The mainstream media suffered a further erosion of its authority during the 2016 campaign. It copiously displayed its disdain of Donald Trump, not least in assuming that his election to the presidency was not simply unlikely, but next to impossible. Then came the evening of November 8, when assorted media pooh-bahs stared in incredulity at the actual results—a Republican trifecta.
Many have blamed Trump himself for his adversarial relationship with the press, but that distracts from the media’s culpability. However unconventional or controversial Trump’s candidacy was—and it certainly broke new ground—the mainstream media have long failed to report the news truthfully about right-of-center public figures with whom it disagrees.
In my view, at a time when many are complaining about “fake news” manufactured by Russia, it is worth taking a closer look at the mainstream media’s complacency and downright dishonesty. Numerous examples exist, but two incidents involving Dr. Ben Carson, surely the most civil and genteel GOP presidential contender in the 2016 election, are illuminating.
The New York Times
On February 22, 2016, the New York Times published an article titled “Analysts Question Viability of Deep Tax Cuts Proposed by Republican Candidates.” The author argued that though Republican presidential candidates have issued tax plans proposing steep tax cuts, none “has said how he would offset the revenues lost to his tax cuts, beyond unspecified cuts to domestic programs and repeals of some existing tax breaks.”
It was a compelling argument, except it simply was not true. Carson, having issued his tax reform proposal in January, had readied a spending cuts plan, offering precisely the kind of specifics the Times claimed was missing from the Republican presidential debate. He released it on the same day that the Timesarticle was published online!
While the Times reporter was preparing her article, the Carson campaign informed her of its forthcoming policy plan, and a senior economic advisor of the campaign even spoke with her to explain the nuances of Carson’s economic vision.
But the information did not fit with the Times’ anti-Republican narrative, so the reporter ignored it.
Worse yet, she stated that Carson’s tax cut proposal did not have “enough detail for many economists to analyze in depth.” Not so. The Tax Foundation had provided analysis of the Carson tax plan (in wonkish speak, they had “scored” it), and a simple Google search would have yielded the details.
Unfortunately, the reporter either failed to do the search or simply did not like the results she found. Either way, she sold her readers a bogus story.
The episode reeked of a lack of professionalism, but the Times never apologized or ran a correction. But it is not at all alone when it comes to peddling politically false narratives.