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The last 36 hours of news prove that “fairness” further poisons politics

Our current flurry of news has been a crash course in how the pretense of objectivity only leaves us further away from actual fairness.

The last 36 hours of news prove that “fairness” further poisons politics
[Photos: Bet_Noire/iStock, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Joshua Roberts/Getty Images]

What is happening?

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No, seriously, what is happening right now? As I sit here, typing this, another member of the elite media, or an entire legacy outlet, has probably found yet another way to bend over backward to show Donald Trump that they are not in the tank for Joe Biden.

Against the backdrop of a historic Supreme Court nomination hearing that could change the judicial course of the country for at least a generation, the past 36 hours have felt like a warp-speed media merry-go-round with bad-faith chain saws conveniently positioned at neck level.

Let’s collect our severed heads from the floor to take a glance back.

First, the New York Post served up a laughably janky story about the “secret emails” that comprise a “smoking gun” supposedly confirming then-VP Joe Biden peddling influence in Ukraine. The bombshell report involves a laptop purportedly discovered in a Delaware repair shop, it was aided along by perpetually embroiled Trump cohorts Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon, and its authenticity remains unverified. Agenda-free media outlets reporting on it would do well to provide at least some of that context when amplifying the ostensible bombshell.

Needless to say, that did not happen. Before Twitter took the debatable step of making the New York Post piece unavailable, marquee reporters like Maggie Haberman of The New York Times credulously tweeted it out as legitimate news, and Jake Sherman of Politico pointed out on Twitter that, mere hours after the story broke, Biden’s camp hadn’t responded to it yet. (They have since issued a firm denial.)

Meanwhile, over at Axios, one of the morning’s articles compared the number of questions Biden has taken from reporters over the past six weeks with the number Trump has taken, in an effort to present Biden as the least scrutinized front-runner in presidential horse-race history.

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Considering that the president, who was impeached for trying to dig up dirt on Biden, attacks his opponent hourly and has at his disposal an entire right-wing media empire that encompasses the most popular news network on TV, along with fringe outlets like OANN and whatever the hell Turning Point USA is—it might be safe to say that Biden faces some scrutiny. Also, the number of questions Trump has fielded doesn’t really matter when many of the questions come from Judge Jeanine Pirro and basically ask how he manages to still do his job so well, what with the fake news media out for blood. And furthermore, when it’s White House journalists asking him questions, he frequently gives evasive, rambling answers or just lies. What could possibly be derived from comparing the number of times he does so with the number of questions Biden has taken?

The only conceivable reason for Axios to run this story is to help burnish its both-sides credentials after Jonathan Swan’s flabbergasting interview from August, an out-and-out disaster for Trump.

What happened next, however, was real nuclear-grade both-sides stuff.

Last week, the Presidential Debate Commission formally canceled its second scheduled debate, which was to be conducted town-hall style, after Trump refused to participate in the virtual format that was necessitated by the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Originally, Trump’s forfeit meant that Biden would have a solo network-televised town hall instead of a second interruption-fest with Trump.

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It was an unambiguous win, and one he’d come by honestly. But Trump refused to settle for claiming the sanctimonious high ground of having taken his spike ball and gone home. Biden will now have to compete with a Trump town hall that will take place in an overlapping time slot on NBC.

After a full day of news stories questioning Twitter’s censoring of the New York Post story, all of which of course have the Streisand Effect of driving people to that story, NBC News head Cesar Conde has responded to the pronounced backlash over the network’s town hall—a backlash partially driven by former NBC stars such as Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

“Our decision is motivated only by fairness, not business considerations,” Conde said, possibly while lighting up a money-filled cigar using a flaming bill.

His statement is paradoxical, though. In the world of media, the performance of fairness is a business consideration. Whether it’s trying to maintain future access to the president and his surrogates, avoiding their wrath on Twitter, or just riding the gravy train of a ratings bonanza, there’s a lot to be gained in pretending that both campaigns are playing by the same rules and deserve to be covered in the same way.

Of course, one would think that, by now, the entire media industry would understand that, in Trump’s eyes, the only people who play fair are suckers.

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