In one of the last segments on Sunday’s Reliable Sources, CNN host Brian Stelter spent nearly four and half minutes whining about the public, specifically Trump supporters, who don’t believe the news media. “If you don't believe the ‘media,’ then you probably don't believe that the Trump administration has had a dysfunctional few months,” he chided at the start of the segment. “If you don't believe the ‘media,’ you might not believe Russia's meddling in last year's election is a very big deal.”
Stelter admitted that the distrust in media started long before President Trump, but he rested its current state at Trump’s feet. “And the President feeds that inherent distrust with tweets like this. Here he is this morning saying: ‘The fake news MSM doesn’t report the great economic news since Election Day,’” he read from a cheery picked tweet. He then pointed to a poll to show “how this anti-media rhetoric is having a real effect:”
A new Quinnipiac poll shows that more than half the country, 52 percent, believes Trump has changed attitudes towards the news media for the worse. 22 percent say he’s changed attitudes for the better. And 20 percent say he hasn't had an impact.
He then brought on political analyst Jeff Greenfield to confer, asking him: “How corrosive has this antimedia campaign been, do you think?”
Greenfield thought it was “the singular political success” Trump had had since being elected president of the United States. “I think that has served that relentless campaign on Twitter and in his comments, fake news, fake news, fake news has been to convince that group of people that there is no such thing as a set of facts independent of your politics,” he complained. “And that has certainly served to continue and accelerate what you've talked about as a long process of declining trust in news.”
Stelter described any and all discussion of the press’s dishonesty as “venom” and called it “the story of the decade in media.” And he didn’t know how to solve the problem of an aware public. “It's kind of like Sisyphus. You got to roll that stone up the hill,” Greenfield explained, saying that eventually, people might come around.
For them, the problem of people mistrusting the media stemmed solely from the “anti-media rhetoric,” and it never seemed to occur to them that the media itself was the problem.
According to a Media Research Center/YouGov poll conducted after the 2016 election, “7 in 10 (69%) voters do not believe the news media are honest and truthful.” And in addition, 78 percent thought the coverage was bias in some way. An observer only needs to look at Stelter’s show to see where they get that understanding from.
Earlier in the program, Stelter and his stacked panel of liberal journalists defended The New York Times’ use of faulty anonymous sources. Their sources helped produce stories that were found to be “dead wrong” after the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey, stories CNN helped to promote. They also defended MSNBC’s Brian Williams, who claimed to have a source that said Trump didn’t know the U.S. had troops staged in Qatar. And just a few hours before Reliable Sources went live, CNN’s John King asserted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ private testimony to the Senate was “obstruction of Justice.”
The CNN host conducts his show and himself in a manner that leaves questions about his seriousness in wanting to correct the public’s view of the press. Back in late March, Stelter scolded Fox News for reporting on the Rockville Rape, with his primary complaint being that it helped Trump. And after the rape charges were dropped to child pornography charges, he acted as though all charges were dropped and scolded Fox again for “whispering” the update. Stelter often insinuated Trump was an authoritarian dictator and had implored other journalists to do that same. He even blamed the firebombing of a North Carolina GOP headquarters on then candidate Trump’s rhetoric.
Stelter acts as though the media is a perfect medium that exists in a vacuum and the only negative influence on it is Trump. He has little interest in fixing how the media rushes to publish stories to smear the administration, such as when they reported Trump removed the bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or when they freaked out over him eating a steak well-done and with ketchup. Both are forms of Fake News. It’s the media’s actions, not Trump’s words that drive the public’s distrust.
June 11, 2017
11:49:35 AM Eastern
BRIAN STELTER: Welcome back to Reliable Sources. If you don't believe the “media,” then you probably don't believe that the Trump administration has had a dysfunctional few months. If you don't believe the “media,” you might not believe Russia's meddling in last year's election is a very big deal. Trust in the media has been low for years and getting lower. And the President feeds that inherent distrust with tweets like this. Here he is this morning saying: “The fake news MSM doesn’t report the great economic news since Election Day. Obviously, the press does report on job creation, stock market records, et cetera. Their entire business channels. But what I think he means is he wants the press to report it more often, more positively.
In any case, we can see how this anti-media rhetoric is having a real effect. A new Quinnipiac poll shows that more than half the country, 52 percent, believes Trump has changed attitudes towards the news media for the worse. 22 percent say he’s changed attitudes for the better. And 20 percent say he hasn't had an impact.
Back with me for final thoughts, Jeff Greenfield, award-winning journalist and political analyst. Jeff, in six months—or almost six months into this presidency, how corrosive has this antimedia campaign been, do you think?
JEFF GREENFIELD: Well, I think the singular political success of President Trump, going back to his campaign, is that he has convinced the core of his supporters that anything you hear critical of the President is by definition fake. And so I think that has served that relentless campaign on Twitter and in his comments, fake news, fake news, fake news has been to convince that group of people that there is no such thing as a set of facts independent of your politics. If you are criticizing Donald Trump, if you're pointing out inconsistencies or outright falsehoods, by definition you are lying. And that has certainly served to continue and accelerate what you've talked about as a long process of declining trust in news.
And by the way, it's not confined to the political right. A lot of people on the left think that the press is, you know, the handmaiden of corporate America, it was unfair to Bernie Sanders. But in terms of the President, that is a key to the fact that even though he’s unpopular on a national level, very low approval numbers, something like 96 percent of his voters told a survey they’d still vote for him again.
And that I think is not an accident. This is not independent of a very shrewdly calculated political judgment. If I can convince my supporters not to believe anything they hear about me that's critical, I'm in relatively good shape.
STELTER: To me, this is the story of the year. It might be the story of the decade in media, this issue of mistrust and the venom that's encouraging folks to trust even less and less and less. And I always come back to the same question, what do we do about it?
GREENFIELD: There is nothing to be done about it other than to report the news as fairly and you can. Here’s one of the problems, though. So let’s say you're a journalist with no particular political bias, they do exist, and you and discover the President has been dissembling, let's use the polite words, on any number of issues. And so, now your judgment is that the President is not trustworthy. That judgment—If that judgment doesn't come from your political ideology but from your experience covering Trump, and people you’re reporting to—at least the Trump's supporters say: “No, no, no, we don't believe that, you're just another left winger.” It's kind of like Sisyphus. You got to roll that stone up the hill.
And I think eventually if this pattern continues, you may well see people -- you've seen a lot of people who are conservatives, who have broken sharply with Trump on the grounds of trustworthiness. But among that core, you know, there's nothing you can do. All you can do is say: “Here are the facts, here is what I've found.” And if people want to dismiss it as saying, fake news, elite, brie-eating, Chablis-swilling easterners, you have no choice but to keep at it. That’s the fate of a journalist.