New York Magazine writer argues media worse for Biden than for Trump

Media top headlines August 26

In media news today, an ABC News insider blasts George Stephanopoulos for role in a ‘GMA’ lawsuit, the White House cuts off audio feed before Biden’s response to a question about Afghanistan, and NY Magazine complains the media ‘manufactured’ Biden’s Afghanistan crisis

A New York Magazine writer’s argument that the media is worse overall for President Joe Biden than it was for his predecessor raised eyebrows on the right Thursday.

While acknowledging a liberal bias in the mainstream media, writer Jonathan Chait argued the mainstream media’s sharp coverage of Biden’s chaotic Afghanistan troop pullout showed the press is more difficult overall on Democrats, while Republicans like former President Donald Trump can safely rely on a supportive conservative media ecosystem.

“Over the last week, the media has hammered Joe Biden with relentlessly critical coverage of his pullout from Afghanistan, resulting in noticeable drops in his approval ratings,” Chait wrote. “Put aside for a moment whether this reflects failures by Biden or biases by the media. One conclusion we can draw is that this sort of dynamic is a regular feature of Democratic presidencies, and — as the Trump administration showed — a near impossibility during Republican ones.”

Biden has faced some of the harshest media coverage of his young presidency over his handling of the Afghanistan pullout and rapid Taliban takeover of the country, but he’s also enjoyed cover and dense of his actions from left-leaning media allies. Chait’s piece is the latest piece to bemoan tough coverage for Biden, who received highly positive coverage throughout the early months of his presidency; a separate New York Magazine article Wednesday claimed the media “manufactured” the Afghanistan crisis.

The mainstream press and Trump had perhaps the most mutually antagonistic relationship between the White House and the media since the Nixon era, with histrionic coverage and the rise of activist reporters marking the era.

“The mainstream media certainly gave Trump harsh and even overtly hostile coverage. But the mainstream media only describes roughly half the media landscape,” Chait wrote. “The other half of the media is a right-wing messaging apparatus that makes no effort to follow traditional journalistic norms. Republicans communicate to their base through a media that functionally operates as part of their party, while Democrats communicate to their base through a media that still exerts substantial independence.”

Chait concluded the last week of Afghanistan coverage had “amply demonstrated” that non-conservative mainstream media was not a “vehicle for partisan propaganda.”

“This is not necessarily to deny that the mainstream media has some kinds of liberal bias. It’s certainly true that, as the electorate has grown more polarized by education, the mainstream media’s near-total reliance on college graduates has made it much more socially liberal than the overall country. (One stark example of this bias was the stampede last year to dismiss the COVID-19 lab-leak hypothesis as a “racist conspiracy theory.”) For the sake of argument, I am willing to concede that this liberal bias outweighs other cross-cutting biases. I would simply maintain that liberal bias is not the only determinant of media coverage,” Chait wrote.

He added the media “metes out the same treatment” to Democratic presidents as Republican ones and that its biases were more in the vein of focusing on bad news, giving its relentlessly negative COVID-19 coverage over the past 18 months as an example. 

His piece came the same week that former media darling New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D., resigned from office, a year after receiving such adoring coverage that outlets floated him as a presidential contender and he received an Emmy award for his press conferences.

“Pieces with horsesh— like this can be comfortably ignored,” Tablet’s Noam Blum wrote, pointing to Chait’s claim that conservative media will “support anything its party’s leader does.”

“It’s important for them to believe this,” National Review’s Charlie C. W. Cooke added.

Indeed, Trump’s dramatic ascension to the presidency resulted in a splintering in conservative media, with Trump-critical sites like The Bulwark and The Dispatch forming in the aftermath of the folding of The Weekly Standard, another conservative magazine often critical of Trump, in 2018. 

National Review memorably ran an entire issue on the conservative case against his candidacy in 2016, with some of the writers involved having since come around to his fold, while others haven’t. Other sites like Breitbart and The Federalist have remained largely supportive.

The Weekly Standard’s founder, Bill Kristol, has become one of Trump’s staunchest critics, and numerous longtime right-leaning figures have become or evolved into reliably anti-Trump and even anti-Republican voices in media and cable news.

Many observers were amused at the notion that a week of negative coverage for Biden meant he had a more hostile press on his hands than Republicans. 

Although Chait argued in the piece that the media has a bias toward foreign policy hawkishness, left-leaning independent journalist Matt Taibbi said he didn’t give enough attention to the media’s “fealty to the Pentagon.”

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