Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Almost exactly one year ago in this space, I offered anecdotal evidence of a previously unthinkable development: the growing distrust among senior citizens for a mainstream press whose credibility was, until very recently, so sterling that arguments among their set were definitively settled with the declaration, “It has to be true! It’s in the paper!”

The seniors are not alone in their disillusionment with the mainstream media; a recent Gallup study suggests that the press’ credibility is on the wane, with fully 60 percent of the country saying they have “little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.”

Given the events of the last two weeks, we may expect an acceleration of media-skepticism. Let us consider just how egregiously the press has abandoned its responsibilities to the public trust in the past few weeks:

On September 11, on the eleventh anniversary of the worst attack yet endured on our shores, U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three aides were murdered, and their headquarters in Benghazi sacked. The U.S. Press unquestioningly accepted a White House explanation calling the event a “spontaneous demonstration” inspired by a poorly made anti-Islam film short that had been languishing online, all-but-ignored, for months.

Despite reports that the attackers had been chanting “Obama, we are all Osama,” (in reference to Osama bin Laden, whose America-effected demise was celebrated over 20 times during the recently concluded Democratic convention) the press duly reported the White House line, and they saw no First Amendment issues when the Obama administration asked Google (owners of YouTube) to remove the offending video. (Google refused.)

This is the same press, all the same bylines and faces, by the way, who fretted about the “chill wind” threatening free speech when then-White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer merely suggested that post-9/11 people might need to be cautious in their speech.

The press did not blink when the film’s creator was publicly identified, handcuffed, and brought into police custody for questioning about “a possible parole violation” in the middle of the night. In fact, some journalists”utterly incurious about the possible constitutional repercussions of establishing such a precedent”began helpfully arguing that sometimes free speech ought to be limited, darn it! The work of cultural darling Andres Serrano”whose overpraised “Piss Christ” showcases a photograph of a crucifix submerged in a bucket of Serrano’s own urine”was free speech and “art” deserving protection, while an execrably produced anti-Muslim short, made by a cultural nobody, was not.

The press appeared not to notice that while embassies were under threat in multiple countries, the president traveled to Las Vegas for a campaign fundraiser. They did manage, however, to declare his opponent Mitt Romney’s campaign almost depraved in its critique of the administration’s handing of the crisis.

When the State Department threatened to go into a bureaucratic swoon of Judy-Garlandesque proportions if forced to answer questions about the attack, the press offered a thoughtful cold compress to soothe its frazzled brow, and then closed the door softly, as it made its way out.

After the administration finally admitted to Congress that the September 11th violence was, in fact, a terror attack”quite possibly planned by Al Qaeda and released former detainees of Guantanamo Bay”the press corps heard White House Spokesman Jay Carney affirm that the attacks were “self-evidently” terrorist in nature. The press expressed no surprise at the change in story; they simply, dutifully, repeated what they had been told, while also declaring Mitt Romney’s campaign “lost”, thanks to a tape from May of 2012, wherein Romney made an elitist, possibly racist, suggestion that 47 percent of the country, realistically, would never vote for him.

It took a Spanish-language interview with Univision for President Obama to be asked direct and pointed questions about Libya and other issues, and the president’s answers were largely meandering and unfocused, like the defensive moves of a boxer who has taken a surprise hit and is trying to run out the clock for the safety of his corner. The President quickly moved to the David Letterman Show”where the host allowed him to say he wasn’t sure what the national debt actually was, without reaction”thence to a forty-thousand-dollar-a-head fundraiser hosted by rapper-entrepreneur Jay-Z and his wife, Beyonce.

The press, meanwhile, focused on the “rolling calamity” of Romney’s release of two decades worth of tax-return-related information.

Last Sunday, a subdued-looking Obama endured an interview by the formerly-serious 60 Minutes , wherein Steve Croft wondered how he felt about things, and if he didn’t feel pressure having to be president while also campaigning, because darn it, campaigns are important. And hard. Obama’s admission, during the interview, that some of the ads his campaign has approved contain “mistakes” or were “over-the-top” were omitted from the broadcast and relegated to the less-seen out-takes at CBS online.

Meanwhile, Obama gave a speech at a 5,000 seat arena, and the press described it as given before 18,000. CBS News Director John Dickerson admitted that Mitt Romney needs to ask pointed, difficult questions of Obama in the upcoming debates, because, “the press isn’t necessarily going [to do it] for him.”

The media are willfully transforming into Pravda on behalf of a president who looks, increasingly, like a man who wishes it would all go away.

I’ve taken to wondering if perhaps Obama does not really want to be re-elected, and the press is thwarting him at every turn; perhaps an Obama victory is merely incidental to the press, as long as their narrative is sustained.

But we no longer need wonder why the mainstream media seems unconcerned about possible attacks on our first amendment rights to freedom of religion and the exercise thereof. They have already cheerfully, willfully surrendered the freedom of the press to the altar of the preferred narrative. People willing to dissolve their own freedoms so cheaply have no interest in anyone else’s freedom, either.

Elizabeth Scalia is the Managing Editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos and blogs as The Anchoress . Her previous articles for On the Square can be found here .


Don’t Count on the Seniors

Media Distrust at 60%

“We are all Osama”

Democrats Spike Ball on Osama at Convention

Obama to Vegas as Questions Mount Over Libya Intel Failures

Ari Fleischer’s Rein of Terror

Obama Failure Becomes Romney Scandal

When Free Speech should be limited

Carney: Terror attack self-evident”

Tough Questions from Univision

Romney Lost the Election Today

“Rolling Calamity”

60 Minutes Omits Admissions

18,000? No, 5,000!

Become a fan of First Things on Facebook , subscribe to First Things via RSS , and follow First Things on Twitter .

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles