In terms of politics, the past week was bursting at the seams with investigative stories and breaking news. Neera Tanden’s confirmation hearing, sexual harrassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the information release relating to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder and state Republicans pushing new voting legislation all fought to be on the front page of national news outlets. But one thing has caught my eye about all of these headlines: public reaction on both sides of the political spectrum.
For the last four years, journalists were praised by the left for journalism that held the Trump administration, their allies and others accountable for their actions and words. They were said to be heroic, tough and were heralded as the saviors of democracy. The hard-hitting, fierce reporting that was performed in the Trump era was just what the left-leaning constituents wanted.
But, over the past week, journalists have been subject to rage from many of the same individuals who had celebrated them for the last presidential reporting. Let’s break down a few of the stories from this week and see just what the reaction has been via social media.
The murder of Saudi-born activist and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi happened back in October of 2018. After U.S. intelligence officials gathered evidence for a report, it was determined that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (often referred to as MBS) had ordered the Washington Post columnist’s murder. But, then-President Trump refused to condemn or sanction the prince at the time. This was one of President Biden’s campaign criticisms of Trump, and he vowed to release the report as well as take action against MBS for the killing.
Well, that report was released last week, along with the names of individuals involved in the murder. Those names have been placed on a list of individuals who have been banned from entering the U.S., but there is one name missing from that list: MBS. The Biden administration has vowed to take certain actions against the Saudis but refused to sanction the crown prince himself for the murder of a journalist. Naturally, there was an outpouring of criticism from media outlets.
That critique was met with staunch disapproval from members of the left who felt that the media was not portraying Biden and his administration fairly. Accusations circulated on social media to major journalists, such as, “Why are you blaming Biden when Trump did the same thing?”
The answer is simple, really. Because they did the same thing, journalists have an obligation to hold them to the same standard of responsibility.
Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, entered the media cycle after it was leaked that his administration was inaccurately reporting coronavirus deaths in nursing homes. But, he stayed in the news cycle after accusations of sexual harrassment also were levied against him. As of Tuesday, there have been three women who have stepped forward with their stories.
As the allegations were reported by news outlets, starting with the New York Times, there were claims from the left that the media was unfairly reporting accusations against Cuomo compared to sexual misconduct accusations against Trump. A single allegation is more than enough reason to cover the occurrence and, might I add, the allegations against Trump circulated the news cycle for years. I think CNN’s Jake Tapper said it best via Twitter: “These are traumatized human beings, not touchdowns.”
Now, let’s turn to the news that numerous Republicans in various states are pushing new voting restrictions. Georgia will be the focal point of this new legislation, after Biden, Warnock and Ossoff’s victories during the November election and Georgia U.S. senate runoff. These new restrictions range from the time that early voting begins to how many absentee ballots are permitted in an election.
Notice how the only uproar from the left is anger that Republicans would change legislation to maintain their seats. Now, on the flip side, you will see a different reaction from the right – as they view the manner that this story has been covered as unfair to their views.
Finally, we reach the pinnacle of volatility towards the media from this last week: Neera Tanden’s confirmation hearing. For those unfamiliar, she is President Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Her confirmation has been put in doubt due to a number of her tweets attacking members of Congress during the Trump years. Now, while tweets should not be the only reason to deny someone a government position – especially after the last four years – they are necessary for journalists when covering the hearing.
Last Wednesday, Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim showed Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) a tweet from Tanden relating to a question Kim had posed. This was photographed and entered social media, creating a frenzy. Now, this is standard journalistic practice – it was done during the Trump administration too. But, that did not stop those on the left from spewing racist and sexist attacks towards Kim on social media.
In all instances, Kim was being accused of “influencing politics” and lacking “journalistic integrity,” both of which are blatantly untrue.
In the aftermath of the social media attacks, journalists from almost every outlet were showing support for the Post reporter. By last Thursday, Steven Ginsberg – the national editor for the Washington Post, issued a statement in the reporter’s defense.
“What she did was basic journalism,” the statement read. “In reporting about Tanden’s tweet, she asked Murkowski for comment. Murkowski had not seen the tweet, so Seung Min showed it to her. This is standard practice. If a subject of a story is not aware of the information they are being asked to comment on, reporters share it with them. This only makes sense and is the fair and responsible thing to do.”
As the disdain for the news media cyclones from left to right and back again, it is important to remember that journalists are not supoosed to be weapons for one party or another. The goal has been, is and always should be to serve the truth to the public – whether they want to consume it or not. Reporters are not the champions of the Democrats or Republicans, nor should we be.
As the dust settles from the last administration and the waters get murky with the new one, Americans should take solace in the fact that there are individuals who want to deliver the truth to you. Some truths hurt more than others, but it is truth nonetheless.
Seung Min Kim shows Senator Lisa Murkowski a tweet that led to a flurry of backlash.