Barr Criticizes Journalistic Integrity of Media Over Riot Coverage

Barr Criticizes Journalistic Integrity of Media Over Riot Coverage
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing in the Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington on July 28, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/AFP via Getty Images)
Janita Kan

Attorney General William Barr has reiterated his concerns about the journalistic landscape in the United States, saying that the press has done away with integrity in order to propagate political narratives.

“They’re basically a collection of liars. Most of the mainstream media. They’re a collection of liars and they know exactly what they’re doing,” Barr said in an interview with conservative outlet Townhall on Sept. 11.

“A perfect example of that were the riots. Right on the street, it was clear as day what was going on,” he said. “Anyone observing it, reporters observing it, it could not have escaped their attention that this was orchestrated violence by a hardened group of street-fighting radicals and they kept on excluding from their coverage all the video of this and reporting otherwise. They were doing that for partisan reasons, and they were lying to the American people.

“It wasn’t until they were caught red-handed after essentially weeks of this lie that they even started feeling less timid.”

Many media outlets have been criticized by Trump administration officials and lawmakers over their coverage of the violence and destruction observed amid protests against police brutality. Looting, shooting lasers and pellet guns at police, assault, and urban conflagrations have been described as “mostly peaceful protests” by these news outlets.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers have declined to condemn the violence and destruction, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) describing the anarcho-communist extremist group Antifa’s involvement in the riots as “a myth.”

“It’s funny that you had record numbers of police being injured during ‘peaceful’ protests. You know usually in protests, you have large numbers of injured rioters and a modest number of injured law enforcement,” Barr said. “I’m talking about back in the ‘90s and ’60s, ‘60s to the ’90s, nowadays very few rioters get injured, very few and hundreds, even thousands of officers have been injured.”

He said that he believes many journalists have “dropped any pretense of professional objectivity and are political actors” who use their reporting to shape a political narrative regardless of the truth.

“It’s very destructive to our republic; it’s very destructive to the Democratic system to have that, especially being so monolithic. It’s contributing to a lot of the intensity and partisanship,” the attorney general said.

An increasing number of Americans are losing confidence in the media to deliver the news objectively. A recent trust-in-media poll by Gallup and The Knight Foundation found that 86 percent of the people surveyed between Nov. 8, 2019, and Feb. 16, 2020, believe that the media is biased, up from 62 percent in 2007.

President Donald Trump and Republicans have repeatedly expressed concern over the objectivity of the media, accusing it of shutting down certain viewpoints, failing to cover certain stories, and dividing the country.

Some news outlets have also been called out and faced consequences for inaccurate reports. The coverage of an incident involving Kentucky teen Nick Sandmann while he was waiting for the bus after attending a pro-life event in Washington, attracted intense scrutiny.

News outlets and Twitter users accused Sandmann of harassment and of being a racist after a viral video showed him standing close to and smiling at Nathan Phillips, a Native American man, while wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. A longer version of the clip showed a different story.

An investigation by the Catholic Diocese of Covington in Kentucky revealed that the students made no offensive or racist comments about Phillips.

Sandmann received intense criticism amid the coverage of the incident. Sandmann eventually sued several news outlets for defamation and has settled with CNN and The Washington Post.

Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
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