From Liberal NYT Perch, Jim Rutenberg Attacks Right-of-Center Newspapers on Brexit

July 10th, 2016 10:03 AM

When liberal newspapers attack less liberal newspapers: Jim Rutenberg’s Mediator column, “Fair Play in a Fact-Challenged Political Landscape,” on the front of the Monday July 4 Business Day, started with a media conflict involving a pro-Donald Trump commentator but pivoted to a denunciation of supposedly misleading journalism on Brexit from conservative newspapers before the vote that hoodwinked the British into voting Leave.

After a discursive tribute to the Independence Day holiday, Philadelphia, and Ben Franklin, Rutenberg got to the meat of his argument on media woes:

Exhibit A comes by way of CNN, which waded into new territory a few days ago by hiring Corey Lewandowski, Donald J. Trump’s recently fired campaign manager, as an on-air commentator.

After several paragraphs on Lewandowski’s role as commentator, Rutenberg became the latest Times journalist to bash right-leaning members of his profession for being responsible for the successful Brexit vote. Rutenberg’s disdain of the U.K’s more avowedly partisan press for pushing an agenda is brutally ironic, given the New York Times regular push within its news pages for amnesty, or abortion rights, or gay rights, or higher taxes....

But, going back to my fellow Philadelphian, wise old Ben: What happens to the balance between truth and falsehood when an important portion of the national news media hands the political debate over to partisan operatives who, as a rule, skew the facts -- or abandon them -- in the service of their own political ends or business interests?

There’s a glaring cautionary answer to be found across the pond, in Britain, where the media is avowedly more partisan, especially in the tabloid newspapers that continue to hold great sway.

In the lead-up to the startling vote there to leave the European Union, and for many years before, the larger and more conservative newspapers ran aggressive campaigns pushing for what became known as Brexit.

One of the biggest proponents of the exit was former Mayor Boris Johnson of London, who was, after all, a onetime reporter for The Times of London and The Daily Telegraph, where he still writes a column. (He was fired from The Times for fabricating a quote.)

As Martin Fletcher, a former associate editor of The Times of London, wrote last week in The New York Times, Mr. Johnson made his name as a journalist writing about the plans of bureaucrats in the European Union to “ban Britain’s favorite potato chips” and “standardize condom sizes.” The articles, Mr. Fletcher wrote, “bore scant relation to the truth,” but they helped spawn an anti-European Union movement in British journalism just the same.

If Rutenberg doesn’t trust Johnson or the Telegraph for anti-EU horror stories, he could read similar stories of bureaucratic nightmares regarding tea-kettle bans in the hard-left Independent .

Rutenberg indicted several right-of-center organs, both tabloids and more traditional newspapers, in the United Kingdom:

As the vote approached, pro-Brexit newspapers -- including The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Express and The Telegraph -- wrote stories that exaggerated how many immigrants were coming to Britain because of its E.U. membership and their effects on social services, reported that Queen Elizabeth II was secretly pro-Brexit, and quoted claims from pro-Leave politicians that Britain was sending 350 million pounds ($464 million) a week to the European Union that could be used instead to shore up the National Health Service.

The Independent Press Standards Organization in Britain issued several rulings for inaccuracy -- including one for the headline “Queen Backs Brexit,” which ran in The Sun. But the partisan press climate meant all facts were up for debate. Nothing could stand out as Platonic truth.

The Times often singles out less liberal media outlets like the New York Post for scorn when events don’t turn out the way the paper wishes.

Turning back to U.S. politics, Rutenberg went to the supposedly objective Politifact to make a case for Hillary Clinton’s relative honesty. Politifact’s own objectivity is doubted by conservatives -- especially its slanted "honesty" evaluations of Clinton and the Democrats compared to Donald Trump and other Republicans -- but Rutenberg took the dubious pronouncements of the Tampa Bay Times-affiliated organization as Platonic truth.

In the case of Mr. Trump’s surrogates, they regularly go on television to push the point of the day from a candidate who, according to the fact-checking organization PolitiFact, has asserted more outright falsehoods than all the other candidates who ran for president this year combined. PolitiFact rated 60 percent of Mr. Trump’s statements as false, compared with 13 percent of Hillary Clinton’s.