Of Many Things

More than halfway through the general election, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is imploding. The Republican flagship resembles Jonah’s boat to Tarshish: the tempest-tossed and panic-stricken passengers are looking for someone to blame, someone they can sacrifice to their angry god.

Mr. Trump’s favorite scapegoat these days is the national media. "If the disgusting and corrupt media covered me honestly and didn't put false meaning into the words I say, I would be beating Hillary by 20 percent," he recently tweeted. That is highly unlikely, given the rock-solid polarization that characterizes most of the national electorate. And it’s just as likely that Mr. Trump bears at least some of the blame for his predicament.

Advertisement

But there is an element of truth in Mr. Trump’s comments. There is a fairly well documented left-leaning bias among national political reporters and commentators. But having personal opinions is a far cry from having an ideological agenda that masquerades as objective reporting. And the more troublesome bias in news reporting is not ideological but economic. If journalists and their editors are motivated by something other than the noble pursuit of the truth, then it’s more likely market share, not partisan advantage. The stories they tell are the stories that sell.

There are exceptions, of course, even on television—news organizations that, while still driven by profit motive, are acting foremost in the public interest. Among the more reputable and respected is CBS News, the birthplace of television journalism and the home of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and “60 Minutes.” In a dangerously cynical television news environment, outfits like CBS News are still delivering consistently high-quality, thoughtful and sober coverage of news events. They are not without their biases—surely, none of us are—but the attempt to get the story that matters most rather than the story that simply sells is clearly evident in much of what they do.

Scott Pelley, the veteran anchor of the “CBS Evening News,” may not be the most exciting personality on television, but he is undoubtedly the best journalist, a worthy heir to the legacy of Paley, Murrow and Cronkite, something that Mr. Pelley takes seriously. He has avoided blurring the line between news and entertainment, saying that “there’s too much of a risk for the audience to think ‘Wait a minute—is it scripted? Is it not? Are you telling me the truth? Is it acting?’ That’s a big red line for me, and I never have crossed it.”

That same reputation for being a stickler with stick-to-itiveness characterizes the host of “Face the Nation,” CBS News’s Sunday public affairs program. John Dickerson, son of the late and great path-breaking CBS journalist Nancy Dickerson, has also established himself as one of the most respected figures in the news business. The key to good journalism, Mr. Dickerson recently told Politico, is delaying final judgment as long as possible. When you hear something from a politician or an interviewee that doesn’t make sense, rather than simply saying, “They’re dumb,” he says, ask: “Does that make sense to me? And if it doesn't make sense to me, why are they saying that? And what is it about what they're saying that tells me something about either the issue we're talking about or where they come from?’ That's a better way.”

