The most absurd and improbable New York Times headline was published in the Sunday Review this week over a magnum opus by columnist Frank Bruni: "Will the Media Be Trump's Accomplice Again in 2020?"
You read that correctly. The real collusion in the 2016 election was between Donald Trump and his enablers in the press.
Bruni's subhead is "We have a second chance. Let's not blow it."
To be sure, it's the media's mission to elect a Democrat every four years, but in 2016, the mission was of existential proportions — and they failed. It wasn't because they were on his side; it was because he beat them. For Frank Bruni to suggest the opposite — that the media were Trump's accomplices — is truly bizarre, even for Frank Bruni. Does he not remember his own newspaper publishing a front-page editorial in which it insisted President Trump has to be defeated by the media?
Let's admit that part of Bruni's self-flagellation is correct. The media certainly did grant Trump an overwhelming share of their Republican primaries coverage for almost a year. But that's quantity, not quality. On that front, the coverage was routinely (and almost unanimously) hostile.
Once the primaries were over, it was just more of the same, yet in Bruni World, this means they were simply too fair and balanced. He wrote: "We interpreted fairness as a similarly apportioned mix of complimentary and derogatory stories about each contender, no matter how different one contender's qualifications, accomplishments and liabilities were from another's. If we were going to pile on Trump, we had to pile on Clinton — or, rather, keep piling on her."
Let's be blunt. This is a myth. There was no equally derogatory coverage. This is documented fact. To posit otherwise is to be a journalistic charlatan — or a fool.
The numbers tell the story. The media would examine Clinton scandals for a few days here and there, but the anti-Trump messaging was relentless. The Media Research Center found that in 2016, network evening news shows spent over 1,000 minutes on Trump controversies and under 500 on Clinton controversies (including 245 minutes on her email server, thanks to then-FBI Director Jim Comey). Evaluations of Clinton were 79 percent negative, but evaluations of Trump were 91 percent negative, and there were three times as many opinionated statements about Trump.
The media's self-loathing about "letting Trump win" is intense. In her book "Chasing Hillary," New York Times political reporter Amy Chozick actually mourned that Clinton didn't ape Trump and hold a "theatrical press conference" to complain about the press being the "real reason" she used a private email server. She imagined Clinton ranting: "Of course I didn't want the DISHONEST MEDIA reading through my emails. Look at what they've put me through for 25 years! This MAKES ME SMART." Clinton could have dismissed the email story as "FAKE NEWS from the FAILING New York Times." Chozick wrote: "Well, shoulda, coulda, woulda. She didn't."
Maybe because it wasn't true?
Frank Bruni shoulda written a column headlined "Will the Media Be the Democrats' Accomplice Again in 2020?" On the other hand, everyone with a political pulse already knows the answer. They play that part every four years.
L. Brent Bozell III is the president of the Media Research Center. Tim Graham is director of media analysis at the Media Research Center and executive editor of the blog NewsBusters.org.