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Fake News Faces Identity Crisis after Failing to Discredit Election Skeptics

'It's not a question of banning them. You just don't want them on the air because they're not going to be a good guest...'

(Headline USA) Former Hardball host Matt Negrin’s campaign to ban “election deniers” from television news failed to achieve his original goal: to prevent a significant number of Americans from believing that Donald Trump didn’t lose the presidential election to Joe Biden.

Instead, it has provoked a persistent debate in overtly leftist media over the role of political journalists, along with illustrating how television news and the politicians who depend upon its cameras have changed.

While long trending in the direction of overt bias, which gained steam in the post-Watergate era, the industry en masse shed every semblance of objectivity following Trump’s 2016 victory. The result was a disgraceful parade of media malpractice throughout the Republican president’s first term in office.

Some, such as Time magazine, have even acknowledged joining a “cabal” of institutions that conspired to oust the iconoclastic leader.

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Others, such as New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, have admitted to disregarding impactful coverage of issues like China’s role in unleashing the coronavirus pandemic, simply because Trump came out in support of it.

Negrin, who is now producer at Comedy Central’s Daily Show, wrote a December column for the Washington Post saying that TV journalists who invited Republicans on the air should begin by asking if they believed Biden won the election. If they don’t say yes, he demanded, the interview should end.

He’s aggressively continued the effort on his personal Twitter account, saying mainstream news programs that book officeholders who voted against accepting election results are helping to spread misinformation.

Conservatives, long victimized by the leftist echo-chamber’s brazen efforts to control the news cycle and political messaging, contend that the opposite is true.

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They point to failures—including dishonest coverage of Trump’s now-discredited Russia-collusion scandal, the Hunter Biden laptop, the coronavirus and the war in Afghanistan—among the many recent examples that show partisan leftist disinformation thriving in the mainstream media.

Earlier this year, a conservative watchdog, Project Veritas, even caught on tape a top CNN producer admitting that the network had a propagandist anti-Trump agenda.

Indeed, many of the industry’s most obstreperous critics of conservative coverage—such as Negrin—make no bones of concealing their own political leanings and ethical conflicts of interest.

Among the ways that left-wing journalists have continued to manipulate coverage is through the false framing of issues, and their own bias problem is no exception.

Outlets like the Associated Press refuse to consider the evidence validating vote-fraud concerns. Instead, they paint it as a choice between ignoring skeptics entirely or subjecting them to harsh scrutiny to reach the inevitable, predetermined goal of invalidating their perspective.

Unsurprisingly, two Sunday morning hosts for rival—and ideologically opposite—networks, CNN’s Jake Tapper and Fox News’s Chris Wallace, revealed themselves as polar opposites on the point.

Tapper, like most at the leftist outlet where he works, has worn his politics on his sleeve since assuming his current role. Wallace, meanwhile, although often rumored to lean leftward in his personal life, has kept his views close to the vest at the mostly conservative network.

While it’s not a formal policy, Tapper said he hasn’t booked election deniers on CNN’s State of the Union and on his weekday show, The Lead. But it is unclear whether any would be willing to go on the network regardless of his booking policies.

“It’s a discussion I think everyone in the news media should be having,” Tapper told Politico.

“Should those who shared the election lie that incited the deadly attack on the Capitol and that continues to erode confidence in our democracy be invited onto our airwaves to continue to spread the Big Lie?” he editorialized. “Can our viewers count on these politicians to tell the truth about other topics?”

Wallace, of Fox News Sunday, has said he’s willing to talk to all sides and has no rules about the order of questions. “I don’t think moral posturing goes well with newsgathering,” Wallace said in a statement last month.

When Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., appeared on his show Feb. 28, Wallace asked whether Biden won the election “fair and square.” Absolutely, Scott replied.

Yet, led by Trump and supported by a trove of witness affidavits and other evidence, suspicion about the 2020 results has remained strong.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken six months after the election found 29% of Americans, and 66% of Republicans surveyed said Biden was not legitimately elected.

Confronting deniers is not a subject many in the business are eager to address publicly. No one on NBC’s Meet the Press, ABC’s This Week or CBS’ Face the Nation, for example, would speak to The Associated Press about it.

The cancel-culture impulses even within the Fifth Estate, long considered the gatekeeper of a well-informed public, marks a far cry from the pre-Obama era.

