Five Questions The Political Media Is Wrestling With In Covering America’s ‘Uncivil War’

The political media has long been both powerful and controversial – no surprise given that it essentially plays the role of arbiter in American politics. But how the media reports on politics is perhaps more important than ever right now as the United States grapples with big, very important issues, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and America’s partisans. “Civil war. “Like large corporations, the media is in the crosshairs of battles between the two parties, where there may be no middle ground.

Here are five of the top questions about how the media should report on politics that are currently debated among journalists, politicians and media professionals.

How negatively should the media report on the Republican Party?

Already at the beginning of the Trump presidency there were political journalists covered Trump more negatively when they recently had other presidents. And after the January 6 uprising in the U.S. Capitol, coverage of Trump was devastating. The Washington Post wrote – in a news article (not an opinion article) – that the President “deliberately damaged two cornerstones of American democracyTrust in the media and trust in the government. The New York Times delivered a piece entitled: 77 days: Trump’s campaign to undermine the election. ”

The political media were in general a little less critical the broader Republican Party, which often implies that Trump poses a threat to democratic values, but not necessarily to other GOP-elected officials. However, two recent events in particular have forced the media to wonder whether it really makes sense to treat Trump as a separate phenomenon from the GOP. At first that was 147 Republican Congressmen who refused to confirm election results in Arizona, Pennsylvania, or both, on false allegations of serious voting irregularities. Second, Republicans in Georgia and other states pass and pursue laws that could make it difficult for democratically-minded Americans, in particular, to vote and have their votes counted.

Trump’s bad behavior was becoming more well known – he was the president, after all – and a little easier to see and trace as much of it was Tweets and public comments. But before Trump’s rise and during his presidency, many other powerful GOP officials broke with democratic norms and values and also acted racially. And the Georgian electoral law and almost universal defense in republican circles shows that the party as a whole is very willing to engage in undemocratic tactics, even if Trump is largely out of the picture. So the political media cannot credibly claim that Trump is a problem for democracy, but not really for the rest of the Republican Party.

Media coverage of the Georgian electoral law and Regulations as in other countries was pretty critical. So the debate is really about degree and consistency. How exactly should the media reflect their frequent and blunt criticisms of Trump when reporting on other Republican officials who often employ similar (if less obvious) tactics to the former president?

Jon Allsop The Columbia Journalism Review told me that negative coverage of Georgian law suggests that the political media recognizes that “there is not much difference between Trump and Trumpism and that most Republicans are consistent with Trumpism”. But Brian Beutler, editor-in-chief of the Left Crooked media, the company behind “Pod Save America” recently tweeted that the “regression of traditional media on pre-Trump norms is almost complete”. He highlighted a few stories, including one about the Georgia electoral law, in which reporters published misleading claims by Republicans without considering them.

How open to democracy and anti-racism should the political media be?

This is related to the Republican question, but it is also a little different. Most political journalists would probably call themselves against racism and for democracy. The question, however, is whether political journalists should be open about these values their work and if so, how?

How you report on American politics depends in part on how you view the conflicts in the game. Are American political journalists reporting an escalation in bipartisanism and polarization over the past two decades? Or is this time period similar the period before the US Civil War, the 1950s and 1960s, or the years in countries like Turkey and Russia just before authoritarian leaders and parties took complete control? If the Republican Party wants to ensure that black Americans have no real political power or manipulate electoral rules so that only the GOP can win, it could be really detrimental for the media to position themselves as neutral and equally aloof between the two big parties. If the two parties are just more divided than usual, that may not be so worrying.

Sherrilyn Ifill – director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which files lawsuits against some of the electoral laws passed by the GOP – says the media too often view voting proposals as just another partisan battle. She recently complained via a New York Times tweet that read“Democrats say Republicans are effectively reverting to one of the ugliest tactics in state history – repressive laws aimed at disenfranchising voters.”

Ifill replied, “Blacks say it. Civil rights activists say so. The suppression of voters is always aimed at black votes and votes. “Dems say” reduces this outrage to partisan struggle rather than violating the civil rights of voters and black and Latino communities. ”

Similar, Alex Shephard of The New Republic wrote recently“It shouldn’t be partisan to strengthen democratic guarantees, especially after what happened on January 6th at the Capitol. For a brief moment the Beltway press understood this. Let’s hope it won’t be too late when they remember it. ”

The general question of how explicitly political journalists should be pro-democracy and anti-racist raises dilemmas about how they do their jobs on a daily basis. For example, do outlets need to create new beats?

ProPublica, for example, is Hiring a reporter to report on “democracy” with an emphasis on electoral law and gerrymandering. That wasn’t a traditional punch in the political media, and it still isn’t in most organizations. Such a reporter would likely produce more negative stories about Republicans than about Democrats in the current climate. Other political writers and editors I’ve spoken to are trying to figure out if they need to reconfigure their reporting plans to align with Republican anti-democratic policies.

In relation to race, how and when should reporters use such terms Anti racist, racist, Voter suppression and white supremacy is also discussed.

“My stories very rarely use the word racist” Astead Herndon of the New York Times told Slate Magazine in January. “And I don’t think you need that nickname to cover and write about people who use racist language. I used it at one point because the guy said the N-word, right? racist. I used “nativist” when they talked about banning immigrants. ”

He added, “What you shouldn’t be doing is using descriptors that are bad and unhelpful, like” Racially Accused “and the rest of them. Avoid these and write in a way that is clear to people communicates what is necessary. ”

How negatively should the media report President Biden?

