The mainstream media suffered a further erosion of its authority during the 2016 campaign. It copiously displayed its disdain of Donald Trump, not least in assuming that his election to the presidency was not simply unlikely, but next to impossible. Then came the evening of November 8, when assorted media pooh-bahs stared in incredulity at the actual results—a Republican trifecta.
Many have blamed Trump himself for his adversarial relationship with the press, but that distracts from the media’s culpability. However unconventional or controversial Trump’s candidacy was—and it certainly broke new ground—the mainstream media have long failed to report the news truthfully about right-of-center public figures with whom it disagrees.
In my view, at a time when many are complaining about “fake news” manufactured by Russia, it is worth taking a closer look at the mainstream media’s complacency and downright dishonesty. Numerous examples exist, but two incidents involving Dr. Ben Carson, surely the most civil and genteel GOP presidential contender in the 2016 election, are illuminating.
The New York Times
On February 22, 2016, the New York Times published an article titled “Analysts Question Viability of Deep Tax Cuts Proposed by Republican Candidates.” The author argued that though Republican presidential candidates have issued tax plans proposing steep tax cuts, none “has said how he would offset the revenues lost to his tax cuts, beyond unspecified cuts to domestic programs and repeals of some existing tax breaks.”
It was a compelling argument, except it simply was not true. Carson, having issued his tax reform proposal in January, had readied a spending cuts plan, offering precisely the kind of specifics the Times claimed was missing from the Republican presidential debate. He released it on the same day that the Times article was published online!
While the Times reporter was preparing her article, the Carson campaign informed her of its forthcoming policy plan, and a senior economic advisor of the campaign even spoke with her to explain the nuances of Carson’s economic vision.
But the information did not fit with the Times’ anti-Republican narrative, so the reporter ignored it.
Worse yet, she stated that Carson’s tax cut proposal did not have “enough detail for many economists to analyze in depth.” Not so. The Tax Foundation had provided analysis of the Carson tax plan (in wonkish speak, they had “scored” it), and a simple Google search would have yielded the details.
Unfortunately, the reporter either failed to do the search or simply did not like the results she found. Either way, she sold her readers a bogus story.
The episode reeked of a lack of professionalism, but the Times never apologized or ran a correction. But it is not at all alone when it comes to peddling politically false narratives.
On November 8, 2015, CNN questioned the veracity of Carson’s autobiography. The network zeroed in on the youthful acts of violence Carson had discussed, including an incident in which he stabbed a friend as a 14-year-old.
CNN reporters claimed that such violence was “at the core of Carson's story of redemption and personal growth,” but they could find no evidence that it was true. “[N]ine friends, classmates and neighbors who grew up with Carson” spoke with CNN and none had any recollection of the “anger or violence” the candidate described.
It did not occur to CNN that these nine individuals might not have made up the full universe of Carson’s youth, or that they had no knowledge of the violent incidents because they were not involved. Regardless, CNN did not bother to do the basic research that would have called its story into question. Thankfully, others did.
Soon after the CNN accusations aired, a former Carson colleague came forward to vouch for his integrity. A fellow doctor who practiced with Carson at John Hopkins Hospital in the late 1980s explained that Carson had told him essentially the same story about stabbing someone at age 14, and did so long before his book deal, the Hollywood movie based on the book, the presidential run—or anything that might have offered incentives to create a puffed-up personal past.
Meanwhile, a 1997 Parade magazine interview featuring Carson’s mother was unearthed. In the interview, she, too, corroborated her son’s account of the stabbing incident, and said, “Oh, that really happened.”
These facts could have been uncovered by CNN, but the network was far more eager to malign the conservative presidential candidate then at the top of the national polls. When subsequently confronted with proof of its wrongdoing, CNN, much like the Times, did not run a correction or apologize.
The Trump Presidency
During the 2016 presidential election, the mainstream media’s hostility to Donald Trump was overt, but long before that, its antipathy toward conservative public figures or issues was obvious. Journalists will pretend with a straight face, as they did in the two examples described here, that they are merely reporting the facts and doing their jobs.
In reality, they are too often lazy and arrogant.
Now that Trump has won, the mainstream media should hit the pause button on its self-adulation and reflect not just on its failed coverage of Trump but also on its inability to offer fair treatment to conservative viewpoints that actually contribute to the diversity of America. When that happens, American voters will see something other than the manufactured news that conforms to preexisting ideological predilections.
Ying Ma is the former deputy director of the Committee for American Sovereignty, a pro-Trump super PAC, and former deputy communications director for Dr. Ben Carson’s presidential campaign. She is also author of Chinese Girl in the Ghetto.
Image: Donald Trump speaking with supporters in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/Gage Skidmore