The news media of the late 1700s and early 1800s consisted almost entirely of partisan political operations. Historian Ron Chernow writes that newspapers of that time period “were avowedly partisan and made no pretense of objectivity. It was a golden age for wielding words as rapier-sharp political weapons.”
Some two centuries later, we seem to be returning to a media landscape in which the majority of news sources are again “avowedly partisan” with little pretense of the objectivity that was once a hallmark of American journalism only a few decades ago.
This reality may be acceptable if both sides of the political divide were represented proportionally, but that isn’t the case at all. And the lack of balanced representation would be more understandable if Americans had abandoned one party in favor of another, but that hasn’t happened either. Instead, America’s party affiliation is about the same on both sides of the political aisle. Gallup’s latest polling reveals that 28 percent of Americans consider themselves to be a Republican while 28 percent consider themselves to be a Democrat. What’s more, in 2016 some 63 million Americans elected Donald Trump as their president, and three years later he’s still extremely popular among members of his own party. His most recent approval ratings among Republicans are at a staggering 89 percent.
My intention here isn’t to agree or disagree with Republicans who support the president. I just find it surprising that such a significant force of solidarity isn’t represented in at least some measurable way by more members of the media. If an equal percentage of Americans consider themselves to be members of both major political parties, why isn’t that reality apparent when opening a newspaper or watching cable news? Of the 15 most popular news sites in the world right now, for instance, only two lean right or are considered “conservative in bias” by the website Media Bias/Fact Check. The other 13 lean left, and are considered “liberal in bias.”
Further, according to the Media Research Center, 96 percent of news coverage of Donald Trump has been negative since the impeachment inquiry began and it wasn’t much better before then. For perspective, George Washington’s biographer, Ron Chernow, wrote that when the National Gazette started taking “direct shots” at Washington, “Washington struggled to retain his faith in an independent press.” If one newspaper writing negative things about him caused America’s first president to lose faith in an independent press, how much more tolerant have President Trump and his supporters had to be in the face of such overwhelming opposition?
It’s hard enough when, as Politico reports, “only 7 percent of journalists identified as Republicans” in one study; but gets worse when you learn that during the 2016 election “more than 96 percent” of political donations made by journalists were to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Political scientist and George Mason University professor Tim Groseclose explained it best when he wrote that “the most important fact to know about media bias is that Washington correspondents vote about 93–7 for the Democrat in the typical presidential election.”
And it exposes the insincerity of any in the media who call for an increase in ideological diversity in politics when their own opinion contributors don’t speak for the interests of such a significant portion of the population. It’s telling, for instance, that none of The New York Times 14 opinion columnists support Mr. Trump. Similarly, the popular daytime talk show “The View” is supposed to be a place where millions of daily viewers hear both sides of political issues; yet, every panelist ABC has hired or retained over the past three years — even those representing conservative perspectives — have been vocally anti-Trump.
And Hollywood is even less friendly to Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans. Almost no celebrities dare to breathe a word of support for the president; and the few who have done so have been ostracized immediately. Even the actor Vince Vaughn shaking the president’s hand at a football game set the Internet ablaze last week with many declaring Mr. Vaughn “cancelled.” And the number of nightly talk show hosts who support Republican public officials over their Democratic counterparts: zero.
Is it any wonder then that the Pew Research center recently revealed that “three-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say journalists have very low ethical standards?” Or that the number increases to 40 percent among Trump supporters? Lack of representation not only affects the credibility of many news organizations; it also muzzles important conversations and fuels much of the anger and division we see across the country today.
There’s no question that Mr. Trump is unique in the pantheon of U.S. presidents, and many in the news media may feel justified in treating him with a particularly heavy helping of disdain and partiality as a consequence. The irony is that such behavior only solidifies the position of the people who chose to elect him in the first place. By keeping Republican representation off their pages and out of their newsrooms, many in the media arm Mr. Trump with significantly more power than he might have otherwise — making him the most vocal champion of a people tired of being discounted.
• Daryl Austin is a small business owner and freelance journalist from Orem, Utah.
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