Sheffield of Accuracy in Media on How Fake News Sows Division

August 22, 2019 Updated: August 25, 2019

“The biggest collusion of our day is the collusion between the national media and the Democratic Party,” Carrie Sheffield, national editor for Accuracy in Media, said in an interview with The Epoch Times for the “American Thought Leaders” program. 

The problem is that the media, often while omitting key information, “pretends to be objective,” Sheffield said. 

“They say that the president is dividing the country, that he’s driving a wedge in the country, and yet the national media are absolutely the ones who are causing the inflammation,” she said. 

President Donald Trump caused an uproar a few weeks ago with his tweets calling U.S. Rep. Elijah CummingsBaltimore congressional district a “disgusting, rat and rodent-infested mess” and a “dangerous & filthy place.” He was promptly denounced as racist. 

Yet former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh—a black American female—complained in a local news piece in 2018 that she could “smell the rats” and “smell the dead animals” while walking around an East Baltimore neighborhood. 

In a press conference in 2015, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said, “Anyone who took the walk that we took around this neighborhood would not think you were in a wealthy nation; you would think that you were in a Third World country.” 

Even Cummings himself said on video in the past that his “community of Baltimore” is a “drug-infested area.” And he remarked that “the same children that I watched 14 or 15 years ago as they grew up” were “now walking around like zombies.”

“So when you see these Democrats who are able to get away with saying whatever they want without getting any sort of labels thrown at them, and you see the way the president is treated—this is really the definition of fake news,” Sheffield said. 

“When you can’t speak about facts and data if you are a certain race, this is a problem. And this is getting into Orwellian territory, and it’s getting into thought-policing,” Sheffield said. 

A Cultural Divide

When Sheffield studied journalism as an undergraduate student, “I had these stars in my eyes,” she said.

“I was obsessed with this notion that the press was an independent arbiter that was to hold government accountable. And then I moved to Washington, and I was stunned at how biased the national press corps was in Washington,” she said. 

“When President Trump first won, I had expectations and high hopes that the national media would look in the mirror and say, ‘Wow, we totally misjudged this.’”

On Election Day in November 2016, the New York Times predicted that Hillary Clinton had an 85 percent chance of winning the election, while the Huffington Post said Clinton had a 98.2 percent chance of winning. 

In Sheffield’s eyes, much of the mainstream media completely misunderstood the American people and the national landscape. And yet in the months that followed, they made no effort to truly understand why Trump was able to win. 

“They have not done the work of reconciling the country and really understanding the reason Trump has such a strong tone about the national media. It’s because of their bias. It’s not because he is this evil boogeyman,” as they’d like to believe, she said. 

In Sheffield’s view, the cultural divide in America started to emerge in the 1960s. With the rise of standardized testing and a brain drain at elite universities on the coasts, there was a “super zip code-ification of the country,” Sheffield said.

“Manhattan, San Francisco, Boston—these elite bubbles have become more and more sheltered and less and less connected with the cultural fabric with the rest of the country. So these are really deep, long-seated issues that came to bear in 2016.”  

“The Ivy Leagues and elite academic institutions are disproportionately represented in newsrooms,” Sheffield said, which has resulted in a fundamental disconnect with Middle America. In her view, newsrooms across America suffer from a major lack of ideological diversity. 

The media are able to inculcate an “unconscious set of cultural assumptions, set of cultural behaviors, set of language to use when speaking about politics,” Sheffield said. “They have normalized this collusion with the Democratic Party, and they are incredibly insulated.”

Pervasive Intellectual Dishonesty 

Sheffield is the spokesperson for Accuracy in Media, a conservative media watchdog that has been looking at media bias for 50 years, calling out slanted or biased reporting motivated by a political agenda. 

Seventy-seven percent of Americans believe that major TV and newspaper media outlets report “fake news,” according to a study by Monmouth University. 

While the mainstream media believes “fake news” only refers to factually incorrect information, Sheffield said that “for many, many people, the majority of the country, fake news actually has to do with biased coverage, slanted coverage.” 

“That’s where I think there’s a big disconnect,” Sheffield said, between the national press corps and the American public. 

In her view, mainstream media often latches onto a single phrase or a single fact, while ignoring the surrounding context.

