“Suppression, Deception, Snobbery, and Bias: Why the Press Gets So Much Wrong—And Just Doesn’t Care,” by Ari Fleischer
watching president trump glad-hand Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman eleven inspired Washington Post opinion columnist Max Boot to excoriate the president for his coziness with despotic global leaders. “Trump again shows how easily he’s manipulated by dictators,” reads the headline of an April 2019 piece from the writer. That piece also made reference to jamal khashoggithe Washington Post contributor murdered by a Saudi hit team in 2018 — on the orders, according to the CIA, of none other than MBS himself.
Fast forward three years, to President Biden setting out for his own meeting with the crown prince. Biden flew to the Middle East earlier this month and greeted MBS with an informal fist-bump. Boot, though, had a different perspective when opining about that presidential interaction. His July 17 column following the Biden-MBS sitdown asked readers to “Cut Biden some slack. US presidents have to deal with dictators.”
The same writer, covering the same problematic prince meeting two US presidents — albeit, presidents of opposing parties.
When conservatives perceive bias in the mainstream media outside of Fox News, examples like this one are what they regularly point to with a lament of unequal treatment. Indeed, conservatives on Twitter had a field day sharing a side-by-side of those two WaPo headlines after Biden’s face time with the prince. But the dissatisfaction also goes beyond the mere ideological, encompassing an even broader mistrust in a media ecosystem that polls show a record-low number of Americans no longer trust to be objective.
Ari Fleischer, a current Fox News contributor and former White House press secretary under George W. Bush, has written a new book — “Suppression, Deception, Snobbery, and Bias: Why the Press Gets So Much Wrong — And Just Doesn’t Care ,” published this month — about what he thinks is driving all this. Of course, the network for which Fleischer works as an on-air contributor was born in the first place, for better or worse, out of a sense that conservative and conservative audiences were too often covered unfairly, or even not covered at all.
To some observers, a version of that same dynamic remains in place today. Following the 2020 election, for example, Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei wrote the following in a column (which Flesicher excerpted in his new book by him):
“The media remains fairly clueless about the America that exists outside of the big cities, where most political writers and editors live. The coverage missed badly the surge in Trump voters in obvious places (rural America) and less obvious (Hispanic-heavy border towns in Texas).”
Added Fleischer, in an interview with me, “For my entire career, which began on Capitol Hill in 1983, Washington reporters were predominantly liberal. Their news organizations were predominantly liberal. But they had a belief, and their belief was to be objective and fair.
“I think that broke down, one, because of the internet. When newspapers started to lose their advertisers and had to find revenue somewhere, they found it from subscribers. And subscribers start to take on a different nature. What the business of the media found was they could appeal to niches in America. They no longer needed to appeal to broad groups. That started to lead to stridency — on the left and right.”
With a mere 16 percent of respondents to a new Gallup poll saying they still have a great deal of confidence in newspapers (the first time that percentage has ever dipped below 20 percent), that suggests plenty of news consumers will likely find themselves agreeing with the former White House spokesman — whose chapter titles herein include “Reporters Have Lost Their Minds” and “Activists for a Cause.”
In 2016 and in 2020, Fleischer continued to me, “reporters made the judgment that they needed to ‘save’ the country from Donald Trump. The problem with a network like CNN is they want to have it both ways. They viewed Chris Cuomo and Anderson Cooper as journalists, while they let their opinions rip.”
“Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels,” by Paul Pringle
The tip that initially made its way to The Los Angeles Times newsroom was as salacious as it gets. Someone told a staff photographer at a party about a coverup that allegedly involved the Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Plus “lots of drugs and a half-dressed unconscious young girl in the dean’s hotel room.”
LA Times investigative journalist Paul Pringle’s new book “Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels” revisits the paper’s relentless reporting that followed, which uncovered an explosive scandal involving sex abuse and powerful men preying on the disadvantaged.
If the book were just about that, it would already be compelling enough for news junkies who appreciate how the sausage gets made. Pringle’s book, though, adds newsroom acrimony as a layer top of that story, via accusations by Pringle that editors slow-walked and too-heavily edited his work in an effort to spike the story. It was ultimately published, but the bad blood remains.
The LA Times’ then-managing editor Marc Duvoisin, now the top editor at the San Antonio Express-News, has responded to Pringle’s book with a Facebook post. It reads, in part:
“The USC story was not killed; it was sent back for more reporting, which improved it immeasurably, and it was published on the front page. The reporters who worked on the story were never blocked; they were edited. They did not fight against dark newsroom corruption; they were held to high standards — and resent it. They did not work in secret. They merely thought they were working in secret, which is kind of amusing when you think about it.”
Duvoisin has also sought corrections from papers that have reviewed Pringle’s book and leaned too-heavily on the facts as Pringle presented them, including from The New York Times
Pringle, meanwhile, released a statement (availablehere) in which he counters that his manuscript “went through multiple rounds of fact-checking and a line-by-line legal review.” Moreover, his statement by him continues, editors he challenges in the book “were given the opportunity to respond to my reporting for the manuscript… They ultimately chose instead to retain attorneys to threaten lawsuits, with the clear intent of stopping publication of the book.”