Top Progressive Journalism Magazine Condemns Media’s Trump-Russia Collusion Hoax
Why did the media become so biased?
The media’s mishandling of Russiagate is responsible for declining trust in the media, argues a major four-part series in the progressive magazine, The Columbia Journalism Review. “Before the 2016 election, most Americans trusted the traditional media and the trend was positive,” notes Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jeff Gerth. “Today, the US media has the lowest credibility — 26 percent — among forty-six nations.” A big part of the reason for that, Gerth suggests, was a barrage of one-sided media coverage since 2016 falsely claiming that President Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election, sometimes referred to as Russiagate.
At the end of the series, Gerth explained why he wrote it. “I’ve avoided opining in my more than 50 years as a reporter,” he writes. “This time, however, I felt obligated to weigh in. Why? Because I am worried about journalism’s declining credibility and society’s increasing polarization…. journalism’s primary missions, informing the public and holding powerful interests accountable, have been undermined by the erosion of journalistic norms and the media’s own lack of transparency about its work.”
After the 2016 presidential election, writes Gerth, “the Times produced a steady stream of stories about whether Trump conspired with Russians to win the election without knowing whether the allegation was actually true…. Paul Krugman, in his Times column called Trump the ‘Siberian candidate,’ citing the [alleged] ‘watering down’ of the [GOP] platform [by Trump to make it less anti-Russia]. Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor of The Atlantic, labeled Trump a ‘de facto agent’ of Putin.”
Meanwhile, people within the FBI were debunking the news media coverage. The day before Trump’s inauguration, the Times published a story: “Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry into Trump.” The piece evoked a strong reaction from FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was leading the FBI inquiry. Strzok said, about the piece that there was “no substance and largely wrong…the press is going to undermine its credibility.” Strzok’s admission is important because an investigation later revealed that Strzok was famously anti-Trump. Before the election, when a colleague asked whether Trump would “ever become president,” Strzok said, “No. No, he won’t. We’ll stop it”
Not all journalists got Russiagate wrong. Gerth quotes reporters Bob Woodward of the Washington Post and Thomas Friedman of the New York Times criticizing the media’s coverage. And Gerth singles out Matt Taibbi, Glenn Greenwald, and Aaron Maté as three journalists who got the story right (he could have also included Michael Tracey), and accurately debunked other news media’s coverage of the allegations and evidence. Gerth also credits Michael Isikoff, a well-known investigative journalist who has worked for the Washington Post, Yahoo News, and other publications, for changing his news coverage after uncritically reporting on an infamous memo written by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, which suggested, among other things, that the Russian government-controlled Trump by hiring prostitutes to urinate on him.
But the whole of the news media got the story wrong. There is little evidence that either Woodward or Friedman did much either in their own reporting or within their institutions to contradict the barrage of stories reinforcing the Russiagate hoax. Taibbi, Greenwald, and Maté wrote for alternative publications, not the mainstream news media, and Greenwald famously left the publication he co-founded after his own editors tried to distort his reporting around Hunter Biden’s laptop. “It was a career-changing moment for me,” Taibbi told Gerth. The “more neutral approach” to reporting “went completely out the window once Trump got elected. Saying anything publicly about the story that did not align with the narrative — the repercussions were huge for any of us that did not go there. That is crazy.”
And, notably, many mainstream news reporters, along with anti-Trump members of Congress, routinely accused Taibbi, Greenwald, and Maté, on Twitter, in print, and on television, not only of being wrong but working for the Russian government. Those accusations flew despite the fact that all three were widely known as anti-imperialist Leftists and critics of U.S. government military and intelligence secrecy through both their journalism and commentary. Greenwald won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for his heavily-publicized reporting for The Guardian that the U.S. government was spying on Americans based on files stolen by former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, about whom an Oscar-winning documentary was made.
While some of what Gerth reports has been written and discussed elsewhere, Gerth’s series is shocking to read because it is the clearest and most credible explanation of media misinformation on Russiagate to date. It may have a bigger impact than the Mueller report, which did not change many minds. Polling shows that 48% of Americans and 84% of Democrats still believed after it was published that Trump or his campaign “worked with Russia to influence the 2016 election.” Gerth finds a few journalists willing to stand by that claim, pointing to meetings between Trump campaign aides and Russians as proof of collusion.
Russiagate is just one of many issues where the news media has been overwhelmingly one-sided. We have extensively documented news media bias on climate change, hurricanes, forest fires, food, and much more. Others have documented media bias in allowing adolescents diagnosed with psychiatric disorders to take puberty-blocking drugs and undergo surgeries to alter their genders. And there has been widespread media bias in terms of overcovering police killings of unarmed African Americans (31 last year) and underreporting of black lives lost to violent street crime (~8,000).
Why is that? How did the U.S. news media become so biased, particularly as it related to Trump, but also as it relates to broader issues?