If there's one thing that has kept President Trump's base intact in the face of all his controversies, broken promises and falsehoods, it's the pro-Trump media. For those who would rather these things didn't sully their desired version of the president and/or think the mainstream media oversells all of them, there are outlets just waiting to provide a more curated news experience. The result is an echo chamber of Good Trump News that diminishes all the bad news.
But rarely do you see these outlets so readily admit to the game they're playing.
The New York Times is out with a new profile of the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, a figure who like so many others has risen to prominence in the Trump era by offering a softer touch when covering the administration. That softer touch, naturally, earns him detractors who accuse him of access journalism and only pitching softballs at the president.
Brody's response to that criticism is telling and worth dissecting:
“The media’s version of tough questions and my version of tough questions are different, based on the audience we serve,” he said. “Our audience isn’t going to want me to really ask about Russia or Stormy Daniels. They are just not going to want me to ask.”
A couple thoughts.
What's perhaps most notable is what Brody isn't saying: That Russia and Stormy Daniels aren't newsworthy. He's saying, instead, that his audience doesn't want to hear about them. Those are two very different things. The former would be a value judgment; the latter is a business decision.
And this isn't how journalism is supposed to work. Yes, to some degree every journalist is covering things that readers will want to know about, but journalism is also about uncovering problems that mass audiences may or may not care about. Just because 80 percent of the country or 80 percent of your audience doesn't like the story doesn't mean it's not an actual story. Imagine if MSNBC came out and said their audience didn't want to hear about Benghazi, so it wasn't going to cover it? That's a horrible philosophy.
It would be one thing for Brody to say he and CBN should cover these stories in a more credulous and less-hyperventilating manner, but he's arguing for not covering them at all because viewers simply don't want to hear it.
Which brings us to our second — and arguably most stunning — part of his quote: The idea that his viewers don't want to hear about these particular stories. You could certainly make that argument about the Russia investigation. Maybe it's overblown and there is no collusion after all. But Stormy Daniels? This is a guy who works for a TV network focused on news for the evangelical community, and he's suggesting a story about paying off a porn star accusing the president of an extramarital affair just isn't of concern to his audience? One of the Ten Commandments is at issue here.
As The Fix's Eugene Scott has written, evangelical leaders have largely given Trump a pass on the alleged Daniels affair. But a plurality of white evangelicals believe the women who say Trump cheated on his wife with them. And even if you believe in forgiveness, there are real legal issues at play here. This is a story with both a moral and legal component, and a news network that champions morality says it just isn't worthy of its time.
If anything, the reason Trump supporters don't want to hear about this is because it's potentially bad news — not because it's not a real story. And as long as there are outlets that are willing to not give Trump backers the news they don't want to hear, they're going to have a skewed sense of what's important and what the real issues are. Ignoring certain stories because readers don't like them is exactly what conservatives have long criticized the mainstream media for. And it's as bad for the goose as it is for the gander.