Julie Hollar

Corporate media needs to look at their own role in how we got here: media critic

Media seem to have finally found the line they won't abide crossing. After both sides–ing the political situation for four years of Donald Trump, the storming of the Capitol by an armed rebellion incited by Trump himself has brought out swift and strong words.

WaPo: Trump caused the assault on the Capitol. He must be removed.Washington Post (1/6/21): "Those who sought to benefit from Mr. Trump's mob-stoking rage…will always bear the stigma of having contributed to the day's shameful events."


"Trump Caused the Assault on the Capitol. He Must Be Removed," declared the Washington Post editorial board (1/6/21). "Responsibility for this act of sedition lies squarely with the president, who has shown that his continued tenure in office poses a grave threat to US democracy," they wrote. "He should be removed." They continued:

The president is unfit to remain in office for the next 14 days. Every second he retains the vast powers of the presidency is a threat to public order and national security. Vice President Pence, who had to be whisked off the Senate floor for his own protection, should immediately gather the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment, declaring that Mr. Trump is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

The Post deplored GOP lawmakers like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley who continued to press their baseless attempt to overturn the election, and praised Mitch McConnell, who "to his lasting credit" did not join them, even if, as they noted, "almost all" GOP members "bear some blame for what occurred on Wednesday." The Republicans, the paper wrote, have an "overriding responsibility to the nation: stopping Mr. Trump and restoring faith in democracy."

It's a surprisingly forceful position. At the same time, imagine if the paper—and the rest of the establishment media—had taken the GOP's threat to democracy seriously before it reached the point of the president inciting an armed insurrection on Capitol Hill. Yesterday's events were the logical outcome of years of the GOP and Trump casting aside institutional rules and norms one by one with increasing boldness, as the press corps described this increasingly authoritarian behavior as "us[ing] all of the levers of his power" (FAIR.org, 10/15/20), and years of giving Trump and his allies space to make their bogus claims of election fraud (FAIR.org, 9/15/20). The media's long history of both sides–ing the issue of purported election fraud (Extra!, 11–12/08, 10/12; CounterSpin, 10/21/16) paved the way for Trump's mythology that has seduced a breathtakingly—and dangerously—large proportion of the public.

Imagine if corporate media didn't praise McConnell, Lindsey Graham or any other Republicans who propped up Trump's dangerous lies for so long, for finally turning on him. Do they really believe we could have gotten to this point if McConnell and the rest of the party hadn't gone along with Trump's dangerously escalating lies–not just for the last several weeks, but for the last four years? If you keep your foot on the gas as the car speeds toward a cliff, but jump out a few seconds before you reach the edge, do you really deserve "lasting credit" for that?

The real test of corporate media will be not whether they are able to forcefully condemn a president's seditious acts, but whether they go back to business as usual after Trump is gone, pretending that the GOP, a disturbing number of whose members in Congress still pushed to overturn the election after the armed insurrection, is a democratic party that can be counted on to restore faith in democracy.

NYT: Trump Still Says He Won. What Happens Next?


New York Times (1/5/20): "More than 150 Republican lawmakers have signed on to reject the votes of tens of millions of Americans."

The Times editorial board, while silent so far after the events of yesterday, did publish a fairly benign opinion the day before ("Trump Still Says He Won. What Happens Next?"—1/5/20), whose optimism clearly didn't take seriously the extensive planning underway in broad daylight on right-wing websites: "The Republican effort to derail Congress's electoral vote count on Wednesday will fail, and President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in at noon on January 20, as the Constitution commands."

The Times could only muster the courage to say that "there is a strong argument" for impeachment (linking to an op-ed they published on January 4) without actually making that argument themselves; the piece concluded by praising Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for resisting Trump's corrupt attempts at overturning the election results, and lamenting, "If only that weren't extraordinary in the Republican Party today."

What's missing so far is a mea culpa from the media for its own role in normalizing the GOP's long-term efforts to drag this country toward authoritarian rule—and their cynical enjoyment of the ratings bonanza provided by the enthralling spectacle of Trump's assault on democracy (FAIR.org, 3/1/16). Instead, we have the editor of Columbia Journalism Review (11/4/20) castigating the press for spending too much time in the past four years on Trump's "infinite faults," and not enough trying to understand Trump supporters (FAIR.org, 11/16/20).

Kudos to the Washington Post for finally calling for a political reckoning. Now it's time for you to call for a media reckoning.

Centrists lose again — and mainstream media blames the left again

Joe Biden hadn't even been declared the victor of the 2020 election before establishment Democrats, in the face of poorer-than-expected results in House and Senate races, began pointing fingers at the left—with corporate media giving them a major assist.

Democrats had been hoping for big wins on election night, with the possibility of winning not only the presidency but also the Senate, and increasing their majority in the House. But while Biden has come out on top, the party's most optimistic outcome in the Senate would be a 50/50 split (if they win both Georgia runoff seats), giving them a majority with the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. And rather than gaining in the House, Democrats lost several seats.

In the wake of these disappointments, the right wing of the party immediately blamed its left wing for the poor showing, airing their grievances in a private conference call among House Democrats that was leaked to reporters.

In a write-up about the call, the Washington Post's Rachael Bade and Erica Werner (11/5/20) quoted and paraphrased 14 sources blaming those who "endorse far-left positions" for Democrats' losses, counterbalanced by only four sources defending the left. All of the progressive sources were named; half of the establishment sources were either quoted anonymously or presented as unspecified "moderates"—or, twice, simply as "Democrats," committing the exasperatingly common journalistic sleight-of-hand that erases progressive Democrats as legitimate members of their party.

