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 TrumpUS reimposes UN sanctions on Iran amid increasing tensions Jeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Trump supporters chant 'Fill that seat' at North Carolina rally 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.

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 BrennanJournalism or partisanship? The media's mistakes of 2016 continue in 2020 Comey on Clinton tweet: 'I regret only being involved in the 2016 election' Ex-CIA Director Brennan questioned for 8 hours in Durham review of Russia probe MORE and Democratic House Whip Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse Democrats postpone vote on marijuana decriminalization bill Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association - Pence lauds Harris as 'experienced debater'; Trump, Biden diverge over debate prep 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 McCainMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day McConnell urges GOP senators to 'keep your powder dry' on Supreme Court vacancy McSally says current Senate should vote on Trump nominee 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 ObamaMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Warning signs flash for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina Majority of voters say Trump should not nominate a Supreme Court justice: poll 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 RomneyMomentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Toobin: McConnell engaging in 'greatest act of hypocrisy in American political history' with Ginsburg replacement vote The Memo: Court battle explodes across tense election landscape 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 ClintonJeff Flake: Republicans 'should hold the same position' on SCOTUS vacancy as 2016 Momentum growing among Republicans for Supreme Court vote before Election Day Warning signs flash for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina 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.