NYT Chides Fox-Fueled 'Conspiracy Theories' Suggest Press Failed to Stop Trump in 2016

January 29th, 2019 8:07 AM

The front page of the New York Times Business Day on Monday featured two stories on Donald Trump and the media, one chiding his opinion journalism supporters, the other suggesting the mainstream press failed its mission by not stopping his election in 2016.

Michael Grynbaum’s “Media Memo,” “2020 Looms, And News Faces Test Of Judgment” may have revealed more anti-Trump media bias than intended.

As Americans brace for the next presidential campaign -- already underway and showing on a screen near you -- press pundits are worried about the news media’s readiness for the challenge ahead.

Will reporters follow the same assumptions that made the outcome in 2016 such a shock? Can pollsters reassure a public that has soured on the power of political forecasting?

His sources (including NBC News head Noah Oppehneim) and word choice unintentionally gave away anti-Trump animus.

“All of us who thought it was inevitable that Trump would lose ignored warning signs that we were wrong,” said Susan Fiske, a professor of social psychology at Princeton.

It turns out that human beings -- and I’m including journalists in that group -- have a tendency to discount the possibility of events that have not occurred before.


Noah Oppenheim, who became president of NBC News in 2017, said that when news channels aired footage of Mr. Trump’s early campaign rallies, which featured his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim remarks, some producers based in New York and Washington figured voters would be turned off.

Instead, Mr. Oppenheim said in an interview, “A lot of people listened to it, and it resonated.”

Even after Mr. Trump became the Republican nominee, and thousands flocked to his rallies, many journalists and voters seemed unable to imagine that he could succeed in a general election.

Based on Grynbaum’s word choice, everyone he spoke to seemed to greet the very concept of a Trump victory with abject horror.

Mr. Pinker, who urges students to accept that data is almost always more reliable than intuition, followed the polls that showed Mr. Trump at the top of the Republican field. On Election Day, he understood intellectually that a 30 percent chance of winning meant that if the election were held 10 times, Mr. Trump would prevail in three of them. Yet he still could not bring himself to contemplate that Mr. Trump might win.


Mr. Trump is still attacking journalists’ credibility, and many voters remain concerned about the way 2016 was covered. Mr. Oppenheim acknowledged that the next 21 months would be crucial for trust in the news media as an institution.

Speaking of “trust in the news media,” there was nothing said about the media’s shameful mistreatment of the Covington Catholic High School kids from the infamous Lincoln Memorial viral video, or the meltdown of the Buzzfeed scoop claiming Trump directed his then-personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal.

The text box had good advice: “A need for journalists to more critically question their own assumptions.” Too bad the media won’t question their own biases.

On the same page stood Jim Rutenberg’s “Mediator” column, who once again attacked pro-Trump tabloid journalism but at least had an amusing catch. The online headline read “The Tabloid Myths of Jennifer Aniston and Donald Trump.”

Going by the tabloid reports, I found that Ms. Aniston should have given birth to some two dozen babies in the last few years. According to OK! alone, she has acquired up to 15 kids since 2013, having been pregnant nine times -- twice with twins! -- while also adopting a third set of twins.

Rutenberg pivoted to Donald Trump.

....More important for the purposes of this column, it’s not all that different from a onetime stalwart of the genre, “The Apprentice.”

After the usual suspect list of conservative opinion journalists guilty of supporting Trump, Rutenberg suggested Republicans who don’t trust Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s alleged ties to Russia are delusional.

Just as I have found myself tempted to believe the Pregnant Jen story line, the president’s fans seem more than willing to embrace this version of reality -- a story line that has been fleshed out by The National Enquirer, his unignorable Twitter feed, his Fox News cheering section (Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, the gang at “Fox & Friends”), his radio boosters (Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin), and his longtime adviser Roger Stone, who fed a new “deep state” theory to Infowars a week before his arrest on Friday.

The desire to believe helps explain polls like the one from Quinnipiac late last year reporting that 83 percent of Republicans view Mr. Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” despite the string of indictments, convictions and guilty pleas that preceded the charges against Mr. Stone.

Driving the belief in political conspiracy theories and celebrity pregnancies alike is “a desire to have the truth fit” the heart’s desires, said Renée Ann Cramer, a professor of law, politics and society at Drake University in Iowa. “They want it to be true,” she said.