The political media have always seen one of their central tasks in questioning the incumbent president. But after reporting so negatively on Trump, political journalists may have an incentive to treat Biden equally negatively, in part to refute allegations that the media is biased against the Democratic Party. So in the early days of the Biden administration, there is real debate about how the media treats two issues: the Situation on the border between the USA and Mexico and the lack any GOP support for Biden’s agenda.

Is the increased number of unaccompanied children Trying to enter the US across the southern border is a “crisis” caused in large part by Biden. Or is it a bad situation but not a crisis? complicated problem Isn’t this just Biden’s politics, and one the importance of which is exaggerated by political journalists who want to show that they will be as tough on Biden as Trump?

Is the lack of GOP support for his agenda a real failure on the part of Biden as he repeatedly proposed as a candidate to get the Republicans to work with him and pledged to help reunify the country in his inaugural address? Or is the media focusing too much on bipartisanism and not enough on the role of Congressional Republicans, who would likely defy Biden’s agenda no matter what he suggested? Is Biden’s argument for it? many ordinary Republican voters support his ideas as a factor the media should consider when assessing whether his agenda is non-partisan or whether it is self-serving rhetoric from Biden that the media should largely reject?

“The growing number of migrants – including thousands of children – is a legitimate concern and a valid story,” said Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote last month. “But a lot of the news media seem to be using it to show that they want to present Biden just as critically as Trump – regardless of whether it is deserved.”

S.V. Dáte, a White House reporter at the Huffington Post and Author of a new book on Trump “The Useful Idiot: How Donald Trump Killed the Republican Party with Racism and the Rest of Us with Coronavirus,” told me the political media will have to accept that reporting on Biden won’t be as negative as Trump’s.

“There should be more negative coverage of someone who is really bad,” said Dáte. “That is reality. That reflects the real world. ”

He added, “Biden is acting like a normal president.”

How does the media reach Republicans while reporting honestly about the party?

Embedded in all three of the above questions is the importance of news agencies and individual journalists in holding on to their Republican and Conservative consumers, attracting new ones, and gaining access to Republican lawmakers and sources.

Even before the Capitol attack and the beginning of Biden’s presidency, the Republican connection was a major problem for the mainstream media. Audiences from major national news agencies tend to distort democratic leanings. Republicans have long considered mainstream political media under attack prejudiced against them. In part because of these attacks, saying that you hate the media is basically one of the pillars of a Republican today.

However, the increasing willingness of GOP officials to lie – and this in the service of anti-democratic and / or racist purposes – has created a greater challenge: How can Republican positions be presented and openness signaled to them without become a platform for falsehoods and misinformation.

For example, political talk shows are faced with the question: do you have an elected Republican official on your program who refuses to admit that Biden won the 2020 election fair and that the American elections don’t have much fraud? or just don’t have a Republican elected official? There are simply not many Republican officials who will directly say that Biden’s victory was legitimate.

When political journalists searched for Republicans, Allsop argued that the media downplayed the damage done to democratic norms by Republicans like Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, who did not actively encourage Trump’s efforts to overturn the elections but also waited many weeks after the elections the results were clear Recognize Biden’s victory.

“There has been a rush to cling to them as avatars of traditional republicanism,” he said.

How much does the political media need to turn away from sports reporting?

When Biden held a press conference last month and the White House press corps asked four questions on the subject 2024 presidential campaign But nothing about COVID-19, something quite unusual has happened: other journalists openly criticized their colleagues.

“First Biden press conference: Not a single question about the pandemic,” said Washington Post health reporter Lena Sun. wrote in a Twitter message. New Yorker Susan B. Glasser mentioned the lack of questions about the pandemican epic and absolutely avoidable press fails. ”

It is not unprecedented for journalists to criticize other journalists. In the rest of the media, there has always been a certain degree of caution towards the reporters who cover the White House and are often criticized You are too comfortable with those in power. (I reached out to the Associated Press reporter Zeke Miller, President of the White House Correspondents Association. He declined to comment.) And there has long been a criticism that journalists are too focused on elections instead of politics and governance.

But this debate about the focus of political reporters, like these other questions, is more intense because of the current operations. It is not that the political media can or should stop dealing with issues raised at the press conference. Whether Biden is running for re-election (he said he plans to run for a second term) is a relevant question. The wider debate, however, is about whether too much political coverage is largely on-point, much like sports coverage. (How many votes does this bill have? Is this bill gaining or losing support?) And is there too little coverage of deeper issues that are currently in the game? (Is America’s Democracy in Decline? Was America a Real Democracy at all?)

I am, of course, a member of the political media and deal with many of these questions myself. I have some general tendencies: Anyone (including Republicans) should be treated negatively for acting in a racist and / or anti-democratic manner. Biden should be critical of his mistakes, but not just to show balance. political journalists should be open to democracy and against racism; The media shouldn’t shadow the truth to appeal to Republican consumers or officials, and the media shouldn’t cover politics like sports.

But I doubt that there really is that much disagreement with these general sentiments in the political media. The real questions are to apply these feelings to daily reporting. I have described Georgian law as making it more difficult for democratically-minded voters to vote and for democratic candidates to win, which I believe is right. I did not use the term “voter suppression” in describing the law, partly because I think the formulation I used in the last sentence is more precise and descriptive. But to be honest and frank, voter suppression is a term as racist – it’s so explosive that I am a bit reluctant to use it no matter the circumstances.

I didn’t expect, more than 12 years after the inauguration of a black US president, that it would be clear that some Republicans wanted to make it harder for black Americans like me to vote, and so I would debate whether I should use that The term voter suppression in my articles. But that is the new reality for me and other political journalists.

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