In addition to quoting a handful of participants on the call, Bade and Werner interviewed numerous "moderates" for the article ("Several moderate Democrats said in interviews…"), but only managed to interview two progressives: Alexandra Rojas, head of the leftist PAC Justice Democrats, along with Rep. Jared Huffman, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—who took the side of the centrists.

Huffman's contrary position, while perhaps surprising to some readers, and serving to portray the "centrist" view as even more of a consensus position, would have been less surprising to Bade, who had quoted Huffman just a few days earlier (11/1/20) about his opposition to leftists' efforts to exert more influence within the party. In other words, the reporters appeared to seek out only one source who could have been expected to offer a forceful defense of bold leftist ideas, to balance a whole parade of attackers.

In its piece on the dust-up, in which "Democrats traded excuses, blame and prognostications," the New York Times (11/5/20) quoted South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, who "cautioned against running on 'Medicare for all or defunding police or socialized medicine,' adding that if Democrats pursued such policies, 'we're not going to win.'" What the article didn't mention was that Clyburn has taken more money from the pharmaceutical industry in the past decade than any other member of the House or Senate (Post and Courier, 12/16/18).

The piece then quoted Rep. Marc Veasey, who "warned his fellow members against anti-fracking talk." Veasey ranked fourth among House Democrats in taking oil and gas industry money in the 2020 election cycle, and got 70% of his total campaign contributions from PACs. (To put that into perspective, the two progressives quoted in the Times piece, Pramila Jayapal and Rashida Tlaib, got 13% and 3% of their campaign contributions from PACs, respectively.) Readers might have found such information useful in analyzing the motivations behind those quotes.

CNN's Chris Cillizza (11/6/20) jumped into the fray as well, praising Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA official (another piece of relevant context not mentioned by Cillizza) who had some of the harshest words for progressives, for speaking "some hard truth to her party"–like, "We need to not ever use the words 'socialist' or 'socialism' ever again," as if the McCarthy era had never ended (FAIR.org, 10/9/20).

After quoting Spanberger extensively and then printing some of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's rebuttal ("You can't just tell the Black, brown and youth organizers riding in to save us every election to be quiet or not have their reps champion them when they need us"), Cillizza wrote:

What's beyond debate is that Republican strategists took comments made by liberals within the Democratic Party and used them to blast everyone from Spanberger on down.

Though all of these pieces offered plenty of suggestions that the left wing's vocal support for things like socialism, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and defunding the police cost the party seats in 2020, they failed to provide any actual data that might have helped readers evaluate the veracity of those statements.

It's an important point, because understanding Democrats' lackluster performance should help guide their platform and messaging moving forward. But these articles aren't shedding light on the data—perhaps because it would thoroughly undermine the anti-progressive framing.

As the New York Times' Jim Tankersley (10/14/20) reported just last month in an unusually frank assessment of the popularity of left-wing ideas, the right's wall-to-wall attempts to bring down Democrats with the "socialist" label haven't been very effective, despite Cillizza's suggestion to the contrary. That's in part because Biden and other centrists deny them so forcefully, but in part because "many of the plans favored by the most liberal wing of Democratic leaders remain popular with wide groups of voters, polling shows." Tankersley pointed to a recent Times poll that found 2 in 3 respondents support a wealth tax, 3 in 5 favor Medicare for All (including 2 of 3 independent voters), and even higher numbers support free college tuition.

The Green New Deal is likewise broadly popular: One poll specifically of swing House districts (YouGov/Data for Progress, 9/19) found that respondents supported the idea by a 13-point margin, 49% to 36%—even when informed that it will cost trillions of dollars.

And with some races still not called, it's safe to say that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal didn't sink the Dems. Ocasio-Cortez pointed out (Twitter, 11/7/20) that every Democratic co-sponsor of Medicare for All in a swing district won re-election. And Gizmodo's Brian Kahn (11/9/20) found that of 93 Democratic incumbents who co-sponsored the Green New Deal—including five in swing districts—only one lost their race.

On the question of calls to "defund the police," it's important to clarify—as did the Intercept (11/6/20), but none of these establishment media reports—that such calls grew out of the Black Lives Matter protests, not the platform of progressive congressmembers, and that that movement led to a massive spike in Democratic voter registration. In other words, without the movement that gave us the slogan "defund the police," the Democrats would almost certainly have witnessed even greater losses– including, quite probably, the White House.

As the Intercept also pointed out, it appears likely that left-wing organizing in Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania resulted in decisive Democratic gains in key cities and suburbs in those swing states. And Ocasio-Cortez named many other problems with the establishment's campaign strategies, running from underinvestment in digital campaigning to a lack of a ground game to a lack of recognition of or outreach to communities of color.

Clearly the 2020 election contains many lessons for the 2022 midterms, but it's unlikely the right conclusions will be drawn from the fact-free centrist narrative presented by corporate media.

Julie Hollar is the managing editor of FAIR's magazine, Extra!. Her work received an award from Project Censored in 2005, and she has been interviewed by such media outlets as the L.A. Times, Agence France-Presse and the San Francisco Chronicle. A graduate of Rice University, she has written for the Texas Observer and coordinated communications and activism at the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Hollar also co-directed the 2006 documentary Boy I Am and was previously active in the Paper Tiger Television collective.

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