Analysis: Media Learns Hard Lesson on 'Orange Man Bad' Reporting Strategy - or Have They?

Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

Some of my colleagues and I were discussing last night on how with the media’s and Big Tech’s apparent change of heart on the credibility of the Wuhan coronavirus lab leak theory that it looks like the dam might be breaking on their purposeful year-long suppression of “misinformation” that wasn’t.

But while it certainly feels that way, along with that feeling is the bitterness that will never go away over the fact that so many were unfairly punished last year with social media suspensions/bannings, mockery and ridicule in the media, and/or website traffic throttlings for simply raising the possibility that the Wuhan lab leak theory was plausible.

Journalism was dying well before Trump was elected president. On the whole, the media’s coverage of Democrats whether it was President Clinton or President Obama revolved around shaping stories for those administrations in whatever lights would be most flattering to them and unflattering to their political opposition.

Stories were approached at the start from that basis, rather than being approached from a neutral “let’s ask questions, do some investigating and see what conclusions can be drawn from it” standpoint, which is the traditional model of how journalism is supposed to work.

The exact opposite was in effect during the Bush years, and that kicked into overdrive after Trump took office and after he made clear that he was not one to play footsie with reporters to try and get in their good graces.

Reporters, emboldened by left-wing social media mobs hungry for the next big Trump “scandal”, fine-tuned the “report first, ask questions later” philosophy routinely employed under Republican presidential administrations with extreme precision, and we were treated to “bombshell” after “bombshell” report about President Trump that more often than not turned out to be much ado about absolutely nothing once all the facts were known.

This was what some of us in conservative media began to refer to as the “Orange Man Bad” media strategy. Not that anti-Republican media tactics were unique to him, but Trump had a way of bringing out the absolute worst in journalists and in the process thoroughly exposing their liberal political biases better than even President Reagan did, and Reagan was really good at it though oftentimes unintentionally so.

But when the pandemic hit, some things started happening that even battled-hardened media critics myself could not believe they were seeing. Mainstream media outlets and social media titans like Facebook and Twitter were doing more than just taking their masks off at that point; they were openly declaring war on questioning the experts and the science that were dictating public health policy and decisions that would impact the futures of individual Americans, their families, their jobs, their businesses.

Many of us watched in absolute disgust last year as the media routinely mocked and ridiculed Trump for having the audacity trying to give hope to the American people in the middle of a crisis when he talked of possible treatments for the coronavirus like hydroxychloroquine, and over his insistence that a vaccine could be produced and made available in America by the end of the year. As it turned out, hydroxychloroquine did help some patients with their battles with the virus, and the vaccine began being distributed and administered just a few weeks after Election Day.

Even more bizarrely, the same mainstream media were contributing to the very type of vaccine hesitancy that they had previously scolded, a strategy that was amplified when then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris undermined the vaccine for blatantly political reasons rather than anything based on actual science. Trump was saying we could have a vaccine in record time, and because of that, the knee-jerk reaction was to say in so many words “we can’t trust it because Orange Man Bad.”

The same can also be said of the Wuhan lab leak theory. Because it was Trump and Republican Senators like Tom Cotton and Rand Paul who were openly speculating on the origins of the coronavirus after the outbreak started, stories and commentary were both approached from the “they must be wrong and we have set out to prove it” angle, and the media never looked back, declaring the theory “debunked” when it wasn’t.

And now here we are some 15 months after the coronavirus began doing its damage here in the U.S., and fortunately, thanks in no small part to Trump’s Operation Warp Speed we have a vaccine that works and that is helping America get back to normal. But the incredible damage biased reporters and news outlets have done to the institution of journalism cannot be undone by any type of vaccine. In fact, I’m not sure what they pulled over the last year can be undone by anything, not by demonstrating they’ve learned their lesson (which some are clumsily trying to do), not by issuing mea culpas, nothing.

What reporters (and social media platforms) are getting ready to learn is that for even the most forgiving readers, viewers, and users, deliberately suppressing discussions of alternative theories in the middle of a public health crisis and punishing people for asking the questions that the media were supposed to but weren’t about issues that were having immediate impacts on people’s lives is a bridge too far.

It’s my opinion that what little bit of trust that was left between the people and the media has been irrevocably broken by all of this, at least in our lifetimes, and journalists have no one to blame for it but themselves, not Trump, not Tucker Carlson, and not Fox News.

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