When the news feels like the weather
One way to think of the national news is like a political weather forecast. Facts don’t come first — the emotional tone does. The Donald Trump project always sounded doomed, perpetually on the verge of dying in darkness. During the 2016 presidential campaign, one Time magazine cover had Trump’s face melting, and another melted into an orange puddle. And then he won.
During the Trump administration, Time offered a series of painted covers of Trump in a windstorm, Trump in a flood, and then “In Deep,” with Trump nearly drowning in water (with his head above the cover line). It seemed obvious that Time’s narrative was that Trump’s demise was always right around the corner.
Now try to take a look at the Time covers in 2021. Since an inauguration cover, there’s zero Joe Biden. (Unless you count “website” covers. I don’t.) But the Nov. 8/Nov. 15 issue touted a dignified cover photo of John Kerry with the title, “The Diplomat: John Kerry Brings America Back Into the Climate Fight.” The political weather now sounds like all is well; the left is restored to power, and we rejoined the global socialist collective on climate.
Instead of brutal “accountability journalism,” Time’s Nov. 22/Nov. 29 issue carried the article, “Doug Day Afternoon: A Trip with the First Second Gentleman.” Time’s Charlotte Alter gathered happy anecdotes on Douglas Emhoff, who married Vice President Kamala Harris in 2014. Alter reported that everyone she called told her the same thing: He’s “just a good dude.” The pull quote in bold is, “Emhoff is a regular guy who has suddenly become one-quarter of America’s most powerful double date.”
The media’s tone abruptly changed from Hurricane Trump to the Double Date.
The same sensation is palpable as the Steele Dossier collapses entirely, despite it being a “news” tentpole throughout Trump’s presidency. Prosecutor John Durham at the Justice Department indicted Igor Danchenko, revealing this Russian expert and Clinton flunky was the central source of Steele’s misinformation.
Now we get corrections and retractions in stories no one will ever click on again. The Collusion Corps isn’t sorry. In his newsletter, CNN’s Brian Stelter briefly touched on it, quoting media critic Dan Kennedy claiming, “the media reported in real time that the Steele dossier was unvetted and likely contained many falsehoods,” and Howard Fineman insisting the dossier “was widely viewed as fishy.” But all this wild speculation helped tar Republicans and energize Democrats to win in 2018 and 2020. So, it doesn’t count to say, “Gee, sorry. Now we’ll admit it was all fishy and unvetted.”
Don’t let them pretend they didn’t relish this tabloid trash. In one five-day period in April 2018, Stelter’s CNN repeated allegations of Trump “pee tapes” or Trump paying for urinating Russian prostitutes no fewer than 77 times. That was truly yellow journalism.
In 2020, Stelter insisted on his television show that admitting error is dangerous, with conservatives pouncing on it. “We have these bad-faith actors that take good reporting — good but flawed reporting — and try to smear with it.” Who smeared who?
The networks have downplayed or skipped the dossier going down in flames, obsessing instead over every development of the Jan. 6 Committee proceedings. That was one terrible afternoon, but this partisan circus now occupies the daily or hourly spot on television “news” and the front pages of the national newspapers, where Robert Mueller’s gang used to be.
It doesn’t matter at all what this Democrat-stacked committee actually finds in the end. All that seems to matter right now is the assembly line of wild speculation, ensuring that the anti-Republican outlook is still storming and flooding. The weather never changes.
Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.