The national narrators of our politics love brandishing the word “historic” to describe the Trump impeachment process. But by now it feels unexceptional, more like Chapter 27 of the Same Old Saga. In their overdramatic Trump narrative, the president is always a democracy-killing villain who is about to get his comeuppance.
Month after month, network evening-news coverage of Donald Trump’s presidency has been notable mostly for its perpetual negativity. The Senate impeachment trial isn’t the slightest bit different. They spent more than two years “reporting” that a Russian collusion conspiracy would be exposed and prematurely end the Trump presidency. Now we’re nine months from Election Day, and Trump is still in charge … which means the beatings must continue.
Nicholas Fondacaro of the Media Research Center reported that in the first week of trial coverage, the anchors and reporters of ABC, CBS and NBC offered 34 statements on the merits of the pro-Trump and anti-Trump sides. Twenty of the 21 statements made about the Democratic House managers were positive. All 13 evaluations of Trump’s defense team were negative.
The editorializing is all in the adjectives and adverbs. On Jan. 23, NBC anchorman Lester Holt touted the “Democratic prosecutors” who are “painting a damning portrait of the president, who they say abused his power.” NBC’s Peter Alexander robotically added, “House prosecutors strongly defended the actions of both Joe and Hunter Biden, saying they did nothing wrong.”
They think Trump’s calling his conversation with the Ukrainian president “perfect” is ludicrous bombast but that claiming Joe and Hunter Biden “did nothing wrong” is stone-cold-sober analysis.
On Jan. 26, ABC reporter Kyra Phillips sounded upset. “Tonight, President Trump’s legal team didn’t even warm up, opening their defense straight to the point,” she announced, “even getting personal, attacking lead House manager Adam Schiff, going after his summary of the president’s phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky at the center of it all.”
Wait. Schiff and the Democrats can’t be described as “getting personal” as they seek to get Trump fired? Why is it somehow treacherous and objectionable for Trump’s defenders to attempt to take apart Schiff’s case? This is how the dominant media talk.
Then there’s the complete imbalance in time allotted. The networks reported on the Democratic managers for nearly 25 minutes and gave Trump’s defense team 11 and a half minutes. “CBS Evening News” was the most imbalanced, giving 7 minutes and 42 seconds to Democrats and skimping on the Trump team with 2 minutes and 26 seconds, a difference of more than 3 to 1. NBC’s gap was more than 2 to 1.
This overwhelming tilt is only the bias demonstrated during the traditional evening-news hours. Spread that notion across hours of live coverage, unspooling it on broadcast news and cable news, and the unfairness multiplies.
The American people should point and laugh at the idea that the networks would argue it is essential for the Senate jurors to be nonpartisan in their weighing of the evidence. Our media elites are never objective. The stakes are always too high for evenhandedness. The damsel of democracy is always tied to the railroad tracks, and it would be irresponsible not to do everything to save her from her distress.