The October 2017 issue of The Atlantic was devoted to “The Trump Presidency – A Damage Report,” part of which has already been covered at Newsbusters. Editor Jeffrey Goldberg introduced the issue’s theme in his opening Editor’s Note, “The Autocratic Element." Yet one of his contributors also blamed the liberal press, for (in Bob Woodward’s phrase) “binge-drinking the anti-Trump Kool-Aid.”
Like many people, I’ve lately been preoccupied by the mayhem-makers of the radical right, and by those in power who abet their work. But even as Nazis were invading Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, I found myself worrying about a more subtle, but still substantially pernicious, manifestation of democratic decay. This is the apparently deathless attempt by certain rightist Republicans to bring Hillary Clinton to “justice,” a cause rationalized this way by one such Republican, a freshman congressman from Florida named Matt Gaetz: “Just because Hillary Clinton lost the election doesn’t mean we should forget or forgive conduct that is likely criminal.”
Goldberg naturally dismissed the allegations against Clinton without examination.
Let us lay aside the question of whether the charges of criminality leveled against Clinton are specious (they certainly seem to be) and focus instead on the novelty of Gaetz’s mission. The idea he is endorsing -- if not on behalf of Donald Trump, then in the spirit of Donald Trump -- is that the political party that wins power is duty-bound to hound to the point of actual prosecution the losing party.
This is un-American, and I mean that in a very specific way. I’ve spent much of my reporting career covering countries that are not ruled by law, and that do not venerate the democratic norms of restraint, moderation, forgiveness, and compromise....
One article by Jack Goldsmith, former Attorney General under George W. Bush, was titled “Will Donald Trump Destroy The Presidency?” But Goldsmith also saw an overreacting liberal press as part of the problem:
The vast majority of elite journalists have a progressive outlook, which influences what gets covered, and how, in ways that many Americans, especially outside of big cities, find deeply biased. The press was among the least trusted of American institutions long before Trump assaulted it as the “enemy of the people” and the “lowest form of life.” Members of the media viewed these attacks, correctly, as an effort by Trump to discredit, marginalize, and even dehumanize them....
....A Harvard study found that Trump’s mainstream coverage during the first 100 days of his presidency “set a new standard for negativity”: four negative stories for each positive one and no single major topic on which he received more positive than negative coverage. Many Trump critics insist that his behavior justifies this level of adverse scrutiny. But even if that is true, the overall effect can make the press seem heavily biased and out to get Trump. “Every time he lies you have to point out it’s a lie, and there’s a part of this country that hears that as an attack,” the New York Times media columnist, Jim Rutenberg, said at the June roundtable. “That is a serious problem.” Trump’s extremes require the mainstream press to choose between appearing oppositional or, if it tones things down, “normalizing” his presidency. Either way, Trump in some sense wins.
The appearance problem that Rutenberg described is real. But it is also true that many reporters covering Trump have overreacted and exaggerated and interjected opinion into their stories more than usual. In doing so, they have veered from the norm of “independence” and instead are “binge-drinking the anti-Trump Kool-Aid,” as the venerable Bob Woodward argued in May. Such excesses lend credence to Trump’s attacks on “the fake-news media.”
Ironically, Atlantic editor Goldberg excoriated Trump this summer for declaring some stories “fake news,” saying such rhetoric would lead to violence.
So, too, do other changes in the norms of covering the president. Many journalists let their hair down on Twitter with opinionated anti-Trump barbs that reveal predispositions and shape the way readers view their reporting. And news outlets have at times seemed to cast themselves as part of the resistance to Trump, and seen their revenues soar. (It cannot be an accident that The Washington Post’s “Democracy dies in darkness” motto, though used in-house for years, was rolled out publicly in February.)....