Media Bias: A Dissection (1/3)
Now is as good a time as any to tackle an issue I have been dying to discuss with you: media bias. As you know, I am a former journalist with a degree in journalism, so I have a qualified perspective on this. But just like you don’t have to be a scientist to see that there are serious flaws in global warming orthodoxy (said the spider to the fly, heh-heh), you don’t have to be a journalist to see that something is seriously wrong with today’s media.
Steve Bannon inspired the term “opposition media.” At the time, there was a lot of protest and sanctimony as every fossilized journalist intoned about the sacred duty of the press and other such nonsense. But I think the first few months of the Trump presidency has put the lie to all of that.
In other words, it’s time for rational people to admit: Bannon was right.
Before I get into Exhibit A from today’s news, I should state in advance that I don’t expect you to defend the opposing argument — if such an argument is even possible — that the media is not biased. Instead, I am asking the following of you:
- If there is a case to be made that the majority of the media does not have it out for President Trump and is not doing everything in its power to embarrass and de-legitimize his presidency — please take the opportunity to make that case.
- Since you are a principled and thinking Trump-hater, I am hoping you will point out where I may be letting my pro-Trump bias creep in here.
- Of course, if I am just wrong on the merits, I trust you’ll point that out, too.
Ready? Here we go!
Exhibit A is a piece titled, “McMaster: Trump’s sharing of sensitive intelligence with Russia was ‘wholly appropriate’” from today’s Washington Post. The topic is the recent (anonymously sourced, speculative) WaPo story that claims Trump allegedly revealed top-secret information to the Russians. When reading, please note this is not an op-ed, opinion column or even that unholy amalgam of news and editorial known as “news analysis.” It is presented as political news. (Any emphasis is mine.)
President Trump’s national security adviser said Tuesday that the president’s decision to reveal highly classified information during a meeting with Russian officials last week was “wholly appropriate” — the latest attempt by the White House to contain the explosive disclosure that Trump potentially jeopardized a crucial intelligence source on the Islamic State.
H.R. McMaster, the president’s top security adviser, repeatedly described the president’s actions in a press briefing just a day after a Washington Post story revealed that Trump had shared deeply sensitive information with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an Oval Office meeting last week.
“In the context of that discussion, what the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” McMaster said. “It is wholly appropriate for the president to share whatever information he thinks is necessary to advance the security of the American people. That’s what he did.”
McMaster refused to confirm whether the information the president shared with the Russians was highly classified. However, because the president has broad authority to declassify information, it is unlikely that his disclosures to the Russians were illegal — as they would have been had just about anyone else in government shared the same secrets. But the classified information he shared with a geopolitical foe was nonetheless explosive, having been provided by a critical U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so delicate that some details were withheld even from top allies and other government officials.
McMaster added that Trump made a spur-of-the-moment decision to share the information in the context of the conversation he was having with the Russian officials. He said that “the president wasn’t even aware of where this information came from” and had not been briefed on the source.
“I wanted to make clear to everybody that the president in no way compromised any sources or methods in the course of this conversation,” the national security adviser said.
Not a terrible start. My highlights were meant to call out a few minor infractions and indicate how the McMaster information contradicts the premise of the story. With regard to the former, “explosive” and “deeply” are what Media Bias/Fact Check calls “loaded words” — words that attempt to “influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes … to favor liberal causes.” (WaPo is a known offender and on their list.) These words are so commonplace in news stories these days that no one even notices them anymore. But there’s another name for such words: editorializing, plain and simple. As any trained journalist knows, you can quote someone as saying a report is “explosive” or that information was “deeply sensitive.” But if you say it yourself, you are expressing an opinion that does not belong in a proper news article.
Side Note: I’ve detected a pattern to every “explosive” report that comes out these days. I’m calling it: “The Spin Cycle.”
Moving on …
McMaster’s pushback came just hours after Trump himself acknowledged Tuesday morning in a pair of tweets that he had indeed revealed highly classified information to Russia — a stunning confirmation of the Washington Post story and a move that seemed to contradict his own White House team after it scrambled to deny the report.
First, this is factually incorrect. Trump did no such thing. Here’s the full text of his tweet:
“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.
“Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”
The idea that “facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety” means “highly classified information” exists only in the mind of the journalist. It should have the words “I interpret this as saying” in front of it and be part of an opinion column in the editorial pages.
