I didn’t have cable on Election Day 2016, but my TV package did include CNN, and so that’s what we watched in my house that night. As the night progressed and it was clear that Donald Trump was about to pull off a stunning upset, it was amusing to see the election night panel desperately trying to explain to the audience Hillary’s potential paths to victory. It was impossible for them to hide their shock and dismay. Van Jones looked on the verge of tears, and I’m surprised none of them spontaneously combusted.
Without a doubt, CNN has repeatedly proved itself to be an anti-Trump network. They were before the election, they were on Election Day, and they have been ever since. Unlike past Republican presidents who have been treated unfairly by the mainstream media, President Trump has not been shy about calling them out on it.
For example, this tweet from August of this year:
The hatred and extreme bias of me by @CNN has clouded their thinking and made them unable to function. But actually, as I have always said, this has been going on for a long time. Little Jeff Z has done a terrible job, his ratings suck, & AT&T should fire him to save credibility!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 30, 2018
“Unable to function” is probably an understatement. As Trump continued his attacks on the media, particularly CNN, the narrative of a constitutional crisis evolved. Trump criticizing the media, particularly CNN, was somehow an attack on the free press! Can you imagine? Calling out bias is apparently unconstitutional in the eyes of the media talking heads.
No one will deny the adversarial relationship Trump has with the mainstream media. But, as I wrote about a couple months ago, Barack Obama actually was an enemy of the free press—even though they were mostly on his side, pushing whatever narrative the Obama White House wanted. Trump has done nothing to attack the free press as an institution. Has he singled out CNN for their biased reporting? Absolutely. But, is that any different than Barack Obama’s relationship with Fox News?
From the very beginning, the Obama administration saw Fox News as an adversary, not a news network. “We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent,” White House communications director Anita Dunn told the New York Times in 2009. “As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” Michael Clemente, then a senior executive of Fox News, accused the Obama White House of being “in campaign mode,” and said that Fox News was “the target of their attack mentality.” Not once did the New York Times hint or even suggest that the Obama White House targeting a legitimate news organization was an “attack on free press” or a “violation of the First Amendment,” even after Ms. Dunn explained that they would likely not have Obama do interviews on Fox News in the future. “We’re not going to legitimize them as a news organization,” she said.
Fox News did not sue the White House.
But that’s not all. Barack Obama himself repeatedly called out the network during his presidency. Here is a small selection of quotes made by Barack Obama attacking Fox News throughout his presidency:
I’ve got one television station that is entirely devoted to attacking my administration…That’s a pretty big megaphone. You’d be hard pressed if you watched the entire day to find a positive story about me on that front.
The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with. It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world.
But we need you to spread the word. But you don’t have to take my word for it. If you talk to somebody who says, well, I don’t know, I was watching FOX News and they said this was horrible — you can say, you know what, don’t take my word for it, go on the website.
There’s a reason fewer Republicans you hear them running about Obamacare — because while good, affordable health care might seem like a fanged threat to the freedom of the American people on Fox News — it’s turns out it’s working pretty well in the real world.
I mean, I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu — they will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. They’re all like, ‘I don’t want to work. I just want a free Obamaphone,’ or whatever.
I want to repeat — because somehow this never shows up on Fox News. I want to repeat — because I’ve said it a lot, unwaveringly, all the time: Our law enforcement officers do outstanding work in an incredibly difficult and dangerous job.
So this should not be a close election, but it will be. And the reason it will be is not because of Hillary’s flaws, but rather because, structurally, we’ve become a very polarized society. And if all you’re doing is watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh and reading some of the blogs that are churning out a lot of misinformation on a regular basis, then it’s very hard for you to think that you’re going to vote for somebody who you’ve been told is taking the country in the wrong direction.
…if I watched Fox News I wouldn’t vote for me. I understand. If I was listening to Rush Limbaugh, I’d say, man, that’s terrible. Fortunately, I have more diverse sources of information.
The Obama White House acknowledged early on that they were at war with Fox News, and for eight years, Obama and members of his administration regularly demonized Fox News, attacking the network, refusing to go on the network for interviews, and even calling on Fox News reporters less frequently during press conferences. Major Garrett, the Fox News White House Correspondent during the Obama administration, said that while they never tried to pull his press pass, “they had this sort of arms-length relationship to Fox and tried to demonize it on a daily basis.” He added, “So that’s another part of American history and journalism in the White House press corps I think at least should be noted at this moment.”
Despite that, Obama’s attacks on the free press, and Fox News, in particular, were not treated to endless coverage of how Barack Obama was creating a constitutional crisis. Criticizing a network is nothing compared to a president who spied on and threatened journalists, aggressively pursued whistleblowers, and proposed government monitors in newsrooms they way Obama did.
But, hey… Obama was cool, right?