The Acton Institute, 98 E. Fulton St. in downtown Grand Rapids, is a think tank whose mission is to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles.
Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, spoke recently to a capacity audience inside the Acton Institute's Mark Murray Auditorium. She said the media repeatedly demonstrates it is out of touch with the time-honored values of the majority of its dwindling audience that looks askance at the veracity of its reporting.
Citing polls, studies and antidotes, Hemingway said the media consistently demonstrates it sees its role as trying to influence the public, rather than to simply inform them.
Media hostile to values
The public's trust of the media, particularly among Republican voters, ebbed low before the 2016 presidential election, and it's sunk even lower now that Donald Trump is the nation's 45th President.
"Sixteen percent last year among Republicans trusted newspapers," said Hemingway. "That's down to 13 percent this year. Facts are easy to manipulate and truth is much more difficult to attain.
"I think the press has been accorded a variety of perks and privileges in this country for hundreds of years based on the belief that seeking and speaking truth are necessary aspects of liberty," continued Hemingway. "The media (today) have shown themselves hostile to the values and ideas many Americans hold to and they're not much good with facts, much less truth."
Roy Moore relevant example
Hemingway cited comments Meet The Press moderator Chuck Todd made following the election of Roy Moore, as a salient example.
Moore is a Republican nominee who will face off against Democratic challenger Doug Jones in a special election Dec. 12 to fill a U.S. Senate seat vacated when President Trump appointed Jeff Sessions U.S. Attorney General. Moore is a Christian who opposes LGBT rights, Muslims serving in Congress and believes Christian values should shape public policy.
"Chuck Todd was talking about Roy Moore who said 'Christian conservative' doesn't begin to describe him," said Hemingway, adding that Todd said: "If you don't understand just how folks in the GOP are freaked out by what that means, then you don't know Roy Moore. First off, he doesn't appear to believe in the Constitution as written. Then (Meet The Press) goes to a clip with Moore saying our rights don't come from the Constitution, they don't come from the Bill of Rights. They come from almighty God."
There was a time when such a statement was frequently inserted in presidential inaugural speeches without anyone blinking an eye, said Hemingway, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Los Angeles Times, and other publications.
"Todd said this is just a taste of his very fundamentalist views," continued Hemingway. "I couldn't believe it when I was watching this. This is a guy who runs an important show, Meet The Press, he's been in journalism for decades, he's definitely a media elite, and he apparently doesn't know or understand where our rights come from."
Subtle issues cause for concern
But it's not just overt bias seeping into news media's reporting that's cause for concern, according to Hemingway.
"It's even on subtle issues people have begun to pick up on, marches that are celebrated and covered at length while other marches are downplayed like the annual pro-life marches," she said. "Acting hysterically when natural disasters occur during Republican presidencies while giving the benefit of the doubt to oil spills or natural disasters during Democratic presidencies."
None of this is good for the public or journalists.
"So much of the population no longer believes the media should be treated deferentially, much less shape much less control public opinion," said Hemingway.
"It's actually not a great situation," she added. "It's very fraught with opportunities and dangers. It's fraught because you need a strong media to have a functioning civil society, so you can hold government officials accountable, have people talk to each other across divides and can be trusted when you face serious dangers like from abroad and that's not what we have now."
Admit making mistakes
So what's the answer to the media's loss of credibility? Hemingway suggested a good start would be for members of the media to take a hard look at their biases and humbly admit they need to do a more objective job of reporting.
"I wish we would get to admitting mistakes fully," said Hemingway. "It would have been great to see full-throated mea culpas after last year's presidential election and see an understanding of what had been done poorly there. We should see real diversity in the newsrooms and you can see the lack of that voice in a lot of newsrooms.
"If we want to hold the powerful, more accountable, if we want to build community, if we want to be taken seriously, I would love to see the media repair our damaged credibility and I think it could happen and I wish it could happen soon."