The national media is now less trusted than President Trump to provide accurate information and analysis about COVID-19, according to a CBS poll of registered voters. Think about the sheer hubris and raw effort that must have taken! All those months of politicizing public health, downplaying the spread of the virus through protests and riots, doubting coronavirus treatments, and trying to get Anthony Fauci to bad-mouth the President, have finally paid off. Take a bow everyone.
In terms of trust, the national media ranked dead last at 35 percent, behind the President, the CDC and the governors of those polled in individual states. Trump, a man who essentially suggested people go stand out in the sun for a bit to help treat a COVID infection, came in five points higher. That of course became ‘inject sunlight’ and ‘drink bleach’ to Democrats with no correction by our national reporters, hence the complete erosion of public trust in the national media. Perhaps for the likes of the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, now is a time for introspection: why, despite our constant hostility toward the President, why are we the ones in whom people are losing faith?
On Wednesday, audio of President Trump talking to Bob Woodward leaked, on which the President said he purposely downplayed the virus, so as to not cause a panic. Journalists from several outlets sprung into action, again blissfully ignoring their own track record of downplaying the pandemic. In February, the New York Times published ‘Who says it’s not safe to travel to China?’. In January, BuzzFeed wrote, ‘Don’t worry about the coronavirus. Worry about the flu.’ The Washington Post published, in their health section of all places, ‘Get a grippe, America. The flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now.’ The Associated Press wrote in February, ‘Is the new virus more deadly than the flu? Not exactly.’ The Daily Beast ran ‘The virus killing US kids isn’t the one dominating the headlines.’ Vox even deleted tweets and amended a story which downplayed the virus. When White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany brought this all up to members of the press, they sneered at her with all the condescension of the cool kids welcoming a new girl to class.
So why do Trump and the media get different treatment for the same behavior? Well, most people know and believe the President to be a bullshitter, while they expect their media to be truthful and not driven by an agenda. As we’ve seen this past week, when Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris cast doubt on a vaccine that may be ready in October, the public is smart enough to notice when an entire industry of professionals is working to undermine any potential solution, if it means not having to put up with four more years of mean tweets and public insults.
The public does not see a national media that is guided by the pursuit of the truth. Instead, people see a national media more interested in cheap gotchas and tweets than in in-depth nuanced reporting. This is a direct consequence of journalists eschewing facts in favor of narratives. Right now, members of the media are engaging in another round of performative outrage over Trump’s comments to Bob Woodward. They are appearing on cable news, mouths agape, issuing breathless declarations about the President’s behavior. Perhaps that time would be better spent examining their own behavior.