Asking intelligent questions with an open mind and a courageous spirit is not only the better way; it’s the only way to do journalism that is worthy of the name. For more than 60 years, CBS News has led the way. It still does. Does it lead the ratings? No. Both Mr. Pelley and Mr. Dickerson, though they have dramatically increased their audiences, routinely finish third in the ratings race among the big three networks. But they are doing the best work in television journalism today; and, as Mr. Trump might say, that’s huge.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Tom Fields
1 year 3 months ago
The major networks lean left--and serve as revolving doors with the Democrat party. This is widely recognized--and to argue otherwise is to be part of the problem of extreme bias.Their concern with Conservative networks---causes the persistent left wing push for "legislation" to bring about "fairness doctrine"---reminiscent of the USSR. AMERICA---leans left---which is OK. Take a look at America News Network---whose work to be clear and unbiased---while morally sound---is attacked by the Let. "Me thinks thou dost protest too much."
William Rydberg
1 year 3 months ago
I would have preferred Bernie. But it seems strange that everybody with a mainstream press credential is in unanimous agreement. Seem strange to you? It does to me, because such unanimity really doesn't happen in real life. At least, I have NEVER seen such unanimity in the Catholic Press, not even against Abortion. If the Jesuit Father's are interested in Proportionality, here is a link http://www.nationalreview.com/happening/439286/clinton-foundation-ap-report-meetings-delayed-three-years-state-department-associated-press Pray for all the Candidates, in Christ,
J Cosgrove
1 year 3 months ago
This is the non biased/non partial John Dickerson who said
The President who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP. If he wants to transform American politics, he must go for the throat....Obama’s only remaining option is to pulverize. Whether he succeeds in passing legislation or not, given his ambitions, his goal should be to delegitimize his opponents
http://slate.me/2bgGfOX Sometimes it is hard to see beyond the environment you are used to. Dickerson should love Trump, who seems to be destroying the Republican Party better than Obama has. But the reason we have a liberal Democrat like Trump as the Republican candidate is due solely to Obama. So maybe this is part of the strategy working out better than they had hoped.
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 2 months ago
“But the reason we have a liberal Democrat like Trump as the Republican candidate is due solely to Obama.” Perhaps. "I think the conservative media is the worst thing that has ever happened to the Republican Party on a national level. Now, this is not Rush Limbaugh’s fault, but…after Rush became truly nationally syndicated ... if you start in 1996 and what I anticipate will happen in 2016, Republicans will have lost five of the seven presidential elections..." - John Ziegler, conservative talk show radio host http://www.businessinsider.com/conservative-media-trump-drudge-coulter-2016-8
Douglas Fang
1 year 3 months ago
Fr. Malone seems to be too polite in his observation about the relationship between Trump and the media. Here is a much more direct description about this relationship: http://www.vox.com/2016/8/16/12484644/media-donald-trump …The things Trump says are demonstrably false in a way that’s abnormal for politicians," says the Atlantic’s James Fallows, who wrote the book Why Americans Hate the Media. "When he says he got a letter from the NFL on the debates and then the NFL says, ‘No, he didn’t,’ it emboldens the media to treat him in a different way… …Politicians are not fully truthful. Everyone knows that. But they make a basic effort at being, as Stephen Colbert put it, truthy. The statistics they cite are usually in the neighborhood of correct. The falsehoods they offer are crafted through the careful omission of fact rather than the inclusion of falsehood. They may say things journalists know are wrong — climate change denial is a constant among Republican officeholders — but they protect themselves by wrapping their arguments in well-constructed controversy or appealing to hand-selected experts. This is part of how political reporting operates. Politicians are allowed to be wrong, but they can’t lie. Trump just lies… …Reasonable people can and do disagree as to whether Trump’s comment should’ve been taken so literally. But that’s precisely the point: Trump’s tendency to spout wild, outlandish, easily disproven falsehoods and conspiracy theories has shredded any benefit of the doubt he ever got from the press. A politician who would repeatedly suggest that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination based on a grainy photograph in the National Enquirer is not a politician who is even attempting to abide by the norms of truthy discourse. And if Trump isn’t going to even pretend to be vetting his sources and fact-checking his arguments, then the press isn’t going to pretend to believe what he’s saying… …Finally, but not unimportantly, the press is afraid of Donald Trump in a way unique to any candidate I’ve covered. Members of the media think Trump is a threat to the free press as an institution… …In my experience, it goes yet deeper than this. Quietly, privately, political reporters wonder if Trump is a threat to them personally — if he were president, would he use the powers of the office to retaliate against them personally if he didn’t like their coverage of his administration? How certain are they that their taxes are really in order? How sure are they that a surveillance state controlled by Trump would tap their phones and watch their emails for leverage?... Any comments???
Frank Bergen
1 year 3 months ago
I'm in no position to comment on the news programs of the major networks as I eschew all of them in favor of PBS and, to a lesser extent, BBC America. However, I'd guess I get a better sense of what is happening in this country and the world that surrounds us from PBS than I would from CBS, NBC, ABC or any of the cable carnivals. And I think the relative significance of Mr. Trump as person and candidate is by far better reported on PBS than on any of the media that have enabled him to make a mockery of the party he has hijacked and the country he desires for his audience.
J Cosgrove
1 year 3 months ago
I would be interested in what PBS has to say about Donald Trump but am not sure they would get it right. We were at a dinner a couple years ago with some old friends of my wife, a couple from grade school that had married. It was obvious that they were pushing liberal ideas at dinner and we politely refrained from commenting too much since we wanted to have a good time. The husband leaned over to me early in the dinner not knowing my political leanings and said that he listened to NPR and watched the PBS TV stations for his news and said they were essentially the same as the New York Times. I winced but said nothing. I am not sure there is any news outlet that is honest any more, especially PBS or the NY Times. One has to go to several sources to see what is happening. That is one of the reasons I read this site, to assess what the liberal left America is thinking as well as what non traditional Catholics are espousing.