“They then take that one distorted fact and blow it out of the water,” she said. “You’ve seen this over and over throughout the Trump candidacy and the Trump presidency.” 

One especially egregious example is the gross misrepresentation of Trump’s remarks about the protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, when he said there were “very fine people on both sides.” 

As Sheffield noted, there weren’t two, but four major groups in Charlottesville at the time protesting for or against the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Two groups were peaceful, with one wanting to take down and one wanting to keep the statue.

“Those were everyday American citizens. You can reasonably agree or disagree about the statue of Robert E. Lee,” Sheffield said. 

But there were also two other groups, namely Antifa and the violent white supremacists, which Trump was specifically not referring to, Sheffield said. Prager University has highlighted the logical fallacy: if the Trump was saying there were “fine people” among the white supremacists, then he would also have been saying there were “fine people” among the Antifa members. 

“It’s just the intellectual dishonesty that is so pervasive in mainstream media,” Sheffield said. 

“I despise white supremacy. I despise the notion that people are not equal in the eyes of God,” Sheffield said. “And we have a troubling history in this country from Jim Crow, slavery, of the government repressing people because of their race.” 

But at the same time, she said, “We have to acknowledge that it was the Democratic Party that was the party of Jim Crow and the party of white supremacy.”

“When you look over and over at what President Trump has done for minority communities, from a policy level, from unemployment at historic lows in minority communities, to forgiving Hurricane Katrina debt in New Orleans, historic investments in historically black colleges and universities, historic criminal justice reform, … you’ve seen what he has done for people of color in this country. And that’s all ignored,” Sheffield said. 

Advocacy

The mainstream media has “taken that step from reporter to advocate,” Sheffield said.  

Labeling Trump as a racist or a white supremacist are ways to fearmonger and divide the country, in her view.  

“Here’s the thing about the president. You know, he’d been in New York entertainment for decades. He had given free office space to Jesse Jackson. He had worked very closely with Al Sharpton and many entertainers and celebrities and athletes who are African-American, and no one said anything back then. So if he was harboring this deep-seated white supremacy,” Sheffield said, it wouldn’t make sense for so many Black Americans to associate with Trump. 

“There are millions of voters of color who voted for this president,” Sheffield said, “and we don’t hear their voices.” Minority supporters of Trump receive virtually no attention from the mainstream press, she said. 

On the other hand, never-Trump Republicans are disproportionately represented in the media, according to Sheffield.

“It gives the liberal editors and producers this feel-good that, hey, I got a Republican or I got a conservative on the program. But it’s not actually representing how Republicans actually feel,” she said. 

Leftist bias has become increasingly prevalent in newsrooms across America, she said, including in what were once this country’s most reputable publications. 

Two weeks ago, in response to backlash on Twitter, The New York Times changed the original headline of a front-page article about Trump’s response to the El Paso, Texas, mass shooting from “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism” to “Assailing Hate but Not Guns” in later editions. 

Executive Editor Dean Baquet of The New York Times initially defended the original headline and told Columbia Journalism Review, “I don’t believe our role is to be the leaders of the opposition party.”

“I thought that was a shocking display of honesty,” Sheffield said, “in terms of how the American public views what the press should be. It should be an independent Fourth Estate holding the three branches of government accountable.” 

But later, Baquet completely backpedaled in a meeting to The New York Times’ staff, saying, “It was a [expletive] mess.” 

In a public statement, Matt Purdy, a deputy managing editor, wrote that readers had “rightly pointed out that the initial headline didn’t reflect the story accurately.” 

“That was a cop-out and a big disappointment,” Sheffield said. “It kind of leaves you scratching your head.” 

“This president has been unfairly treated by the national media, and I think that that’s why he gets a lot of sympathy,” Sheffield said. “This is why he wins.

“And through social media, he’s been able to directly talk to people instead of going around the gatekeepers who leave out very important facts.” 

Trump “has turned the media’s narrative on its head and said, ‘We’re not going to allow you to be this juggernaut of hate and anger against conservatives,’” she said.

“American Thought Leaders” is an Epoch Times show available on Facebook, YouTube, and the Epoch Times website.

 

Follow Jan on Twitter: @JanJekielek
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