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Trump vs. Biden: How the Media Continues to Fail

Ed Clements
June 22, 2021

As the US media enjoys being able to carry out their job without being accused of broadcasting 'fake news', Ed Clements writes that they are failing to uphold the values of journalistic integrity that they also struggled to maintain under the previous president. 

The Trump and Biden presidencies are easily distinguishable for various reasons, one that requires significantly more attention is their respective relationships with the media. Trump was adversarial, abrasive and wholly irreverent; the Biden administration meanwhile has been courteous, warm and broadly friendly. One only needs to watch the catalogue of recent videos showing Biden's cheerleading press corps to get a sense of how much the dynamic has changed. Just this week, White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, appeared on CNN and was asked to respond to the question, "What does the press get wrong when covering Biden's agenda?" The framing of this question seems better suited to a marriage counselling session, not in an interview with the spokesperson for the most powerful man in the world.

The relationship between the liberal media and Trump/Biden demonstrates plainly that while much of the Trump era was defined by incendiary remarks and sustained outrage, this at least was conducive to an environment of political critique and scrutiny. The Biden administration looks set to stifle much of the meaningful debate that occurred during the previous administration and the media is largely responsible. Examining two topics on which the media has regularly lacked objectivity helps demonstrate the challenges that arrive with a presidency largely aligned with media interests compared to one who is not.

Immigration

Arguably, the issue of immigration did more to propel Trump to victory in 2016 than any other policy position. His 'build the wall' and anti-immigration rhetoric defined his campaign more fittingly than any of his other equally problematic slogans. However, despite this relentless posturing, Trump was far less successful in his mass deportation efforts. During 2018 for example, Trump forcibly removed around 200,000 people, while Obama achieved almost double this figure in 2012. Comparing the two presidents throughout their presidencies, Trump failed to get anywhere close to the levels of deportations Obama presided over. Furthermore, Trump's migrant detention centres and his separation policy were discussed repeatedly in the run up to the 2020 Presidential Election. Rarely mentioned was the fact that these facilities were built and became operational during the Obama administration.

The unwillingness displayed by overwhelming sections of the media to report this reality has continued brazenly throughout the early period of the Biden administration. From "kids in cages" in the Trump era to "migrant facilities for children" under Biden, it is abundantly clear what the media's intention is here. The reality is that from Obama to Trump and now to Biden the changes to these facilities has been fairly nominal. Clearly, the policy itself is in major need of reform and those on the left trying to excuse Biden's actions by explaining that 'it's not as bad as when Trump did it,' are drastically missing the point.

The Biden administration's hopelessly inadequate action with regards to immigration appears destined to continue. Indeed, during her first overseas trip since taking office Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a speech on immigration that was distinctly reminiscent of the tone that we became accustomed to under the previous president. Severely lacking in both sensitivity and any sort of acknowledgment for the role the US played in the disruption south of its border.

But where are the outraged headlines? Where are the emotive social media posts? Where are the crying television news anchors? The reality is while Trump was in office the broadcast media were rightly relentless in their criticism. But with Biden in the White House, the appetite for critique has all but disappeared.

Coronavirus

This damaging dynamic has been evident from Biden's first days in office. Over the last few weeks however, we have seen yet another stark example of the media's clear lack of objectivity. Increasingly, scientists are questioning the veracity of the once universally accepted belief that Covid-19 originated in nature and instead are suggesting that an accidental lab-leak is at least a plausible explanation that requires further investigation.

However, throughout 2020 this view was overwhelmingly derided and those presenting this account were accused of 'fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory repeatedly debunked by experts.' Clearly there were a multitude of reasons that the media would choose to frame the narrative in the way that it did. But undoubtedly Trump's endorsement of the counter narrative was a significant motive and his tendency to utilise this theory to stir up jingoistic fervour against China blinded overwhelming sections of the media from reporting the story accurately.

If the theory that Covid-19 was caused by human error is shown to be true it should prove incredibly damaging to the media's credibility. Ultimately however, regardless of the overall outcome (it is likely that the true origins of Covid-19 will remain the subject of discussion for sometime), the willingness with which the media accepted the dominant narrative as the unequivocal and correct response to the Covid-19 origin story will be the subject of study in journalism classes for years to come. It is a damning indictment of the state of the media and a further example of disdain for Trump acting as a significant barrier to journalistic objectivity.

The attention with which the media scrutinises issues such as US foreign policy, immigration and climate change has decreased significantly; now that their man is in the White House, all the political energy accrued during the Trump years has quickly dissipated. If nothing else, the Trump years brought with it constant critique and the adversarial element of journalism back into vogue. However, those hoping to see this type of journalism continue look set to be severely disappointed with Biden in the White House.

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Edward Clements is a recent MA graduate in History and Politics from University College London. He specialised in 20th century US history with a particular interest in the civil rights movement. He previously studied Philosophy and History at Newcastle University.
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