Second, to whom is this non-confirmation “stunning”? The article doesn’t say and no sources are quoted. I suspect it is only “stunning” inside the hallucination chamber of the WaPo offices. Even more amusing is WaPo trying to use the president’s non-confirmation as evidence its original story is verified even though the story starts out with McMaster explicitly saying key elements of the story are wrong. There’s a Latin name for this glaring logical fallacy: ignoratio elenchi. It essentially means ignorance of how to argue properly, specifically claiming you have refuted an opponent while actually disproving something not asserted.
This raises an interesting question: Was the information “highly classified” or “wholly appropriate”? Or both? Maybe McMaster is correct and presidents routinely share “highly classified” (or maybe just “classified” to those without an agenda) information with the leaders of other nations? In other words, it’s “wholly appropriate” to do so. But, of course, that wouldn’t be a story worth reporting — unless the opposition media saw a way to imply something nefarious (more collusion with Russia!) and hypocritical (he does the same thing he attacked Hillary for during the election!) by separating the two.
Trump’s tweets tried to explain away the news, which emerged late Monday, that he had shared sensitive, “code-word” information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during the White House meeting last week.
Or, you know, he tried to “explain” what really happened to counter the story McMaster has called “false.” This is what Scott Adams calls the “the psychic psychiatrist illusion,” a tell for cognitive dissonance. The journalist can’t reconcile the McMaster explanation with WaPo’s narrative, so she imagines that she is a mind-reader who knows President Trump’s inner thoughts and motives. Also note the way the subject of the sentence and the way it is constructed implies Trump accepts the WaPo story as correct. And so (we telepathically know) he went on Twitter to attempt to explain it away.
Trump described his talks with the Russians as “an openly scheduled” meeting at the White House. In fact, the gathering was closed to all U.S. media, although a photographer for the Russian state-owned news agency was allowed into the Oval Office, prompting national security concerns.
Speaking of cognitive dissonance: Even within the same paragraph, the journalist can’t see that her “in fact” contradiction doesn’t actually contradict what Trump wrote at all. So deep is she within her hallucination that even verbatim words she has quoted can’t dissuade her.
In addition, note another form of subtle bias in this paragraph, one that is easy to miss: selection bias. How does the journalist choose to describe the meeting among all possible choices, including a neutral description (aka “journalism”), a positive description or a negative one pregnant with innuendo? That was rhetorical. The meeting supposedly prompted “national security concerns.” By whom? Once again, no source is offered. But there is a link, which goes to another WaPo story that quotes only one source saying no such thing.
Oh, and how does the journalist justify tossing in this highly prejudicial piece of information for seemingly no reason? Using the contradiction of something that wasn’t argued as a setup. I hate to give credence to the inaccurate term “fake news,” but stuff like this makes that phrase seem spot on.
Rather than belabor my point any further, I’m going to conclude this with a few other excerpts featuring bold phrases where the bias should be self-evident:
Trump’s tweets undercut his administration’s frantic effort Monday night to contain the damaging report. The White House trotted out three senior administration officials — McMaster, deputy national security adviser Dina Powell and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — to attack the reports, though they never quite said the initial report was incorrect. Instead, they insisted, as McMaster did again Tuesday, that the president had never revealed sensitive sources and methods.
The president’s admission follows a familiar pattern. Last week, after firing FBI Director James B. Comey, the White House originally claimed that the president was acting in response to a memo provided by Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein …
But his decision Tuesday to undermine his own West Wing staff in a series of tweets is unlikely to help him [WTF?!] bring stability to his chaotic administration, just days before he departs on a 10-day trip abroad [more selection bias and innuendo].
In a later tweet, Trump returned to one of his favorite topics when accused of wrongdoing — leaks …
The irony seemed to be lost on Trump [double WTF?! ] that — at least in the case of sharing classified intelligence with the Russians — he was, in fact, the original leaker.
Wow. That’s all I can say after reading that. If democracy dies in darkness, then journalism dies at the Washington Post.
P.S. I am collecting additional exhibits and will post them below as I add them to this publication.
- Exhibit B: NYT Eavesdrops, Turns Private Joke Into Fake News
- Exhibit C: News Coverage of Donald Trump’s First 100 Days
(“Fox was the only news outlet in the study that came close to giving Trump positive coverage …”)