Do you feel that you're being told?: As our nation has evolved into two warring tribes, then, at least to some extent, so has our upper-end press corps.
To what extent might we now have two tribalized press corps, neither of which is devoted to telling us "the whole truth?"
On Sunday morning, we began to wonder about that, specifically with respect to events in Portland and Seattle. That first glimmer went down like this:
First, we read Mike Baker's report in the New York Times about events in Seattle. He seemed to describe a lot of violent conduct on the part of protesters there, if only (at times) through the voice of police chief Carmen Best..
A few hours later, we read this report in Slate, which was instantly sourced, in its first paragraph, to the Times report. Forgive us, but it almost seemed that the Slate report had been "sanitized"—that it had largely disappeared Baker's references to that violent conduct.
This morning, we've read Jonathan's Chait post about Trump's political motives in Portland. Chait says that Trump's political play there has failed.
We aren't real sure that's the case; we're scared that Chait could be wrong. Mainly, though, we were struck by this passage:
CHAIT (7/29/20): Trump’s ploy has not worked at all. Indeed, he and his supporters have been reduced to complaining that the biased news media is showing images of nonviolent protesters rather than the troops-versus-anarchist battles Trump longs to put on display.Conservatives have only "a germ of a point" about the violence?
Conservatives do have a germ of a point: Some of the protesters, especially in Portland, have destroyed or defaced property and provoked police, rather than merely demonstrating against racism and police violence. The Portland NAACP complained that “mostly white anarchists” have incited violence and diverted attention from the purpose of the protests.
Forget the fact that the NAACP has complained about the violence. We wondered if Chait had read this recent AP report.
Leave it to the AP! This past weekend, they had one reporter embedded inside the federal courthouse in Portland. Another reporter was out in the street with the protesters, the demonstrators and the tiny number of people engaging in something like violence.
Mike Balsamo was the reporter inside the federal courthouse; Gillian Flaccus was out in the street. We'll suggest that you read their full report, but an early chunk from out in the street goes exactly like this:
BALSAMO AND FLACCUS (7/27/20): At 10:15 p.m. in Portland, the protesters made their first foray into conflict: A man tried to climb the fence and was quickly arrested.Personally, we wouldn't describe the people using those lasers as "protesters." However you score that point, the report includes this chunk from inside the building a bit later on:
Thirty minutes later, the fence rocked and leaned sharply as dozens of protesters pressed their weight against it, some of them throwing their bodies against it at a running start. The fence, designed to absorb the impact from a car going up to 30 mph, undulated like a wave and tilted dangerously before springing back.
[S]mall pods of three to four protesters dressed in black circulated in the crowd, stopping every few minutes to point green laser beams in the eyes of agents posted as lookouts on porticoes on the courthouse’s upper stories. The agents above were silhouetted against the dark sky as dozens of green laser dots and a large spotlight played on the courthouse walls, projected from the back of the crowd.
Thirty minutes later, someone fired a commercial-grade firework inside the fence. Next came a flare and then protesters began using an angle grinder to eat away at the fence. A barrage of items came whizzing into the courthouse: rocks, cans of beans, water bottles, potatoes and rubber bouncy balls that cause the agents to slip and fall.
BALSAMO AND FLACCUS: The [commercial-grade] firework came whizzing over the fence so fast that the agent didn’t have time to move.We'll admit it. We don't think the Washington Post and the New York Times have been conveying this picture of what has been going on. Cable news? Perhaps even less, though our cable has been semi-down. (As of today, it's back.)
It exploded with a boom, leaving his hearing deadened and bloody gashes on both forearms. Stunned, with help from his cohorts, he stripped to his boxer shorts and a black T-shirt so his wounds could be examined and photographed for evidence.
He told his fellow agents he was more worried about his hearing than about the gouges and burns on his arms.
By the end of the night, five other federal agents would be injured, including another who got a concussion when he was hit in the head with a commercial-grade firework. One agent was hospitalized. Several agents have lingering vision problems from the lasers.
After each night of protest, they seize dozens of homemade shields, slingshots, blocks of wood and chunks of concrete.
“My friends have been hit in the head with hammers. I know people who have been shot with fireworks. It’s disgusting,” said the Deputy U.S. Marshal who’s been at the courthouse for weeks. “I’ve never thought I’d have to walk around in my office building wearing a gas mask to go sit in front of my computer.”
With that said, please try to recall what we are, and what we aren't, asking you about:
We aren't asking what you think of Donald J. Trump. We aren't asking whether most of the protesters have been peaceful. (We assume they have been.)
We aren't asking if the marshals are just getting what they deserve. We're asking a different question:
We're asking if you think we're getting a full picture of what is happening from our anti-Trump news orgs. That's the question we've asked.
By last weekend, we suspected the answer was no. Unless that AP report is wildly off-base, we'll go with a stronger no.
Conservative news orgs are heavily pushing the claim of nightly violence. They tend to say that the peaceful protesters leave at 8 P.M., and the violent anarchists take over from there.
Chait was willing to say that they "have a germ of a point." We're afraid they may have more than a germ—even that continuing violence could imaginably start to tilt perceptions in Trump's favor.
Mainly, though, our question is simple. Are we getting a full picture of what's happening in Portland from our anti-Trump sources?
More and more, concerning various topics, it seems to us that the answer tends to be no. Their work has been horrible in the past. Is there any reason to expect better performance now?