing about Donald Trump. I feel like I’ve stayed consistent.”
Look, I happen to be an equal-opportunity cynic when it comes to my politicians. Presidents, especially. I believe that they should be viewed with deep suspicion given the fact that these individuals truly believe that they are the best person to hold the most powerful position in the world and take on the Herculean task of leading the most powerful nation on earth. That’s a mighty sizable ego we’re talking about, as well as a lot of power to assume. We all know that the insatiable thirst for power has brought down many a good man throughout history. Thus I hold that no matter who is elected, I want their every word exposed and examined and held up to the spotlight. I want their decisions to be made as transparent as is safely possible, and their very character, warts and all, laid bare before Americans so we know who we’re dealing with. I think viewing our presidents with skepticism, at the very least, is both prudent and responsible. It also acknowledges their fallibility as mere mortals.
Yet given the documented accounts of media bias, my first reaction to Tapper’s comparison was some serious eye-rolling. Of course a CNN anchor is going to fact-check a Republican president more than he would a Democratic president. Because Democrats good, Republicans bad. Further, in a season where the animosity between this administration and the press has been ratcheted up and collusion between mainstream journalists and Democratic politicians appears to now be a given, there is every reason to roll one’s eyes at Tapper. However, let me ask you: If the current president has been caught repeatedly telling untruths and making misleading statements, don’t you want that exposed? And don’t you believe every journalist covering politics has a duty to do just that, no matter who is in office? I say, yes, they do. Fact check the hell out of any and every president. It’s what we’ve been clamoring for, and if the current president just happens to be on the right side of the aisle, so what? To me, this is the bottom line: If leading up to the election and after his win, President Trump had been more truthful, forthright and demonstrated an unassailable character before the American people, there might not be this pressing need to fact-check his every claim with such intensity. Regardless of whether it’s Tapper’s own personal politics motivating his fact-checking urges, or a sense of professional obligation, or even Trump’s own outrageous claims begging it, don’t we want our presidents held responsible for their lies and false claims, whether they be intentional or impulsive knee-jerk reactions?
Setting all of that aside, it is certainly fair to question whether Tapper indeed fact-checked President Obama as he claimed. I spent some time searching out his alleged fact-checking of Obama, and considering the amount of time involved, I found pretty thin gruel at best. And that’s interesting because it’s not like we don’t know that President Obama lied alot, and was occasionally called out for it by a non-conservative media. Even Glenn Kessler was compelled to tally up his lies. Unfortunately, too many members of the press either ignored the lies, or circled their wagons to protect the president from scrutiny. But should that make any difference when it comes to President Trump and his lies? I am reminded of this simple truth:
I get why so many of my friends on the right are freaking out about the double standard being applied to Trump. It is an entirely legitimate complaint. But it is also incredibly insufficient and, at times, dangerous. Every day I see conservatives on Twitter and TV denouncing, say, the New York Times for calling Trump a liar because the Times didn’t say the same thing about Clinton or Obama. Fine! Great point. It’s a double standard. Who among us can contain our shock that the MSM is tougher on Republicans? But it doesn’t mean it’s not true about Trump! The media’s double standard doesn’t absolve Trump of lying, does it? O.J. Simpson literally got away with murder. Is it unfair to other murderers if we don’t let them get away with it, too? Actually, I’m sure it would feel unfair to other murderers, but that’s not an argument for repealing laws against murder.
It goes without saying, of course, that an even-handed assessment of presidents, regardless of party affiliation, is not going to happen if schools just keep churning out liberal reporters, resulting in Big Media being dominated by a smug and insular group unable to fully admit there is a problem, and ignore the very reasons why the public sees the press as biased toward the left. But if our side of the aisle rightfully demands that the press does its job, shouldn’t we then be cheering on any who make an effort to do just that – no matter who the president is, and no matter what the outcome might be? Does the motivation matter if the facts bear them out?
As I’ve said before, I believe Trump has certainly been targeted by the MSM. And yet Trump continues to give them so much to work with. Any day of the week, scan the The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Los Angeles Times and you will find that almost every report on Trump or his administration is a negative one. Even when he’s done something good. And while there are patently absurd efforts being made by the press to gin up more disdain for the president, there are also reports that accurately reflect serious issues concerning this administration. Unfortunately, if the media continues to react with an equal amount of hysteria over President Trump preferring his steak well done and served with ketchup as they do when he is caught lying, then they’ve set themselves up as the proverbial journalist who cried wolf. No one is listening because we tuned out long ago when solid reporting was drowned out by the overwrought and frenzied reactions to the nothing burgers designed to enrage us. It would do Tapper well to bear that in mind.
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)