Media malpractice created the 'Helsinki moment'

Media malpractice created the 'Helsinki moment'
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“Treason!” This isn’t just for the Quislings and Benedict Arnolds anymore. It’s the political term du jour utilized in a reckless and openly partisan manner. President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment Trump appears to set personal record for tweets in a day MORE’s comments at the Helsinki summit, while deserving of criticism, are not a capital offense, while treason literally is.

Unfortunately, many of the valid critiques from across the political spectrum are watered down by two years of overdramatic news coverage of Trump and Republicans in general. By treating everything as a crisis, journalists and pundits have accidentally conditioned many Americans to ignore their coverage when there is an actual blunder.

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The president’s statements were a mess, and his effort to clarify them the next day was unconvincing. Standing next to Vladimir Putin, the president of the United States had a clear opening to challenge Russian interference in the 2016 election and across the world, but he didn’t.

Along with cleareyed looks at the president’s errors, we often got hyperbole. The reaction after Trump’s joint press conference with Putin stretched the normal bounds of discourse into McCarthyite territory. Former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanWhere was American counterintelligence? Krystal Ball: Yang's MSNBC boycott shows network has 'officially lost the left' Trump predicts 'historic' conclusions from DOJ's watchdog report on 'spying' MORE and Democratic House Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money: Lawmakers strike spending deal | US, China reach limited trade deal ahead of tariff deadline | Lighthizer fails to quell GOP angst over new NAFTA Lawmakers strike spending deal to avert shutdown Vulnerable Democrats feel heat ahead of impeachment vote MORE dropped the “t” word. Literal fake news figure Stephen Colbert used the term, as did a noted expert from the University of California in Berkeley, who I’m sure has seen a lot on campus.

Past and current editorial carelessness, coupled with the need to support the Democratic Party, does not allow for appropriate reflection on moments that Trump errs. The administration does deserve credit for record low unemployment, faster economic growth, the selection of Brett Kavanaugh, and more. However, the media instead focuses constantly on what I call the “end times” as in the end of America and the end of Trump.

Take a single look at any recent mainstream editorials for a crystal clear and constant pattern. Such fables act as nails in the credibility of the media that Americans do need for checks on government power. When everything is a crisis, nothing is. The diminishing returns of media outrage sparks even more outlandish sermonizing. This is then reflexively written off by those who might otherwise be sympathetic readers.

The media consensus was clear: The Helsinki moment represented the, ahem, “finlandization” of Trump. A closer inspection doesn’t excuse the waffling and backtracking the president engaged in last week, but shows a clearer and larger problematic scenario altogether.

So bear with me for a moment to understand why and how the legacy media and the Democratic Party first downplayed Russia’s intent when it helped them, and then overreached with Trump to the point they are facing overinflation of credibility of Weimar Republic proportions.

First, the foreign policy side of things. Trump is fighting an uphill battle trying to reverse years of interventionist neoconservative policy to build better relations with Moscow. When milquetoast establishment Republicans had moments of clarity on Putin’s expansionism, they were roundly mocked. Remember John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE and his debate moment warning about Crimea? Sarah Palin was laughed at in 2008 for predicting Russia would invade Ukraine if Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocrats' self-inflicted diversity vulnerability Gaetz: We didn't impeach Obama even though 'a lot of constituents' think he abused his power Live coverage: House panel debates articles of impeachment MORE won.

Of course, the highest profile and most important one was the abdication of American foreign policy leadership by President Obama on Oct. 22, 2012, during his debate with Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneySenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial McConnell: I doubt any GOP senator will vote to impeach Trump Trump hosts pastor who says 'Jews are going to hell' at White House Hanukkah party MORE, when he ridiculed his Republican opponent for suggesting Russia remained our most serious threat: “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War has been over for 20 years.”

Media responses to that moment was one of the main reasons we never saw a President Romney. Roll the tape and you will find some of the most naked examples of media malpractice in modern history. Just a year and a half later, Russia took Crimea without a shot, sponsored a civil war in two Ukrainian provinces, shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and killed nearly 300 people on board, intervened in Syria, and more.

The nexus of the two threads is what happened in the 2016 election. It’s still unclear what Russia did here, but its actions happened under Obama’s nose with a willing media seeking to place its own stamp of approval on the coming landslide victory for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden hires Clinton, O'Rourke alum as campaign's digital director Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Wisconsin: poll Clinton tweets impeachment website, encourages voters to 'see the evidence for themselves' MORE. Obama said the election could never be hacked. CNN said that it was “virtually impossible” for Russia to influence the election outcome. Obama ordered intelligence agents to “stand down” against Russian efforts in the election.

I’ve previously written about how media attacks against Trump are often so over the top and disconnected to reality that it inoculates him from serious criticism. In the case of he Helsinki, previous barrages and broadsides have led a large portion of the Americans to simply write off anything that the Washington Post or CNN reports.

This is an appropriate time for a “trust but verify” moment, not just for American relations with Russia but for the credibility of a free press. The press is not the “enemy of the people,” but outlets like the New York Daily News, Washington Post and CNN cannot continue the contradictory tones of being both unbiased and openly hard left simultaneously. Here, major mainstream media organizations can self-regulate.

Journalism owes it to itself, and to the people, to scale back the out of control editorializing and trying to outfox Trump at his own game. There’s a note of self-reflection in the Atlantic on the subject, but that’s a voice outside of the echo chamber. By dialing up every Trump tweet to a 10, we on all sides are rapidly desensitized to genuine White House mistakes.

The wolf is coming. Without corrective action by the media in this country, no one will be around to believe them when it finally arrives.

Kristin Tate is a libertarian writer and author of “How Do I Tax Thee? A Field Guide to the Great American Rip-Off.” Follow her on Twitter @KristinBTate.