The mainstream media’s credibility took another big hit this week. Katie Couric, the former co-host of NBC’s Today show, revealed in a new memoir that she chose not to air some controversial comments made to her five years ago by the sainted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, involving RBG’s criticism of NFL players like Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.
Couric says she was “conflicted” because she was a “big RBG fan,” so she only aired some of the harsh words RBG had for the football players refusing to stand for the national anthem. According to her story, after talking with New York Times columnist David Brooks, Couric concluded that Ginsburg—who was on the Supreme Court at the time—was “elderly and probably didn’t fully understand the question.” Couric confesses in her book that she “‘wanted to protect’ Ginsburg and felt that the issue of racial justice was a ‘blind spot’ for her.”
Couric’s revelation comes on the heels of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) being forced to apologize for altering a famous RBG quote. During her 1993 confirmation hearings, Ginsburg said, “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity.” In keeping with today’s gender-neutral nomenclature, the group changed “woman” to a bracketed “[person’s]” and swapped the word “her” with a bracketed “[their].”
These back-to-back incidents reveal the degree to which progressives have a vested interest in preserving and protecting RBG’s image, even as what constitutes being politically correct continues to evolve. In the service of some higher cause, they reimagined their hero’s actual words to comport with what, in their minds, she really represents. In other words, to “print the legend.” The inconvenient truth, though, is that RBG had more nuanced beliefs than her fans, many of them probably sipping coffee from RBG coffee mugs as they read this, might realize—including her thoughts on Roe v. Wade.
It’s ironic to see the ACLU, a group once dedicated to free and diverse speech, bowdlerize RBG’s speech, but Couric represents a bigger problem. Pressure groups aren’t held to the same standards as the news media. We hire professional journalists to exercise news judgment, and when their motives are not in the service of the public’s interest, but rather, in the service of something else (even something as arguably noble as protecting a hero’s legacy), they forfeit our trust.
Indeed, according to a Gallup survey out last week, just 7 percent of Americans have a “great deal” of trust in the mainstream media, and 34 percent have “none at all.”
One of the few members of the mainstream media who takes this problem seriously is The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta. “This week alone we had [Katie] Couric showing herself (again) to be a hack; [ESPN NFL reporter Adam] Schefter emailing a source, ‘Mr. Editor,’ his unpublished story for approval; and [Sanjay] Gupta exposing CNN’s petty, needless deception,” Alberta tweeted, adding: “People despise us. They distrust us. Maybe we stop whistling past the graveyard.”
This deception has disproportionately eroded trust in the media among conservatives, with Gallup’s survey showing 68 percent of Democrats saying they trust the media “a great deal or fair amount,” but just 11 percent of Republicans holding that same opinion. “Confidence in the media among Republicans over the past five years is at unprecedented lows,” says Gallup, and who could blame them?
Whether we’re talking about the media’s initial portrayal of Covington student Nick Sandmann’s smug privilege, credulity towards Jussie Smollett’s status as a victim of a “hate crime,” reflexive portrayal of the lab leak theory as a debunked “conspiracy theory,” or double standard when it came to the lack of social distancing at Black Lives Matter rallies, liberal media bias is a long-standing and observable phenomenon.
The media’s coverups always seem to benefit the same political side. The same year Couric interviewed RBG, for example, her documentary on gun violence “deceptively edited” an interview with pro-gun activists.
I am also reminded of an even more consequential example that does not involve Couric. Back in 2012, CBS’s 60 Minutes withheld some of President Barack Obama’s comments about the attack on Benghazi. That controversy may seem like ancient history, but the airing of Obama’s comments would have benefitted Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.
Indeed, days after that interview was conducted, but months before it was seen in full (which not incidentally only happened after the election), Mitt Romney was cut off in a crucial debate moment by CNN moderator Candy Crowley, who “fact-checked” Romney when he said that Obama suggested for weeks after the attack that it was a spontaneous demonstration rather than a planned act of terror.
Romney was correct “in the main” (as Crowley later conceded)—and the footage that 60 Minutes withheld would have buttressed that sense. Instead, Crowley’s intervention took the wind out of Romney’s sails, serving as a turning point for that debate, which was a turning point for the 2012 election. The debate over Obama’s characterization of the Benghazi attack dominated multiple news cycles, but rather than airing footage that would have provided additional context for the American people (not to mention, driven ratings and clicks), CBS chose to sit on it.
Romney’s loss convinced many conservatives that nice guys can’t win and they they needed a fighter to take on the left and the media—which is no small part of the story of how the party ended up with Trump.
Collectively, these incidents have eroded trust in the media as an institution, persuaded millions of Americans to tune out mainstream media elites and outlets (and tune into alternative outlets), and empowered bad political actors who want to exploit this lack of trust for political gain.
Bias isn’t just what you cover, it’s also what you decide not to cover. By employing the sin of omission, the media protects its progressive heroes and, in the process, picks political winners and losers. Instead of telling us the facts, they print the legend. Is it any surprise that we don't believe them anymore?