We are finally beating ISIS, but media won't give Trump credit

We are finally beating ISIS, but media won't give Trump credit
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ISIS — and particularly its expanding caliphate — used to be a major news story in this country. Defeating the terror army that largely stretched across Syria and Iraq was a major campaign topic in 2016.  

So one would think, after the ISIS de facto capital of Raqqa was liberated from the terror group by U.S-backed Syrian and Kurdish forces on Tuesday, that the story would dominate news coverage. 

But it didn't. Not even close. 

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Need proof? Check out the breakdown of 48 questions asked during Wednesday's White House press briefing, the first to be held since Raqqa fell less than 24 hours prior. 

 

But before doing so, please note that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made the liberation of Raqqa the focus of her statement to the press before the Q&A session began. 

"As many of you will recall, one of President Trump's core campaign promises was to defeat ISIS. With the stunning fall of Mosul in June, and now with ISIS nearly eradicated from Raqqa, it is clear that ISIS's so-called caliphate is crumbling across Iraq and Syria," Sanders said. 

"This eminent victory by the global coalition and our brave service members comes at a high cost," she continued, "particularly to the Syrian Democratic Forces who suffered many casualties as they fought to liberate their own country from the oppression of ISIS."

So that was what Sanders attempted to make the administration's lede. And it's a worthy one. That's not saying it should dictate what reporters should ask, of course, but one would think the topic would be broached in the form of a question in at least the first 40 questions asked. 

It did not. 

Here's what the White House press corps decided the narrative would be on Wednesday instead. 

Topic most covered: controversy over President Trump's delay in contacting service members killed in action after an ambush in Niger/feud with Democratic congresswoman over remarks made to one KIA soldier's family. That got 25 questions total out of 48 total questions asked. 

Coming in second were questions on tax reform/tax cuts (6 questions), followed by health care (3), California wildfires (2), James Comey (2), 20-week abortion ban (1), Fed chair appointment (1), opioid epidemic (1), renewable fuel standards during conversation with Iowa governor (1), NFL anthem protests (1), bump-stock ban (1), Puerto Rico (1), NAFTA (1), Kurdish plan for independence from Iraq (1). 

The 48rd and final question concerned the ISIS fall in Raqqa. It came from Trey Yingst of One America News Network, a right-leaning cable news network headquartered in San Diego.  

"You opened up at the top discussing the liberation of Raqqa," Yingst noted. "So my question for you is: How does the president envision future U.S. involvement in both Syria and Iraq, post-ISIS?"

Add it all up, and 52 percent of the questions asked of the press secretary focused on the president's calls to fallen soldiers and a fight with a Democratic congresswoman over one call where both sides dispute what was said. 

Meanwhile, just one of 48 focused on an actual major battle won over what is considered the most dangerous and widespread terror organization in the world, by taking back its central command center in Syria.   

As Sanders noted, defeating ISIS (or as the president once put it during the campaign, "bomb the hell out of ISIS") was one of Trump's central themes during the campaign. 

We keep hearing about how Trump hasn't accomplished anything in the first nine months of his presidency. From a legislative perspective, that's absolutely correct in terms of big-ticket items such as health care, tax reform and major funding for a wall along the southern border.  

But this victory over ISIS in Raqqa — and Mosul before it, Iraq's second-largest city that was taken by the caliphate in 2014 — are huge accomplishments almost nobody in the political media landscape, outside of conservative outlets, are crediting the president with. 

Former members of the Obama administration say the result is due to a plan the 44th president put into place shortly before leaving office. But it's difficult to dismiss the momentum in military advances over ISIS witnessed under the current administration. 

"I totally changed rules of engagement. I totally changed our military, I totally changed the attitudes of the military and they have done a fantastic job," Trump told radio host Chris Plante on Tuesday. "ISIS is now giving up, they are giving up, they are raising their hands, they are walking off. Nobody has ever seen that before." 

And while the president has been known to exaggerate, it is absolutely true that more than 1,000 ISIS surrendered in Raqqa two weeks ago.

“The speed at which the enemy gave up surprised me,” Lt. Gen. Paul Funk told USA Today by phone during an Oct. 5 phone interview from Baghdad. 

If you think the American public isn't noticing that priorities of the press are out of whack, think again.  

Per a Politico/Morning Consult poll released earlier this week, 46 percent of those surveyed believe the media fabricates stories about the president and the administration. 

Those are stunning numbers when considering 72 percent of the public trusted the media in 1976 in the post-Watergate era. Today, Just 11 percent of Republicans believe the Fourth Estate doesn't engage in story fabrication.

Along party lines, the recent poll number not so surprisingly jumps to 76 percent when self-identified Republicans are asked if the media just makes stuff up about the president. Given the almost complete and total reliance on unnamed sources when breaking palace-intrigue stories, it's hard to argue against that perception in many cases. 

For its part, Pew also uncovered an equally-stunning number earlier this month in its research around coverage of the Trump administration when it found just 5 percent of coverage was positive in its first 60 days since taking office. 

For context, 42 percent of coverage of the previous administration in its first 60 days was positive, or 840 percent higher than Trump's.  

ISIS goes down in Raqqa to U.S.-backed forces.  

The de facto capital of the terror group is no more.    

Those who swore to fight to the death come out with their hands up. 

The White House holds a press briefing less than 24 hours after the news breaks. 

And of the 48 questions asked of the press secretary, just one, the last one, is asked about it.  

If that isn't a classic textbook example of skewed priorities from an industry that is looked upon with distrust and disdain by many at this moment, I'm not sure what is.  

Joe Concha (@JoeConchaTV) is a media reporter for The Hill.