Clay and Buck

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Ari Fleischer on How Media Bias Has Gotten So Much Worse

12 Jul 2022

BUCK: We have Ari Fleischer with us now, former White House press secretary, Fox News contributor, author of a new book, Suppression, Deception, Snobbery, and Bias: Why the Press Gets So Much Wrong ― And Just Doesn’t Care. Ari, welcome to the show, sir.

FLEISCHER: Thank you for having me.

BUCK: So, how much worse is it now? As soon as I saw we were gonna have you on, Ari, I thought, so this guy had to deal with it back in the Bush era. What I think a lot of people forget is that the media even then was talking about Bush is a Nazi and Bush is a fascist, and all. They said crazy stuff. But there was at least, it seemed, more of an effort — at least it seemed to me — to pretend that they were still journalists. And now it feels like it’s just all-out propaganda from some of the biggest news networks in the country. Has it gotten a lot worse, are we just more aware of it? What do you think?

FLEISCHER: It’s a million times worse. It was bad. When I was there, I always knew that the press was liberal, and I had to work twice as hard just to get the same starting point as any Democrat. But now, holy cow. They have become activists. And what’s happened in the news media is they have turned themselves into a slice of America that can only understand another slice of America and as college-educated Democrats. It’s way beyond liberal/conservative.

The issue is cultural. There’s a study I found, an actual study, a poll that says the only group of Americans who think that the mainstream media understand them are college-educated Democrats. Everybody in America with a high school degree says the press can’t understand them. Independents, college degree or high school degree, the press doesn’t understand them. Republicans of all stripes, the press doesn’t understand them.

One group left: College-educated Democrats. So, culturally you’ve got a group of people who talk to a fellow similar slice of America, and it’s no wonder that people who go to church every Sunday or who own guns and whose parents, father or grandfather taught them how to hunt, or people who think life begins at conception are looked down on by so much of the media. They just don’t understand half of America.

CLAY: Ari, do you think that’s Twitter? You mentioned that it’s gotten far worse — and I think it’s likely true — and certainly as you know I come from the world of sports which has just lost it is ever-loving mind when it comes to these issues. Is it that Twitter is such an echo chamber for these journalists and reporters that they think it’s the real world and aren’t aware of the 80% of people every day who aren’t sitting around on Twitter or that 98% of people who are not sending tweets sharing their opinions and it’s so far left wing that they’ve allowed that to journalistically destroy their attempt to even cover the nation as a whole? Or is it something else? I think you can tell by my question I think it’s Twitter, but do you attribute it to something else? What’s happened?

FLEISCHER: Twitter is a part of it, Clay. But I think the antecedent was there before Twitter. And that was as soon as the media started to move on to the internet and newspapers started to lose advertising dollars, when you were an advertiser, you didn’t want your newspaper to have partisanship, to be one way or another. You need to appeal to everybody because you were an advertiser.

Advertising has stopped in newspapers. So, now they get their money from subscribers. So, the subscribers to the New York Times, for example — and I have a chapter on the New York Times in here. Subscribers to the New York Times counted on the New York Times to resist Donald Trump. If the New York Times wrote stories that were fair or favorable to Trump, these people would cut off their subscriptions.

And it became huge controversies for the New York Times. Remember when Tom Cotton wrote a op-ed called, “Send in the Troops” during the riots of 2020. New York Times readers melted down, not to mention their newsroom melted down. ‘Cause you can’t have a conservative voice in the New York Times. So, the problem really is now we have slices of America that only want to talk to similar-minded slices of America.

And that is really the case on the left where they have just formed a resistance alliance, and that’s what led me to write the book because I was convinced how unfair they were to Donald Trump and to conservatives. And I wanted to blow the whistle. You know, I’ve criticized Donald Trump. I’ve praised Donald Trump. But I try to be fair. And my conclusion was that the American media stopped being fair.

BUCK: Speaking to Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary. Book is out, Suppression, Deception, Snobbery, and Bias: Why the Press Gets So Much Wrong – And Just Doesn’t Care. As we’re talking about this, I just saw a tweet pop up in my timeline, Ari, from Matt Taibbi who is a man of the left but I think you’d say is kind of an old school investigative journalist.

He chases stories and tells them as he sees them even if they upset his own side. He just wrote this as you were talking.

“The Times fulfills the same function that Izvestia once served,” this is New York Times, “telling us little that’s useful about breaking news events but giving us comprehensive, if coded, portraits of the thinking of the leadership class.” What do you think of that?

FLEISCHER: Absolutely right, and Matt believes in free speech. Matt is a very interesting reporter. He gets it. He is liberal. He was raised in that environment as a reporter. But he is old school, almost ACLU that he believes in free speech and that people should be entitled to their opinion. And he’s right. This is the problem with the intelligentsia, the snobbery. You know, my book begins with a Don Lemon show on CNN in which he and his two guests relentlessly mocked people who were for Donald Trump.

It was no longer about Trump. It was the people who were for Trump. They put on fake Southern accents. They ridiculed people who were for Trump. They just looked down their noses at them. And then Don Lemon ended the segment with laughing uproariously after he caught his breath, he said, “Thanks. I needed that.”

How people at CNN can think that it’s good for journalism to make fun of half the country, I will never understand. But that’s what’s happened in too many of these institutions. This is why they don’t understand the American people, particularly half the American people, and they’re left to a college-educated Democrat audience pretty much the only ones left who trust them.

CLAY: Ari, you worked in the White House communications office. What do you think conversations are like right now inside of the Biden White House, behind the closed doors, right, when they are not actually talking to journalists or trying to shape and control the narrative? How much panic do you think there is about their inability to put Joe Biden in front of the American public? What is their discussion like, based on your experience?