The issue may also be linked, in some ways, to the Great Recession, in which many independent, non-corporate newspapers and other media outlets caved to the pressures of a Google- and social-media-driven news paradigm.

Prior to that, political and media institutions considered compromise and consensus in the marketplace of ideas to be democratic virtues of the highest order.

Even those who were decidedly leftist in their personal views still considered it a duty and obligation as journalists to have the other side represented.

Tim Russert, the former Meet the Press host was the acknowledged king of Sunday morning political talk shows before his death in 2008.

His former producer said Russert believed in exposing ideas that many found repugnant, such as a memorable 1991 interview with former KKK leader David Duke, who was running for governor of Louisiana.

But Betsy Fischer Martin, executive producer of Meet the Press from 2002 to 2013, wonders how many such opportunities exist now, given the polarization of media networks themselves.

“It’s human nature in many ways that you want to pick a program that is going to give you more of a platform than a tough interview,” said Fischer Martin, executive director of the Women in Politics Institute at American University.

Booking skeptics is less of an issue when many don’t want to be booked in the first place.

The current Meet the Press moderator, Chuck Todd, alluded to this while writing for Politico in January.

Todd was one of the first leftist figures in the media to suggest blacklisting guests who deviated from leftist dogma, declaring that he would refuse to give a platform to climate-change skeptics.

But he now complains that many GOP senators refuse to themselves available for interviews.

Unless they need to reach a broader electorate, many Republican officeholders don’t see the point of such faceoffs, said Alex Conant, a GOP consultant and founding partner of Firehouse Strategies in Washington.

The boutique public-relations agency does not explicitly mention politics in its own marketing, but one of its founding vice presidents, Nick Pasternak, gloated in a Business Insider op-ed that he was “leaving the Republican Party for good” over its support of Trump.

“If you’re a conservative, the truth is, you don’t care too much about liberal voters,” Conant said. “They’re never going to support you, and there’s not much benefit to subjecting yourself to a tough interview.”

Frank Sesno, a former CNN Washington bureau chief, lands on the side of interviewing skeptics. Yet he wondered whether that would be worthwhile if questions are ignored, talking points spouted or empty fights instigated.

“It’s not a question of banning them,” said Sesno, professor at George Washington University. “You just don’t want them on the air because they’re not going to be a good guest.”

But again, those challenges cut both ways when those running the shows have their own agendas and use their platforms solely to bait guests into their falsely-framed rhetorical traps.

ABC News’ Terry Moran grew exasperated last month in repeatedly and fruitlessly asking GOP spokesman Paris Dennard whether he accepted the results of the 2020 election as legitimate. “It’s a yes or no question,” Moran said.

Biden was president, Dennard said. He wouldn’t go further. Moran kept trying, asking whether he was scared to answer or didn’t believe democracy worked last November.

“You can be an American citizen who can accept the fact that Joe Biden is president as well as being concerned about election integrity,” Dennard said.

Likewise, Todd’s May 11 interview with Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, devolved into a fight after Crenshaw was asked about his support for a constitutionally sound effort to challenge the election outcome, as Democrats often have done in the past without objection from the media.

Crenshaw diplomatically said it was “time to move on” and attacked the “liberal and pro-Democratic media” for continuing to bring up the subject.

“Don’t start that,” Todd said cattily. “There’s nothing lazier than that.”

The interview soon ended.

“I understand where the ‘invite and confront’ people are coming from,” said Jay Rosen, a New York University professor and author of the PressThink blog. “But in practice, the confrontation with a determined fabulist or denialist rarely works out to the viewer’s advantage.”

Rosen, who fancies himself an expert in journalistic objectivity, also is a regular contributor to far-left publications including the Huffington Post, Salon and the Nation.

Few interviewers have the ability to effectively expose hypocrisy on live television, Negrin complained with little self-awareness.

Even when a journalist can, politicians will take from the invitation to come on the air a message that they can say whatever they want and will still have a platform.

The online provocateur said that he’s been pleased that television producers and hosts are at least thinking about these issues.

“It’s been [nearly] six months since the insurrection, eight months since the election, and I think a lot of hosts just want to get back to normal—interviewing Republicans, interviewing Democrats—that’s what they do,” Negrin claimed. “But, to me, it’s important to remember what happened.”

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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