As the presidential race heats up, along with President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, so does the media bashing — and, like the rest of American politics these days, polls show the public to be more divided than ever regarding whom to bash.
A leading example is the goofy feud between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and NPR that most recently involved the removal of an NPR reporter from the journalists pool traveling with the secretary to Europe and Central Asia.
The secretary of state’s feud with NPR began Jan. 24 when Mary Louise Kelly, a highly respected host on the radio network, said Pompeo had castigated her in a foul-mouthed tirade after an on-air interview in which she had questioned him about Ukraine.
In particular, he seemed to be triggered by the question of whether he, as the head of our diplomatic corps, should apologize to Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was ousted from her job after being the target of an apparent smear campaign.
After the recorded interview, Kelly was led to Pompeo’s private living room, where in a tense discussion that included his shouting and cursing, he asked rhetorically, “You think Americans care about Ukraine?” He also challenged her to find Ukraine on a map, which the veteran reporter of foreign policy and national security easily did.
This matter erupted into more than the usual dust-up from the administration of a president who repeatedly has described media as “the enemy of the people.” In the wake of the flap with Kelly, Pompeo’s State Department raised things to a new, appalling level when Michele Kelemen, an NPR diplomatic correspondent, was barred from traveling with Pompeo during his trip, which includes a visit to Ukraine.
Most journalists encounter derision or even threats of various kinds. But you don’t have to be of a particular party to be at least offended, if not as outraged as I am, over a petty vendetta that gets in the way of important news coverage.
Even Steve Hilton, a conservative commentator at conservative Fox News, said something that I can agree with for a change: “For goodness’ sake, Mr. Secretary, don’t be such a baby,” said the onetime director of strategy for former British Prime Minister David Cameron. “You should be able to handle tough questions by now, and don’t be such a bully. Foul-mouth ranting at a reporter doing her job is an embarrassment to you and the administration.”
But considering the smash-mouth style of our current president, I expect more abusive talk to come. As much as conservatives accuse liberals of “virtue signaling,” a pejorative for the conspicuous expression of moral values whether they act accordingly, conservatives have their own version of it, too.
This is particularly true when conservatives raise campaign funds or reach the all-important audience of one President Donald Trump.
Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona reaped some of those benefits with a viral-video moment. As she hurried down a hallway outside the start of President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju tried to ask her a question.
Instead of a simple “no comment,” she responded: “Manu, you’re a liberal hack. I’m not going to talk to you.”
She got noticed. As Raju’s colleagues defended his nonpartisan professionalism (I happily include myself in that group), McSally received “THREE CHEERS” in a tweet from the Trump campaign, along with the encouraging, “THIS is how you handle FAKE NEWS @CNN.”
Not surprisingly, the tweet offers a link for donating to McSally’s campaign. The “liberal hack” slam was so memorably precious that the Trump team sent it out with a link for her campaign donation. A new link, “Liberalhack.com,” later appeared, followed by the marketing of a new T-shirt saying, “You’re a liberal hack, buddy.”
You may know McSally as the Republican who is likely to face Democrat Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut married to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011. Kelly reported a big fundraising advantage against McSally, ending 2019 with $6 million more in the bank than she did.
If McSally, a former Air Force combat pilot, feels a little media bashing couldn’t hurt her fundraising efforts, she’s probably right.
When all else fails, according to an old, sarcastic political motto, blame the media. In today’s polarized era, charges of media bias appear to be having the effect of reducing public trust in media, particularly among Republicans, according to a new Pew Research Center study of attitudes over the past five years.
Republicans have become more doubtful of major news media over the past five years, the Pew study finds, especially on the far right, while Democrats’ trust has stayed largely the same — or, in some cases, strengthened.
More research remains to be done, but as the influence of the major parties fades amid the rise of new social media, it becomes increasingly easy for politicians to create their own reality and bash everyone else’s.