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Commentary: Simple coloring of news a slippery slope

Richard Hoover

I remember a long-ago NPR discussion on how the surging popularity of the internet and its biased websites threatened to swamp the objective and incorruptible reporting of the newsprint media.Indeed, I also remember when objective front page reporting was a newspaper’s  pride, when personal views were strictly confined to an editorial page, when one expected “straight skinny,” from the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Associated Press, Time magazine, the Washington Post and hundreds of other sources.  The very idea of slanted front page reporting, no matter in whose interests, was held little better than Nazi propaganda, that media phenomenon that could  reverse the courses of stars, could turn a Normandy landing or a siege of Leningrad  into  great Wehrmacht victories.

Today, NPR’s dire warning has crashed and burned. We find the “incorruptible” print media also polluting the news.  Tendentious language and content, almost unknown years ago, are employed to make political hay. No need to comb the nation’s archives for examples. They abound locally as I write.

From the Nov. 24 Northern Virginia Daily take the Associated Press’  coverage of the president’s Thanksgiving Day activities. Right off the bat, the AP correspondent  punched her class struggle ticket by noting that Trump’s first event took place “at his private club” in a “gilded room.” Having hammered home Trump’s superiority over the rest of us, the correspondent attacked his character: the president’s assertion of progress against the Islamic State was designed to “pat himself on the back.” Similarly: Trump had “boasted” about the economy’s performance since he took office. In other words, right on the front page where objectivity and dispassion once ruled, AP painted the president as a braggart and self-congratulating social snob!

And then:

• Nov. 30: The Daily front-paged another AP article whose banner squarely labeled the president a bigot:  “Trump stokes anti-Muslim sentiment.”

• Dec. 4: AP reported that Trump attacked the credibility “of his own FBI.” Question: Does not attacking one’s “own” convey stupidity, if not outright betrayal?

• Dec. 5: AP reporters cite a host of  “Trump confidents, Trump associates, a person familiar with the situation, and two close allies” to help convey White House fear, chaos and disfunction. Notes: how trustworthy and, therefore, objective is the use of so many unnamed sources?  And, if these actually spilled some beans, is there not a more troubling story here, i.e., how supposedly loyal federal employees betrayed their president!  (But hold on, did AP unwittingly make a solid case for “draining the swamp?!”).

• And Dec. 6. AP attributes a touch of recklessness as Trump forges ahead with plans to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition… .” True, the article describes this opposition in detail, as it should. But its use of the apocalyptic “despite” fails the objectivity test, implies that Trump may have gone too far, judges that diplomatic, if not military risks may outweigh his chances of success.  Years ago, the reader would have been left to decide such risk for himself.

If one must, then call the president unlikable, a snobbish braggart, a self-important bigot and  reckless fool! But save it  for the Opinion page. If one page can’t hold it all, add a second. Otherwise,  the gentle reader, who looks to that paper for objective reporting, must take with a large grain of salt whatever lies outside the Opinion page, must exercise the same hyper-critical discernment while listening, say, to Hannity or Limbaugh, or to the left-wing denizens of CNN and MSNBC. This is an issue where confidence and trust are at stake.

I am by no means equating current front page reporting with Nazi (or Communist) propaganda.  There are considerable differences in degree. However, the fascists of old and some of today’s front page reporters do occupy the same path of non-objectivity and distortion. At the present rate of decline, American front page journalism could soon become truly nefarious.  The simple coloring of the news, described above,  is a slippery slope.

Richard Hoover, a retired Foreign Service officer, resides in southern Warren County.