Michael Barberi
1 year 2 months ago
It is impossible to turn to one news or commentary channel today and get a complete and unbiased view of the news. I have to watch many news channels to get a comprehensive understanding. Therefore I watch Fox, KPBS, BBC, CNN, MSMBC, CBS/NBC etc. I do concentrate on KPBS, BBC and Fox, but switch to the other channels so that I can know what everyone is reporting, especially now that we are in a Presidential election year. I have to disagree with Fr. Malone on some points. It is clear to me that many news organizations and reporters have a bias. Most of the alphabet news shows, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc, are very liberal and far-left in their political ideology and reporting. Fox is right of center on most shows, but at least one is far right (Hannity). However, even Sean Hannity tells you he is a far right conservative. On the other hand, MSNBC never admits they are far left. You might ask, why watch all of them. I do so because sometimes many of them report on issues and factors that other news shows do not report on. Watching all of them gives me a better and complete view of, say Clinton and Trump, so that I can make an informed decision. I do agree with Fr. Malone that Trump is behind and he can thank himself for this. On the other hand, Clinton is a perpetual liar and will say and do anything to achieve her goals, which can often change based on the winds of politics. Both candidates are very flawed and at this point I might not vote for either of them. I am hopeful that the presidential debates will point me to one or the other but I am skeptical. If I am drawn to one candidate, I will hold my nose when I vote on election day. It is a fact that Americans are fed up with a polarized and special-interest group Washington and a biased national news industry. The bias is not merely economics as Fr. Malone suggests. The news media can make salable news out of inconsequential things. All you have to watch is all the different news shows to see it in actiion. Few of them are talking about the real issues we all care about, in the sense of being unbiased and comprehensive, or are they talking about the candidate's solutions to our nation's problems in a fair and coherent manner. This is politics, like it or not. However, I am hopeful that things will change for the better because the people will demand it.
J Cosgrove
1 year 2 months ago
Is this Media bias? The moderator of the first Clinton/Trump debate is listed as a “notable past member” on the Clinton Global Initiative’s website http://bit.ly/2c4g9Tc
Gabriel Marcella
1 year 2 months ago
With a few exceptions most TV news programs lack depth and perspective. They focus on the fight between candidates rather than the issues, more on the sizzle than the steak. Moreover, the electronic media have become nothing more than echo chambers. I try to avoid them. I rely more on my own study of the issues and the candidate's positions. That requires reading more sources of information. Among them: vox.com, Project Syndicate, academic journals, and the main newspapers, the Catholic media (e,g.: First Things, Commonweal), and some of the more thoughtful columnists.
J Cosgrove
1 year ago
This appeared on this site almost 2 months ago and it was relevant to Donald Trump's claim that the media was not treating him fairly. Whether that is true or not, the issue has not gone away and is one of Trump's central claims. But I want to challenge Fr. Malone and all the editors here to confront another example of media bias or censorship. Namely by Google. A particular headline caught my interest today
YouTube Just Censored A Video Criticizing Censorship
http://bit.ly/2e8nJwe Google has been censoring a conservative site by placing what they call a restrictive designation on some of its content. This designation is meant to protect children from viewing salacious material on Google. But it is being applied to a conservative site which produces "G" videos on political topics of interest. One of the latest is on how liberal sites/organizations censor conservative points of view. Here is a list of the videos http://bit.ly/2eYl3QV There are 18 videos on this restricted list
The Dark Art of Political Intimidation Are The Police Racist? Why Don't Feminists Fight for Muslim Women? Why Did America Fight the Korean War? Who's More Pro-Choice: Europe or America? What ISIS Wants Why Are There Still Palestinian Refugees? Islamic Terror: What Muslim Americans Can Do Did Bush Lie About Iraq? Who NOT to Vote For Don't Judge Blacks Differently Israel: The World's Most Moral Army Radical Islam: The Most Dangerous Ideology The Most Important Question About Abortion Why Do People Become Islamic Extremists? What is the University Diversity Scam? He Wants You Israel's Legal Founding Pakistan: Can Sharia and Freedom Coexist?
So here is a challenge for Fr. Malone and the editors at America. Debate why the content of these videos should be restricted. If the content of these videos is insidious for Americans, and America the magazine, explain why. It would make for some interesting journalism. Update: Youtube has apparently stopped censoring the video on censorship. This was after a petition campaign to release it. The other videos are still being censored.
Vincent Gaglione
1 year ago
I absolutely love reading the comments on many America articles, such as the ones here. Most of them gall me for their mean-spiritedness, their smugness, their arrogance. They inspire me often to the very same qualities. In the current instance, however, the thought crossed my mind: how many of these individuals enjoyed a traditional Catholic school education? If the qualities that I perceived above, plus their intellectual sloppiness and lack of Christian humility and charity, are reflective of their Catholic educations, I just wonder why we remain so persistent in trying to save Catholic education! Sort of a contradiction to Pope Francis today visiting Lund, Sweden, eh!

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

“The Senate proposal is fundamentally flawed as written and requires amendment,” said Bishop Frank J. Dewane in a Nov. 22 letter to senators.
Pope Francis greets people at the “Regional Hub,” a government-run processing center for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, in Bologna, Italy, Oct. 1. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano)
Although he named no countries, Vatican observers believe he is referring especially to political leaders in several western and eastern European countries.
Gerard O’ConnellNovember 24, 2017
For Thanksgiving, we give you an inside look into what Jesuit basketball teams to watch out for this season.
Olga SeguraNovember 24, 2017
Images: CNS/Composite: America
On Nov. 11, the Catholic Church lost a moral titan in the long struggle for racial equality and justice in the United States.
Shannen Dee WilliamsNovember 22, 2017