Published with permission of PRESS RUN, Eric Boehlert’s must-read media newsletter. Subscribe here.
Anxious to engage in Both Sides whitewashing of journalism failures from the Trump era, some prominent journalists are lashing out at liberals for having the nerve to criticize news coverage of the Biden White House. Leading the defensive charge is New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who penned a condescending harangue over the weekend, claiming liberals are hypocrites for finding fault with the press when a Democrat is in the Oval Office.
Embracing a straw man argument that Democrats "lionized" the media during the Trump years because they detested him so much, Dowd insists the left is guilty of hypocrisy because they can't take it when the media's critical lens focuses on Democrats. "The truth is, many on the left don’t understand what a reporter is," Dowd lectured Times readers, most of whom know exactly what a reporter is.
Dowd's scolding was immediately picked up by other elite journalists on Twitter, who lent their voices to the idea that liberals don't understand how journalism works, and mocked Democrats for thinking the press should not hold their party accountable. (Spoiler: Zero Democrats actually think that.) By embracing that absurd claim, journalists feel free to dismiss criticism from the left, because they say it's not based in reality. That's a convenient dodge and it's also delusional.
First off, if Dowd thinks liberals spent four years lionizing the New York Times for its Trump coverage, then the Beltway bubble she lives in is even more impenetrable and remote than I thought. Progressives for years were rightly fuming over the Times' forced timidity when covering Trump — the paper's failure to call out his lies, its never-ending attempt to normalize his radical behavior, and the daily's relentless, fawning coverage of Trump voters, who were depicted as the true voice of authentic America — not the backbone for a looming insurrection.
Secondly, the idea that after four years of watching the Trump media circus, liberals think Beltway journalists are on their side, as Dowd claims, is beyond comical. Liberals understand perfectly well how this game is played and are under no illusions that the Times is doing the Democrats' bidding. In fact, quite the opposite.
This is the newspaper that waged war for eight years against the Bill Clinton presidency. The newspaper that mocked Democratic nominee Al Gore nearly every day of the 2000 campaign. The newspaper that co-sponsored the GOP's Iraq War, with some of the worst pre-war reporting in modern history. The newspaper that published all kinds of sexist attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2008 and 2016.
The newspaper that on the eve of Election Day 2016 reported there were "no links" between Russia and the Trump campaign. And the newspaper that often prized access over truth-telling during the Trump years, publishing a puff piece on his press secretary last year while she lied without pause about a public health crisis. (The Times politely glossed over when the spokeswoman had claimed, "We will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.")
So yes, we understand the Times' institutional mindset. Like two years ago when, not having read a single page of Robert Mueller's report on his Russia investigation, the Times rushed to echo GOP spin that Trump had been exonerated and that Mueller had provided Trump with a "powerful boost" toward reelection.
With a change of command at the White House, liberals also know that after depicting Trump, a pro-corporate millionaire crook, as a "populist," it was ridiculous and insulting for the Times to try to paint Biden as an elitist, just days after he moved into the White House. It was equally dopey for the Times to get played by Sen. Mitch McConnell last month by reporting the Republican Senate Minority leader was somehow in favor of Trump's impeachment. (McConnell ended up voting three different times against it.)
The incident that sparked Dowd's tsk-tsking column came last week when Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim was reporting on Neera Tanden's nomination to be director of the Office of Management and Budget and the pushback Tanden has received from senators regarding her 'mean tweets' from the past. Kim took time to track down a four-year-old tweet Tanden had posted about Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) to show the Republican and get a response. A picture of the incident traveled around Twitter, and lots of progressives wondered if that was the proper role for a reporter during a confirmation hearing. Beltway journalists insisted they had showed GOP senators lots of Trump tweets over the previous four years in order to get reaction. But of course, those were real-time tweets, not reporters digging up missives from years ago in order to get a response from a senator from the opposition party.
The Post reported Kim was the target of racist and sexists comments from social media trolls, which of course is never okay and is always condemned. But I didn't see any prominent liberals, Democratic members of Congress, or White House staffers insult the reporter, call her un-American or demand she be fired, the way Republicans and the Trump clan certainly would have if the roles had been reversed. The point being, legitimate criticism of a Post reporter from progressives created an instant rallying effect from the Beltway press in a way that unhinged and dangerous criticism from the right under Trump rarely did.
And seriously, liberals raising genuine concerns about the Post's coverage of an OMB budget director is what set Dowd off? That was her a-ha moment to start lecturing progressives about the role of the press in a free society? Talk about being thin-skinned.
Safe to say that Dowd's oversized reaction proves that progressives hit a nerve with media elites early in the Biden term; that the liberal critique of the press is dead-on and journalists are perturbed they're being held accountable after their collective Trump debacle.
UPDATED: The Post’s Kim responded to Press Run today. Sharing it here: