Some Self-Reflection, Please

By Erick-Woods Erickson <ewerickson@substack.com>

On CNN in May, Bill Nye announced it’d be at least two years before there was a vaccine for COVID-19. He was not alone on that network with similar pronouncements.

On MSNBC, around the same time, Dr. Irwin Redlener said it would be “impossible” to get a safe vaccine by the end of the year. Tim O’Brien at Bloomberg, in August, claimed people within the Trump Administration denied a vaccine would come this year. He said it was, “Amazingly irresponsible for Trump to be touting this in the midst of this crisis.”

Also in August, NBC News ran this fact check claiming, “Experts say the development, testing, and production of a COVID-19 vaccine for the public is still months away, and it would take a medical miracle for one to be available this year, much less before Election Day.” It was heavily recirculated.

In October, NPR ran a “fact check” stating, “None of the large trials have been completed. Top health officials say a vaccine likely won’t be widely available until mid-2021.”

My friend Drew Holden has an impressive thread on Twitter documenting these and so many more “fact checks” that there’d be no vaccine this year.

Now the very same media that said it was impossible is giving live coverage to people getting the vaccine they said was impossible and also ridiculing those who are skeptical of a vaccine coming so fast. Pay no attention to the doctor on MSNBC who said if one came this year it would be unsafe to take.

Where is the self-reflection from the media?

They got it wrong.

When President Trump moved the American Embassy to Jerusalem, commentators from CNN to MSNBC to the New York Times expressed concern that it would start a war. Instead, Israel now has diplomatic relations with the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Sudan, and more — but not just diplomatic relations. They have trade relations and business relations now too. Only six months ago, textbooks in those countries were still tearing out pages that referred to Israel.

The media has been using partisans as experts and skewing much of their coverage to be anti-Trump. The New York Times has a story out about the future of MSNBC and CNN without Trump.

I’d love it if CNN would go back to news that doesn’t wrap everything into a Trump framing or a political framing. I’m not sure that is possible. My fear is that all the networks are so dependent on Trump for their ratings that they’ll go from being reliably anti-Trump to acting as if Trump is running a shadow government with commentary from him constantly. I think that would be both unfair to President-Elect Biden and also unfair to President Trump.

But there is clearly a transactional relationship between the President and the press and I think the press will have a hard time breaking their addiction.

It is not just those networks.

On Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, and much of conservative talk radio, experts are coming on to reliably say the election was stolen. They have ignored that the Trump campaign hasn’t gone to court to make those claims.

In Michigan, the Trump team had a Trump-appointed judge who allowed them to call any experts they wanted to make any case about fraud that they claimed. When given the opportunity, the Trump team declined and even stipulated to the fact that there was no fraud.

So the pro-Trump media moved to a supposed “forensic audit” in one county in Michigan that was actually a notoriously wrong person making more wrong claims as an expert witness for the Trump team. This is the man who confused counties in Minnesota for counties in Michigan who nows claims software that doesn’t even exist on the voting machines in Michigan was responsible for stealing votes. That Michigan county will hand count their ballots not to dispel the claims. The conservative press ignored the counterarguments and actual facts that rebut the man’s wild claims.

Will any of the media employ any self-reflection? Both sides are using “experts” whose credentials are based on whether they hate or love Donald Trump. Every network is obsessed with coverage for or against him.

It is going to be too much for the networks to go cold turkey without President Trump. Hopefully, they will engage in some self-reflection and begin the twelve steps away from their addiction that requires them to make everything political.

We need an honest press in the country and I don’t think we’re getting much of it from anywhere these days.

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