Forget COVID: It’s the Trump Derangement Syndrome pandemic that has laid ruin to American journalism

Someday in 300 years or so they’ll cut open a tree and there’ll be a ring marking the pandemic – not of COVID-19, but of Trump Derangement Syndrome in the year of our Lord 2016.

It may be remembered as the year things truly began to go south for the republic. The bizarre baying at the moon that greeted Donald Trump’s election should have heralded the coming pandemic, had we fully taken notice.

Indeed, as much as the coronavirus, Trump Derangement Syndrome has changed everything – particularly for the news media and, more importantly, for your ability to stay informed.

As a 40-year veteran of newspapers I saw it firsthand, in my radicalized colleagues who no longer sought truth but, instead, every possible edge and advantage for the left. In a news industry in which I’d always seen bias I now saw the complete corruption of a formerly noble mission.

I once felt quite alone in this realization. In fact, the recruiter for my final newspaper job nicknamed me “The Unicorn,” apparently for being the only opinion writer in the country with right-of-center views my leftist co-workers might be able to tolerate (though in the end, they could not).

So, it’s a tiny but tasty grain of comfort to now see I was not alone, after all, in my front-row seat to journalism’s self-immolation.


Journalism’s bleed-out suicide

If you want a succinct treatise on journalism’s bleed-out suicide, read the 2020 resignation letter of liberal former New York Times opinion writer/editor Bari Weiss. Much like me, a newspaper had brought her in “tasked with bringing the ideological perspectives of conservatives, centrists and first-time writers to the paper’s opinion pages after the 2016 election.”

In her heartbreaking letter, Weiss laments that “the lessons that ought to have followed the election – lessons about the importance of understanding other Americans, the necessity of resisting tribalism, and the centrality of the free exchange of ideas to a democratic society – have not been learned.

“Instead, a new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”

Her experience and hard-won wisdom was only confirmed in a recent interview she conducted on her “Honestly Bari” podcast with Uri Berliner, senior business editor and reporter at NPR.

“I’ve Been at NPR for 25 Years. Here’s How We Lost America’s Trust,” a headline blares on a companion Berliner op-ed on Weiss’ digital media company’s site The Free Press.

The self-admitted prototypical NPR listener, who claims to have been “raised by a lesbian peace activist mother,” Berliner nonetheless mourns what the network has become.

“It’s true NPR has always had a liberal bent, but during most of my tenure here, an open-minded, curious culture prevailed. We were nerdy, but not knee-jerk, activist, or scolding,” he writes. “In recent years, however, that has changed. Today, those who listen to NPR or read its coverage online find something different: the distilled worldview of a very small segment of the U.S. population.”

Asked by Weiss when that happened, Berliner points largely to the tree ring.

“I think part of it was Trump’s election,” he told Weiss. “I think, like every newsroom, every legacy media newsroom, we were shocked, disturbed, distraught, really troubled. We assumed Hillary Clinton was going to win and she didn’t. And it was really an unsettling experience.  

“To me, it revealed that we didn’t really understand a lot of what was going on in America, that we were out of touch. …

“I think after a while we started covering Trump in a way that, like a lot of legacy news organizations, that we were trying to damage his presidency, to find anything we could to harm him.”


The elusive wild goose of Russia

Berliner says NPR and other news organizations found the Russia collusion story – now proven to be a hoax whose trail actually leads back to Trump’s political foes – to be “sort of catnip, although it was just rumors, and a lot of it based on pretty shoddy documents or evidence. It wasn’t really solid, but I think it was compelling.”

NPR, he says, “really latched onto” Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff, a discredited leading proponent of the hoax. “He was like our muse to the Trump collusion story. We had him on constantly. Ohh, I think I counted 25 times. 

“And in most of those conversations, he sort of alluded to evidence he may have had or sort of teased out: ‘Yeah, [Trump] was colluding or the campaign was colluding with Russia.’ And then the Mueller report came out – and no collusion.”

Thereupon came another missed opportunity for any introspective, truth-telling news organization.

The Russia collusion story “kind of disappeared,” Berliner says, even as some news organizations took home Pulitzers for the fake news – and even as the major media engaged in precious little self-reflection, much less self-recrimination.

“To me, that was, like, a time for like, ‘What went wrong? Why did we miss this?’ Like, you know, despite our feelings about Trump, this is a story we should have sort of treated differently.”

Well, it’s nice to hear, anyway. But the damage to journalism has been done, and it’s catastrophic – and likely irreversible. As the headline notes, “Here’s How We Lost America’s Trust.”

And it goes way beyond just NPR.

“It is one thing to swing and miss on a major story,” Berliner writes. “Unfortunately, it happens. You follow the wrong leads, you get misled by sources you trusted, you’re emotionally invested in a narrative [emphasis added], and bits of circumstantial evidence never add up. It’s bad to blow a big story. 

“What’s worse is to pretend it never happened, to move on with no mea culpas, no self-reflection. Especially when you expect high standards of transparency from public figures and institutions, but don’t practice those standards yourself. That’s what shatters trust and engenders cynicism about the media.”

(The core problem here might be found in Berliner’s phrase “you’re emotionally invested in a narrative.” That’s absolutely antithetical to any semblance of good journalism. What the heck are they teaching in J-schools and newsrooms these days?)


The distemper spreads

The thing is, Russia collusion was only among the first signs of the distemper in the nation’s newsrooms. The media, dutifully led around by the nose by the deep state, gave cover rather than coverage to the Hunter Biden laptop – and the New York Post, one of the few honest outlets left, was deplatformed on social media for breaking the accurate story.

Meanwhile, as Berliner notes of NPR, major news media wrongly and heavy-handedly claimed the COVID lab leak theory had been “debunked” from the start. Not at all true.

Berliner further tried to get NPR to stop falsely and repeatedly labeling the Florida parents’ rights bill the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” which was its opponents’ nickname for it.

Berliner also writes of the overbearing impact of NPR’s “overriding” racial diversity mission, which exploded after George Floyd’s death. Yet when he noted an alarming lack of viewpoint diversity at NPR – 87 Democrats and zero Republicans in the D.C. office – it was met with indifference. He couldn’t even manage to get a meeting with the CEO to talk about it.

Berliner calls the absence of viewpoint diversity “the most damaging development at NPR.”

Weiss and Berliner are to be lauded and appreciated for acknowledging these hard truths as they walk warily and wistfully through the smoldering rubble of American journalism.

Yet sadly, they are but brethren unicorns.


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