There is a lot of truth to the stereotype that the American media is centered in New York City and Washington, D.C., staffed by Democrats, and hostile to Republicans. Like other professionals, journalists run the gamut from hugely talented individuals doing great work to hacks producing crap, but journalism is unusual in its dearth of ideological diversity.
Simply by living 3,000 miles from the East Coast, leaning more libertarian than progressive, and opposing President Obama’s reelection, I am an outlier in my field. And neither my upbringing among Republicans I respect deeply nor my many differences with leftism gives me insight into what daily life is like in the vast swaths of the country where I’ve never lived or the many jobs I’ve never worked. So I get why tens of millions of Americans don’t give a damn what distant network news anchors with seven-figure net worths think about this election, or that the New York Times, which always endorses the Democratic nominee, endorsed Hillary Clinton.
I even get hating “the media.” Oh, I love my colleagues. And each week, I curate a newsletter full of journalism I admire, produced by print and audio journalists who make me jealous. But every time I’m compelled by my job to watch cable news, whether left, right, or center, I nearly always come away, unless I catch one of the very few hosts I respect, thinking that cable news is a wasteland of vapid thought that reflects poorly on most of those who produce it. As a journalist, it is a pet peeve of mine when people say, “I hate the media,” as if TMZ, Penthouse, The Christian Science Monitor, CNN, National Review, and NPR are coherently evaluated together. But when I watch TV, I sometimes catch myself thinking, “God, I hate the media.”
Many journalists feel that way!
Still, election day nears, so you’re paying more attention than usual to the news media, even if you do hate it. If you’ll indulge a few more paragraphs, I have three points I’d ask you to mull over. First, just as quality food can be found in a strange city if you venture away from the tourist traps and do a bit of searching, exceptional journalism can be found about the candidates in this election, if you seek it out. Don’t let the pizza stand at the train station convince you all the food is bad.
Second, you’re absolutely right to perceive that the vast majority of journalists want Donald Trump to lose this election. That should inform how you read our work. If a news article is well-sourced, or an opinion column is accurate and well-reasoned, don’t dismiss it. Glean facts! But stay alert, just as you would reading a New York sportswriter covering the Boston Red Sox. He’s trying. His bias may lead to an error, or he may be totally on point. Don’t be blind to what he gets wrong or right. If you read carefully and with an open mind, you’ll spot the good stuff.
Third, recognize the way that this year’s endorsements are different.
In theory, the arguments in an endorsement should be judged on their own merits, regardless of where it appears. But people have limited time.
I get the impulse to say, “The Washington Post endorses Hillary Clinton? So what. They would never endorse a Republican.” If part of you thinks that way, know that this year, even if you ignore all the TV people, plus all the print media outlets that always endorse Democrats, you’re still left with a noteworthy phenomena: A whole bunch of people who nearly always support the Republican nominee oppose Donald Trump; and a whole bunch of people who nearly always oppose the Democratic nominee support Hillary Clinton.
This year, there are staunch, lifelong members of the conservative movement—like George Will, Erick Erickson, David French, Jonah Goldberg, and Kevin Williamson—who oppose Trump, against tremendous pressure and contrary to their professional incentives. That seems like reason enough to give their anti-Trump arguments a hearing.
Or consider the editorial board of USA Today, a newspaper with clear business incentives to stay non-partisan, and a long history of doing just that. “In the 34-year history of USA TODAY, the Editorial Board has never taken sides in the presidential race,” it wrote. “We’ve never seen reason to alter our approach. Until now. This year, the choice isn’t between two capable major party nominees who happen to have significant ideological differences. This year, one of the candidates is, by unanimous consensus of the Editorial Board, unfit for the presidency.”
Meanwhile, don’t mistakenly assume that all Hillary Clinton’s endorsers always back Democrats. Consider local and regional newspapers. Their employees are not distant scribes who do not understand life in the communities where their readers live.
They are locals.
Unlike the New York and Washington press, they frequently endorse Republicans. Yet this year, an astonishing number are telling their readers something different. My editor Yoni Appelbaum recently reflected on what’s happening and why it matters:
The old joke about newspapers is that today’s news is wrapped around tomorrow’s fish—that they’re ephemeral publications. The truth is that most newspapers are steeped in their history, with old clips around the office, and stacks of papers in the morgue. Most journalists I know love to see what their predecessors wrote at pivotal moments. Many papers have ‘on this day’ features. And this year, when most institutions of the Republican Party have fallen dutifully into line, newspapers are a notable exception.
For the first time since 1890, the Arizona Republic endorsed a Democrat. My point is, they looked it up. The Detroit News, around since 1873, has only not endorsed a Republican 3 times. It’s reportedly going for Johnson. Newspaper endorsements may not matter. But they’re institutions with long memories, expecting to be judged by posterity. Maybe they’re all making the wrong choice. But the trend is striking, bipartisan, and perfectly clear.
I’d only add my perspective as someone who got his start at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario, California, and the San Bernardino Sun, a bit farther east, before transitioning into national magazines. Both subcultures have strengths and weaknesses; and they are very different. Of course the staff of The New Yorker thinks you should vote for Hillary Clinton. And lots of smart people work there.
Their arguments are worth considering.
But talking about “the media” as a singular entity obscures that it means something different when Hillary Clinton is endorsed by Texans at the traditionally Republican Houston Chronicle; the Dallas Morning News, which last endorsed a Democrat in 1944 as Franklin Roosevelt led us through World War II; and the Cincinnati Enquirer, which opposed Roosevelt, having last endorsed a Democrat in 1916!
Earlier this week, Sean Hannity, the ultra-wealthy Fox News host, tweeted, “Now, my overpaid friends in the media, well, they have their chauffeured limousines, they like their fine steakhouses and expensive wine lifestyles.” That doesn’t describe any journalist I know. And it certainly doesn’t describe the underpaid people who’ve survived layoffs at struggling newspapers around the country. Many are now telling their readers that even though they’ve always backed Republicans, Trump is uniquely unfit to lead, lacking in character, and potentially dangerous. I’d never tell anyone to defer to their arguments, but do hear them out.