2021 - a Terrible Year for Journalism

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Amid the misdeeds and malpractice in the media, they also saw a loss of influence as a result. Journalism took a step back.

If you are one who appreciates metaphors there was a telling real-life visual in D.C. this year. The Newseum, a curated warehouse of journalism history – which closed at the end of 2019 – had its facade removed from the building, a tall engraved wall of the 1st Amendment. Sure, it serves as a shorthand object lesson, but for many in the press, they seemed to take it as a marching order.

In just one of the many odd practices this year, many journalists saw fit to actually attack the institution that is the foundation of their profession. It used to be that the 1-A was seen as the bedrock of the press and something defended at all costs. Not anymore. Beginning with Donald Trump being blocked from Twitter — while the Taliban is permitted to tweet away —  throughout the year we saw journalists cheering the quieting of sources and lobbying to have others taken down, blocked, or silenced. Justifications were made, repeatedly, to have individuals called inciteful or outlets as dangerous and thus in need of being muzzled. 

It was the deepest of ironies to see the folks at CNN bemoaning that China was clamping down on pro-democracy news outlets in Hong Kong. It was said to have “a chilling effect on the press” to see multiple news sources being forced to shutter. That these very same voices were calling to see conservative news outlets Fox News, One America News, and Newsmax taken down from cable and satellite providers was NOT considered chilling. It was an amazing dose of oblivious hypocrisy. 

AP/Reuters Feed Library

The basis of this call to censor has been the overhyped January 6 riot at the Capitol, something they are giddy to celebrate this week in its one-year anniversary. For a full year, the media have been harping on this event, using it to impugn Republicans, Donald Trump, conservatives, and any media figures who do not appropriately express a high level of outrage. Blame was leveled, baseless accusations hurled, and that was used as justification to call for the silencing of “threats,” “dangerous rhetoric,” “inciteful language,” or “lies and misinformation.”

While these sound like perfectly valid reasons, what exposes the danger in this is just who is the source to declare what qualifies under those labels. Consider this reality: The outlets looking to silence others over lies and misinformation are not only repeatedly dispensing their own prevarications, they are basing it on their own lies about the January 6 riot. 

We have all heard throughout the year how that day’s activities were an insurrection and the people involved were staging a coup. This alone defies the common practice seen in the media for years of assumed innocence, awaiting a court sentencing. No longer do journalists use “accused” or “alleged” when referring to the Capitol participants – they are firmly declared “insurrectionists,” and this is allowed to not only stand as a final assessment, it is then used to leverage further actions on others. They are deemed guilty of insurrection, and anyone or any outlet that does not condemn them as such is an accessory to treason.

Here is the malignant aspect of this reaction: not only have journalists dispatched awaiting a verdict before branding those arrested, but they also do so without any of them even being held for such a charge. There is in the region of 700 people arrested over that riot from one year ago, and not a single one of them has been charged with insurrection or treasonous behavior. Add to this that the FBI announced they have found no evidence of organization, and that barely any people have been brought up on weapons charges, and the claim of a staged coup is completely farcical.

Capitol Breach Investigation
Jim Bourg/Pool via AP

According to the press, however, they are all guilty of insurrection. So they are delivering false summations on the event in order to charge others with false information, to justify their being silenced. This has been the case all year. On a variety of topics. Whether it has been COVID, vaccines, spending bills, the border crisis, Critical Race Theory, the economy – lies and misinformation are said to be among our biggest threats. The game is fully exposed once we turn the same light on those leveling the accusations.

Fox News is frequently highlighted as a problem, and among the criticisms is how they present misinformation. One example was seen in the Spring when the outlet made a report that Joe Biden was planning on severely curtailing meat consumption as part of his climate agenda.

The news channel based this off of an article in the Daily Mail, that had baselessly taken a study from the University of Michigan and conflated it into Biden’s policy proposal. The next day, Fox corrected the report, indicating that it was not, in fact, in Joe Biden’s plans. The network absorbed its share of harsh criticisms over this mistaken report.

Forbes called the report a “fib” and a “falsehood.” Media Matters calmly declared “Fox hosts try to scare viewers with a dystopian nightmare.” CNN’s fact-checker Daniel Dale weighed in, calling it a “distortion,” and claimed this showed “how right-wing media figures and elected officials turned a little-known academic analysis into a scary presidential plot. Dale’s initial report failed to mention that Fox had come back and corrected the story, as he valiantly condemned the network. Yes, this was a bad error on the part of Fox News, but this was held up as an example of the network relying on fake news. 

Yet we note that when other news outlets make a nearly identical report on misinformation there is hardly the same level of condemnation. Instead, excuses are made, and then actual congratulatory comments follow. The biggest individual to blame for this is CNN’s media guru, Brian Stelter. Over the years, he has been dismissively described as a “Media Hall Monitor,” for the way he always is tattling on FoxNews. In reality, though, he is more of a custodian for the press.

Regarding the fake news story of border agents supposedly whipping immigrants, Stelter grudgingly came around to covering the episode on his Reliable Sources program, but he took a decidedly different approach in order to excuse the press behavior. Instead of pushing lies and deceiving viewers, as Fox was charged with doing, after days of numerous outlets repeating the false story leading to government leaders – up to President Joe Biden — condemning the actions, Stelter declared it was “a faulty media narrative.” He and partner Oliver Darcy made the excuse that news outlets were in a rush to keep up with a story that originated on social media, as if that somehow excused them for running a false claim.

CNN’s Don Lemon, Brian Stelter discuss the Fox News texts on the Capitol riot, 12/13/21. Credit: CNN screenshot

Also lacking was the admission that numerous on-air personalities at CNN repeated the claim. Fox had been impugned because of many different anchors and pundits covering the fake meat story, but no criticism was leveled at those at CNN who told the whipping fable all week, including those who repeated it after it was proven false. Then Darcy makes the brashest move – he applauded those who screwed up the story for ultimately getting the story correct, because that is ultimately what is important.

This is a common refrain seen in the press when retractions are delivered. We see repeatedly when a follow-up needs to be made to correct an inaccurate report that we should applaud the outlets for being forthright and open about their errors. Yet this is not afforded to Fox News or other conservative media. When they make an error it is called egregious and intentional, and when a correction is made on the air it is held up as proof they had been caught lying. When approved news outlets deliver fraudulent reports it is overlooked and excused.

This has led to 2021 becoming a year of embarrassments in the press. CNN claimed Donald Trump had no vaccine distribution plan in place. A number of outlets had to retract the claim of the FBI investigating Rudy Giuliani. The false reports of Donald Trump pressuring Georgia election officials were debunked. The press repeated the fake Rolling Stone story of Ivermectin poisonings overrunning hospitals. Latent corrections had to be made concerning the Russian bounty story, teargas being used in Lafayette Square, the Hunter Biden laptop story, and more and more. Of course, the biggest was the admission of the Steele dossier being a disposable document, relied upon for years.

These are the same outlets declaring who is lying, who is feeding misinformation, and who needs to be silenced. It appears they actually resent the outlets engaged in the exact same behavior they undertake themselves.