Media Want Trump Back

When the ratings are low, the media go lower

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Think back, for a moment, and try to recall the policy advances made by the Republicans during the two years that they controlled all three policy-making branches of the federal government. There was the tax bill. There was a failed effort to repeal the ACA. There was that wall that Mexico was going to pay for. There was a ban on travelers from a select set of countries, which was struck down by the Supreme Court. There were a few off-hand mentions of “infrastructure week”. What else? You’ll be forgiven if your answer is, “I don’t remember a damn thing along those lines,” because, well, there wasn’t another damn thing along those lines.

Apart from the tax bill (which provided exactly none of the promised benefits) and getting judges on benches, Trump and his Republican sycophants ran a policy-free administration. The media were happy to ignore these circumstances. Their ratings rose simply by copying Trump’s latest tweet. Then, of course, there were all those scandals, which started before Trump took office and are still being investigated. Those were the salad days for the media. Ratings were high and the ad money flowed in.

Media Ignore What Biden Has Accomplished

By comparison, the present administration is fulfilling many of the promises it campaigned on. One important infrastructure bill has been passed with bipartisan support and another is being held up by GOP obstruction. (Somehow, the fact that not one GOP Senator can be found to vote for the bill seems not to matter to the media.) Important voting rights legislation is being fought tirelessly for by the Democrats and obstructed by fifty Republicans. (Again, the only mention of this is seen in articles that blame Biden for “not delivering on his promise to bring a divided nation together”.)

Rarely mentioned in the media are this administration’s achievements in just one year in office. When was the last time that you heard anyone mention the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill signed by President Biden just three months after he was inaugurated? (Other than to hear Republicans who voted against it take credit for funds coming to their districts.) Hundreds of millions of vaccinations have been delivered (despite Republican governors’ best efforts to prevent them), but the media would have us believe that the recent omicron spike is due solely to this administration’s incompetence. President Biden seated more federal judges than any president since Ronald Reagan; the media have yawned. He signed more executive orders in his first 100 days than did Trump, Obama, and Bush combined. His very first executive order dealt with racial equality and sought to advance it through the federal government.

Some of the other progressive priorities addressed by Biden’s executive orders are:

· Halting construction on the border wall,

· Preventing discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation,

· Canceling the Keystone pipeline,

· Protecting worker health and safety,

· Raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers,

· Strengthening Medicaid and the ACA.

“Epic Fail” Meme is an Epic Fail

Even avid consumers of today’s media, though, might not know any of this. We expect the right to twist the truth, of course, but mainstream “liberal” media has jumped on the “epic fail” bandwagon as well. Time magazine recently had this to say:

“[T]he fate of Biden’s social-spending and climate package is more uncertain than ever. The pandemic he promised to bring to heel rages out of control. Inflation is at a four-decade high, canceling out rising wages. The border is a mess. Violent crime continues to climb.”

No mention is made of the fact that Biden inherited a pandemic and an economy in crisis because of his predecessor’s malfeasance in office. No mention is made of the fact that violent crime was rising during the half-decade before Biden took office. No mention is made of the failed border policies of the previous administration as a precursor to the present circumstances. What can we make of “Other than getting infrastructure passed, what has he done that’s come off really well?” apart from the fact that the source of that cherry-picked quote doesn’t read a newspaper? The article’s authors could have pointed out that the previous administration spent four years touting its commitment to getting an infrastructure bill passed with no success but that wouldn’t fit the false “epic fail” narrative.

CNN faults President Biden for not bringing people together in a recent article. Somehow the fact that Republicans have given up on any interest in actual governance (they don’t even bother to publish party platforms any longer, for goodness sakes) is the president’s fault.

Take a moment and conduct a web search on the term “Biden failure [name of media outlet]”. You’ll almost certainly see a pageful of articles claiming, almost exuberantly, that the Biden administration has failed to carry out any of its promises and is floundering on all fronts. (Type in “Politico” for an especially vivid illustration of my point.)

It turns out that it’s not just our imagination. Dana Milbank of the NYT commissioned Forge.ai, a data analytics unit of the information company FiscalNote, to do a “sentiment analysis” of media coverage of Presidents Biden and Trump. Using algorithms that give weight to certain adjectives based on their placement in the story, it rated the coverage Biden received in the first 11 months of 2021 and the coverage President Donald Trump got in the first 11 months of 2020.

Biden’s media coverage has been just as negative, during some periods more so, than was Trump’s coverage during the same period last year. Milbank concludes: “In 2020, Trump presided over a worst-in-world pandemic response that caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths; held a super-spreader event at the White House and got covid-19 himself; praised QAnon adherents; embraced violent white supremacists; waged a racist campaign against Black Lives Matter demonstrators; attempted to discredit mail-in voting; and refused to accept his defeat in a free and fair election, leading eventually to the violence of Jan. 6 and causing tens of millions to accept the “big lie,” the worst of more than 30,000 he told in office. And yet Trump got press coverage as favorable as, or better than, Biden is getting today.”

Milbank’s stark conclusion after reviewing the data: “My colleagues in the media are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy.” So much for anything resembling a “liberal media bias”.

Why Should the Truth Matter When There’s Money to Be Made?

Why would the media take such an unfair and unbalanced stance? Because it’s in their interests to do so…especially their financial interests. The media want Trump back. The former president was a boon to media bank accounts and he knew it. In 2017, he stated, “Newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because, without me, their ratings are going down the tubes.” He was right; media ratings dropped quickly after President Biden took office. CNN’s primetime audience fell by 45%, MSNBC by 26%, and even Fox News dropped 6% in the first three months of 2021. And things haven’t gotten better for them since then.

During Trump’s four years, each week brought a new scandal and each day saw another outrageous tweet. The cable news networks knew that scheduling Kellyanne Conway would provide a boost for ratings. The administration sought and got, fights with just about everyone, even its own party members and it all made for great press and better ratings.

In comparison, an administration that seeks to get along with others, to build rather than to tear down, to actually govern rather than to spew invective at its enemies is anathema to the press. Policy negotiations don’t grab readers as scandals do. Unless, of course, they can be reported in terms of winners, losers, and “epic failures.” If it bleeds it leads but if no one is bleeding, what then? Well, the media are happy to stick a shiv into someone, and who better than the resident of the White House? Especially if the guy who sent your ratings through the roof might run again, thereby sending their viewer ratings upward…again.

In doing so, however, the media, despite whatever high-minded protestations they might make to the contrary, are picking sides. They clearly prefer a racist kleptocrat to a flawed patriot and they’re willing to put their mouths where they hope the money is to put him and his minions back into office.

None of this is to say that President Biden is beyond reproach. The complaint that this administration hasn’t been aggressive enough in its messaging when its policies run into obstructions is fair (just as it was a fair criticism of the Obama administration). For example, we know that Biden supports an extension of the child tax credit that expired recently. On the other hand, we haven’t heard much from the administration about reviving the program that reduced child poverty significantly.

Polls show that the program is popular across the country if not wildly so. (It is popular among Democrats while independents are roughly split.) It appears that a strong, assertive message, brought right to voters, could be effective. Only recently, has the administration seemed to come to this understanding, one that FDR understood well: back-room dealings are always part of the game, but one must take one’s message to the people early and often.

Still, there is a big difference between “could be better at communicating one’s policy proposals” and “epic failure”. The only difference between those two memes that the media recognize is that the second one grabs more eyeballs.

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