Beware Arrogance on the 'Democracy Beat'

Tim Graham | June 22, 2022 | 10:08am EDT
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CNN host Brian Stelter. (Photo credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)
CNN host Brian Stelter. (Photo credit: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for WarnerMedia)

On CNN's "Reliable Sources" on June 19, host Brian Stelter touted the growing new trend in the "objective" media of creating a "democracy beat" because Donald Trump and his devotees are a constant threat. Stelter compared it to a contractor fighting rot and mold in the house.

There's something obvious and desirable about journalists focusing intently on elections and voter rights and election integrity battles. But there's always this gelatinous layer of pomposity on top that the media needs to take sides and not allow "two sides" on democracy.

Take Joe Kahn, the newly designated executive editor of the New York Times, who told NPR media reporter David Folkenflik, "You can't have independent journalism in a non-free society, and we are not impartial about whether or not this (nation) becomes a non-free society."

The danger here is, if conservatives suggest the Times is not independent, not impartial, and not nudging America into being a free society, does this put them on the side of autocracy?

On his Sunday show, Stelter brought on Danielle Belton, executive editor of the HuffPost, a website founded by Arianna Huffington, who wrote an entire book titled "Right Is Wrong" railing against giving the conservative "fringe" a place in news coverage.

Belton belongs to that school, warning Stelter of an "extremist element within the conservative movement that is trying basically to take over the Republican Party," and it's the media's job to stop it. So "the press, American people, all of us, anyone who's pro-democracy, pro-free press, pro-equality, this is what we're up against because these are the things these people do not want."

Conservatives hate democracy, a free press, and equality. Stelter nodded along.

"That's why it's so important for the press to keep banging the drum," Belton added. "This is not the time to be shy. This is not the time to demure away from something. This is not the time to just 'both sides' something to death. There's no both sides to whether or not you're pro-democracy and pro-free press."

Democracy is too essential to grant space to both sides, and that seems cleverly designed to match whatever the left defines as "pro-free press." Stelter and other liberals who want to crush the reach of Fox News still pose as "pro-free press."

CNN's John Harwood seconded the motion on the Stelter show. "We should not take sides on liberal versus conservative. However, this situation — the Trump era more generally, but this particular situation — that's not the spectrum. The spectrum is truth on the one side and lies on the other side."

You can see the point if it's narrowed to Trump claiming he won in a "sacred landslide," but the liberal media wants to put the entire Republican Party into that one "democracy beat" issue and ignore every other pressing national issue.

For example, on inflation, Harwood recently expressed alarm that the media was too harsh: "Those of us in the media act as if it's Joe Biden's problem to solve every day. What are you going to do about inflation? It's not Joe Biden's problem to solve."

Somehow, Harwood thinks he's on the side of "truth" when he claims Biden shouldn't be blamed for the country's problems, and it looks again like the fate of "democracy" is considered synonymous with the success of the Democrats.

At least Stelter noted a new Fox poll among registered voters. When asked which party would "do a better job" on "preservation of American democracy," 46% said Republicans, compared with 45% who said Democrats. Stelter's guests would probably blame the media for that, too.

Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog

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