Reporters’ Contempt for Ordinary Americans

High-profile media figures gathered for their 2024 Campaign Journalism Conference at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics a week or so ago. One theme of the conference was the journalists’ concern about the perception of condescension, of looking down your nose at us Americans that we Americans have of the journalism guild and its members.

CNN journalist Jeff Zeleny was one expressing that concern.

So one thing I think the media has done incorrectly in terms of describing Trump voters as interviewing people only after Trump rallies. The vast majority of Trump voters have never gone to a Trump rally, have never, you know, stood in line for hours and hours and hours. And for those of you who’ve covered Trump rallies, you’ve seen some of the same people at rally, after rally, after rally. These are groupies. These are people who are going for the show, for the rock concert, if you will. So I think talking to voters who are interested enough and following things along, but not as obsessed with, you know, the candidate on either side that it sort of tends the view.

Some of those some of the people do attend multiple Trump rallies because they’re groupies interested in the show. An unknown number of them, even unknown by the august Zeleny. Many more, though, attend multiple Trump rallies, not because they’re obsessed, but because they are interested enough and following things along, and want to hear things straight from the horse’s mouth. And they—we–can’t trust the media to present his rallies honestly and with balance. Zeleny chose to claim the one set of frequent attendees were the whole of the frequent attendees, completely ignoring even the possibility of the other set’s existence.

And this bit by Ana Ceballos of The Miami Herald:

…DeSantis never made “small talk” with reporters….

He won’t hobnob with reporters. What a precious whine. More seriously: why would he make “small talk” when journalists are just going to print some of those off-the-record small talk remarks whenever those remarks are convenient to the journalists’ predetermined narrative, all the while attributing them to leaks by “a person familiar with the exchange” or a “high official?”

(Aside: there was a time when editors required at least two on-the-record sources to corroborate anonymous “person familiar” or “high official” claims. Editors have long since walked away from that standard. What concrete, measurable, publicly available standard of journalistic integrity do editors use today?)

Ceballos went on, on the subject of a claimed desire to build trust of the journalist by the staffer and/or politician:

They [DeSantis’ staffers] don’t often get on the phone, either, because they want everything in writing just in case they can attack you for it. So it’s really difficult to even have candid conversations with them and just an on-background, off-the-record conversation.

Yeah. It couldn’t possibly be because they need the written record so they can defend themselves or their administration when journalists leak and distort the on-background, off-the-record remarks in order to attack them. Trust goes both ways.

A canonical example of that lack of trustworthiness, that deliberate distortion, that contempt for us in thinking we’re too grindingly stupid to decide for ourselves how to interpret what we hear, is in their presentation of Trump’s Asheville, NC, speech late in his 2016 campaign. “Journalists” covering the speech, and others merely repeating what their fellows wrote, accurately quoted Trump as saying that there were “good people on both sides of the argument.” But the lie, and the contempt for us inherent in their lie, was in the “journalists'” decision to strip off the context of Trump’s remark and to claim that Trump was talking about the rioters that rioted. Even a casual perusal of the transcript of that speech—unneeded by all those who were present and heard what Trump actually said—demonstrates that far from drawing equivalence regarding the rioters, Trump was plainly talking about the debate over whether certain statues should be torn down or relocated.

The attendees at the Campaign Journalism Conference also seem to have ignored the press’ penchant for rewriting history to attempt to erase their past distortions when they’re caught out. News outlets routinely rewrite headlines when their inaccuracies are exposed, doing it on the sly without fanfare, expecting that we’re too stupid to notice. They do the same with later-exposed errors in the body of their articles, and for the same reason. This is nothing but naked revisionist history that would make any propagandist proud. The honest, the respectful, thing for these outlets to do would be to acknowledge their errors with the same prominence in which they made them and print their correction—their errata, if you will—at the head of the article in which the error was made, while leaving the article and headline otherwise intact.

One more item the conference attendees seem to have ignored: The New York Times‘ front-page announcement during Trump’s 2016 campaign that there should be no more objectivity in news reporting vis-à-vis Trump; journalists should take sides. This was followed by a broadcast news media anchor claiming in all seriousness that there are not two sides to every story. Only one side, very often, was fit to be presented.

The “news” media mavens’ contempt for us ordinary Americans is no perception. They really are contemptuous of us. Zeleny put that on clear display; so did Ceballos. These “journalists,” in their oh-so-much-smarter-than-us obliviousness, their breathtaking thin-skinned-ness, can’t even recognize the contempt they have for so many Americans in their own remarks. This is reminiscent of a politician’s claim that millions of Americans are irredeemable and deplorable. And of another politician’s claim that 15% of us are just no good.

This is what passes for journalism today. This is the actual contempt for us that journalists have.

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