A recent article on FoxNews.com and other news outlets commented on CNN's coverage of the government shutdown just over a week ago. The article suggested that CNN floated the idea that an asteroid could possibly "brush" by the earth while NASA personnel were cooling their heels at home because of the shutdown.
While the accusations targeting CNN are certainly a stretch—the CNN piece did not explicitly blame the shutdown on the president or Republicans—they will no doubt attract many who believe that the network was in fact blaming a potential disaster on the Republican Party. This underscores how far CNN has fallen in the perception of many: from a fair, authoritative news source, to little more than a propaganda outlet for the Left. And despite CNN's claim to be "the most trusted name in news" (translation: the most credible and fair), there is growing and unassailable evidence that there is a definite leftward slant in its coverage. Moreover, its longstanding reputation as a fair and mainstream news organization gives its current coverage a credibility that other 24-hour news channels do not enjoy. This credibility uniquely enables the network to portray its reporting as objective when in fact much of it is anything but.
CNN Background and Coverage
CNN gained national and international prominence with minute-by-minute coverage of the Challenger disaster in 1986, and exemplary reporting during the first Gulf War. Journalists Peter Arnett, Bernard Shaw and the late John Holliman broadcasted live from Iraq as explosions lit up the night sky outside their hotel. In subsequent years programs that included a mix of liberal and conservative personalities, including Lou Dobbs, Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson, further enhanced the network's mainstream reputation.
Those days now seem like a distant memory. Take the coverage of the current president. "When I watch CNN sometimes I expect the indictment on Donald Trump to be imminent, because the focus on Russian collusion, and that issue is very strong," says journalist and former CNN political analyst, Jeff Greenfield, on a recent appearance on the network's, Reliable Sources. His analysis is probably a bit tame. Last year the Shorenstein Center at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, surveyed media coverage of President Trump's first 100 days in office and found that CNN's coverage of the president was 93 percent negative, tying it with NBC as the most negative. CBS was not far behind at 91 percent. And its not just 'negative' stories that apparently drive the network's coverage, but the selective facts on which a story is based. For instance, there has been an ongoing mantra that in the 2016 election, Secretary Clinton beat Mr. Trump in the popular vote. This is a fact, undeniable, but at the risk of sounding like an apologist for the president, wouldn't it be fair for reporters to put this into context? According to a December 2016 article in Time.com, Secretary Clinton's almost 2.9 million vote margin was entirely driven by overwhelming victories in two states: California, where she won by over four million votes, and New York, 1.2 million. But that's not the entire story. Secretary Clinton and her outside supporters spent $1.4 billion on the campaign, compared to $957 million by Mr. Trump and his supporters. So, Ms. Clinton required almost 50 percent more resources to realize that 2 percent margin in the popular vote. Why is that not news?
This type of coverage, while appealing to many who believe that Mr. Trump is unfit to be president, alienates the roughly half of the electorate who put him into office. This undermines your credibility when promoting your coverage as "mainstream". And its not simply the coverage of the president that belies a left-leaning focus. Terms like "anti-abortion" vs. "pro-life," and routinely conflating "evangelical" with "alt-right bigots" in your hard news reporting implicitly lends credibility to one side of the debate and discredits the other. And 'the other' in many instances are people of faith whose values are considered 'conservative.'
Using this type of terminology is of course not unique to CNN, nor is a left-leaning political ideology. How did we get to this point?
The Leftward Slant in Mainstream Media
In a recent interview on PBS's "NewsHour," New York Times columnist and commentator, David Brooks was asked about the contentious relationship between the media and Donald Trump. In his response, he made an interesting observation:
"Well, you know, this is partly a media problem. We made ourselves vulnerable to this loss of faith among Republicans by not hiring Republicans. This used to be a working-class profession in which people in both parties — it has increasingly become an Ivy League profession for people with progressive political views. And if you do that after a number of times, you are just going to lose touch with part of the country and they are going to lose touch with you. That's partly shame on us, but it's partly shame on Donald Trump."
The stats on the political affiliations of 'mainstream' journalists are also instructive. In a 2014 article the Washington Post reported on the political affiliations of 'full-time' journalists. While 40 percent described themselves as Independent, 28 percent said they were Democrats and only seven percent said Republican. The rest cited 'other' affiliations.
In May 2016 an article appeared in Politico examining President Obama's relationship with the press. However, it was an innocuous little chart in the sidebar that was extremely informative. In response to a question on what political party they were registered with, 60 percent of White House correspondents said they were not registered with any party, 27 percent said Democrat, 13 percent said Independent. Zero percent said Republican.
This distribution hardly reflects that of the American public the "mainstream" journalists claim to serve. According to the same article, 30 percent of Americans identify with the Democrats and 24 percent with Republicans. The disconnect is even more astonishing when examining the religious affiliation of people of faith, particularly evangelicals, who, according to a recent Pew poll, overwhelmingly support the Republican party. Can these journalists report fairly on issues of national interest when their political allegiances are so clearly at odds with a significant segment of the American people?
This article is not intended to debate the merits of conservatism vs. liberalism, people of faith vs. those who do not adhere to one. I'm simply drawing attention to some in the news media who would have you believe that their coverage is in fact reflective of mainstream political thought, which it does not, cannot, for it is afflicted with a huge blind spot that renders those with contrasting views invisible. And that blind spot can become downright dangerous, for presenting your reporting as unbiased, centrist, logical, implies you are even-handed and fair: you embrace diversity, you are racially tolerant, embrace gender equality, the LGBT community, and so on. Consequently, those who disagree with you (primarily conservatives) must be the opposite: racist, sexist, homophobic. Their speech cannot be considered 'free speech,' but 'hate speech,' speech which cannot, must not, be tolerated, must be silenced. And I'm afraid this is where we are heading-- if we're not there already.
Weldon Turner writes on faith, popular culture and social justice.