Ronald Sievert is an associate professor of practice and director of the Certificate in Advanced International Affairs Program.
As an older professor, I have had the good fortune of watching the media and public perception of presidential candidates since my friends and I first campaigned for JFK in 1960. As a moderate Democrat until the election of President George H.W. Bush (and a moderate Republican after that) I think I have at least some objectivity. Before the Trump presidency, what I had observed in my political life was “tolerable” media bias, first clearly reflected during the Vietnam War and increasingly thereafter.
Now that Ronald Reagan has been lionized in history, most students do not know he was routinely portrayed as an “amiable dunce.” The bias against George H.W. Bush in favor of the young, “hip” Bill Clinton was clearly evident, while George W. Bush was bashed daily on CNN and by other mainstream news outlets. If not for John Kerry’s clear record of “flip flopping” — brilliantly portrayed in an ad showing him going back and forth while windsurfing — I am not sure the second Bush would have ever been re-elected. Then, of course, there was the Obama presidency. One wag described the typical question at an Obama press conference as, “How is it that you are so wonderful?”
The media bias during the Trump presidency, however, was pretty off the charts. I am still waiting for an apology from CNN and the rest of the mainstream media for repeatedly telling us for two years he was an agent of Russia. Remember the word “collusion.” How many thousand times did you hear it? And when the Mueller report demonstrated this was not the case, much of the media merely moved onto the next “bombshell” story against the president.
Which is not to say the president did not bring some of this on himself with ridiculous tweets and off the cuff statements which sometimes were just plain wrong. Nevertheless, from this moderate conservative’s perspective, the president has been one of the most effective in my lifetime.
The president’s successes over the past four year included the following: major trade deals to benefit America, record low unemployment for minority communities, first-time energy independence, preventing travel from countries that harbored terrorists, substantially decreasing the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., successfully revamping Veterans Affairs, strengthening the military, new peace deals in the Middle East, destroying the ISIS caliphate in Iraq, taking out terrorist leaders while not starting new wars, calming North Korea with a personal intervention, three Supreme Court nominees rated “well qualified” by the AmericanBarAssociation, a record high stock market return, creation of the Space Force, creating Operation Warp speed (which invested $1 billion in Moderna for its coronavirus vaccine and is providing $1.95 billion for distributing the vaccine created by Pfizer) and much more
If this is the first time you’re hearing this, you might need to review your media sources.
But it is not the “tolerable” bias that should be a surprise or that should provoke outrage. It is the fact that, for the only time in my over 60 years of reading the news, a major story was not just downplayed but actively suppressed.
We do not know what investigations will reveal (if they are conducted) on the Hunter Biden emails and their implication that his father might have been part of Hunter’s lucrative and questionable business dealings. Joe Biden may be completely innocent of financial and ethical impropriety when everything is uncovered. What we do know now is that he got away with telling a debate audience that the Hunter Biden laptop was just a smear and Russian disinformation without any serious media challenges.
In The Hill, George Washington Law Professor Jonathan Turley said “this [Hunter Biden’s laptop] was major news. The response of Twitter and Facebook, however, was to shut it all down. Major media companies also imposed a virtual blackout on the allegations.”
On Fox News, Piers Morgan, a self-described “liberal,” said, “Imagine if the story was about Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump. What would be happening? Do you think that the tech giants would be suppressing the story? Would the mainstream media be ignoring the story and say that it’s all an unfair smear on the Trumps?”
To my knowledge, no one ever asked Joe Biden if he received money from his son in the last 10 years. In addition, No one to my knowledge yet has asked the FBI why the existence of the laptop, which clearly hurts Biden, was hidden for nine months.
These acts of suppression are reminiscent of the People’s Republic of China and the USSR. They are exactly what we have always found to be disgusting and inexcusable about the media in those countries. The vote in this election was razor thin. Would the results have been different if more journalists in the media had treated this story as they handled any negative allegation against President Trump.
No one will ever know the answer to that very important question.