FLEISCHER: I hate to say it, but it’s a lot like what it was like at the end of the Bush administration in 2006, ’07, and ’08, when President Bush was very unpopular, when the war in Iraq seemed to be going badly, when the financial crisis hit. You know, there’s just a sense of the staff that there’s nothing we can do that will go right, that there’s really something wrong. “The country has turned on us and we can’t give a speech.

“We can’t put out a fact sheet. We can’t write an op-ed. None of it will make a difference. And in the case of the Biden administration, it’s because of the decisions, the judgment that President Biden has made and has shown. So, for the staff the job is miserable. It just takes morale away, the days are long, the psychic income that you normally get from being in that rarefied air, you’re gasping for breath. It’s no longer rarefied air.

BUCK: Ari, you know, I was a CNN contributor before the era of Trump and left of my own volition because I knew under the Trump presidency what that was going to be like. They were not interested anymore in having pro-Trump voices on their air. And I feel like over the course of about 18 months or so of that 2016 campaign, you know, stretching back into the primary, that CNN effectively had a televised nervous breakdown as an institution.

One, do you think that’s a fair description? Because they went from, “Yeah, we’ll have…” They didn’t like me as a conservative but they were like, “Well, if you’re reasonable and you know some stuff and you can represent the point of view,” to, “Oh, no, we’re not putting the henchman of the evil fascist Trump regime on air!” Do you think that’s…? Did you see that happen too — and CNN, effectively, is it no longer an institution that can exist because it’s shown everybody what it really is and so it’s based on a fundamental lie?

FLEISCHER: Yeah, and I used to be a contributor to CNN in the 2012 election cycle, the year that Obama beat Romney. I always knew they were liberal. I always knew all the questions were slanted and it was a home game for the Ds. But it didn’t have the level of vindictiveness and overt opinion given on the air even by the reporters that it does now. And that’s part of the problem with CNN. Their new owners, they’re saying they’re gonna try to do things differently. I hope so. But my book cites a guy named Jimmy Gagliano, a former FBI special agent, a real true badass.

BUCK: Yeah, I know Jimmy. He’s a friend of mine. Good man.

FLEISCHER: Great guy. And he was a CNN contributor. And he went down there and he was originally critical of Donald Trump for the way Trump fired Comey. Gagliano had no special like for Comey, but he thought the way Trump fired him was wrong and he said so on the air. And CNN loved booking him. Until he started to see the Strzok memos, the Peter Strzok memos, until he started to see what FBI got wrong and then Gagliano started to turn on his own agency, the FBI.

He started to defend Trump. And you know what happened to him? He got moved to CNN Headline News to talk about murders. They loved him so long as he was bashing Trump and supporting Comey. As soon as he started to speak his mind ’cause the evidence led him in that direction as a FBI special agent, they got rid of the guy. And so, Jimmy filled me in, and there’s a whole section about how bad CNN was to Jimmy, a CNN contributor, all because, as he put it, as long as you bash Trump, you can do to whatever you want to CNN —

BUCK: Well, Ari, it may have been the case that the original CNN nervous breakdown happened because of my cohost here, Mr. Clay Travis, if you trace it all the way back.

FLEISCHER: You caused a few nervous breakdowns there, Clay.

CLAY: Yeah, a few over the years. Ari, I’m curious ’cause Buck, I think, has bought in now — you have straddled the — you’re a big sports fan. So, you have, in addition to working in politics, you have represented the college football playoff. You now represent or have represented the LIV golf tour as they have tried to launch against the PGA. How have you found the media in sports in sports compared to the media in politics, and what is your analysis of the vociferous sports media attempts to attack and take down the LIV golf tour? Obviously, we’ve got Joe Biden going to Saudi Arabia soon. Kind of take us into those worlds as you see it.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think most sports reporters — and I’ve run a sports communications company. This is what I’ve been doing since I left the White House in all kinds of sports and leagues and organizations. Most sports reporters just want to cover the sport. But when the news does make it off the sporting page and onto the front page, I think a lot of the same tendencies I’m telling you about that are left-right tendencies in the mainstream media exist in the sports media too.

I think it’s just… There’s self-selection in journalism, even sports journalism. Most people who go into journalism are from the left. And one of the lessons of my book is conservatives should get into the media. We really need more balanced newsrooms. It’d be good and be healthy. But political reporters are much closer to wanting to be activists. I don’t think sports reporters want to be political activists. They may have favorite teams or favorite players and that shows up in their writings, but they’re a bit different from political reporters.

CLAY: How would you…? Just to follow up on that, the LIV golf tour is now underway. We’ve got a ton of people including Buck’s dad who are big fans of golf who watch and consume golf-related coverage. How would you assess the way that the LIV tour’s launch has been covered, where they are now, what exactly is going on now from your perspective?

FLEISCHER: I think it’s a 50-50 split, Clay. I think there are some reporters who are very fair who are covering this as a fascinating new possibility in the world of sports, and they’re watching LIV golf grow and are very fair. I think there’s another half that have their mind made up that the PGA is and should be the only golf tour and that anybody who tries to create a new way of playing golf — even to give golfers their rights as independent agents, as free agents or independent contractors — is out of line. And I think that’s especially the case where reporters will say if you get your funding from Saudi Arabia, there’s something wrong with you, just despite the fact that, you know, the public investment fund of Saudi Arabia funds Uber, Facebook, Boeing, you name it, plus we put gas in our car that portion of it comes back Saudi Arabia. So, it’s a 50-50 split.

CLAY: Ari, the book is fantastic. I’ve got it. I’ve started to read it. I’d encourage everybody to check it out. We appreciate the time. Hope to talk to you again soon.

FLEISCHER: Thanks for having me, guys. I really appreciate it.

BUCK: Thanks, Ari.

CLAY: That’s Ari Fleischer.

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