CNN media reporter Brian Stelter defied mainstream media’s unabashedly fawning coverage of President Donald Trump after he ordered a missile strike on a Syrian airbase thought to have deployed a chemical weapons attack against Syrian rebel forces that killed and injured many civilians, including children.
During the April 9 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources, Stelter highlighted major media outlets’ largely one-sided reaction to news about the strike and urged for more diversity in commentary. Stelter noted that “too often skeptical voices are marginalized” and “drowned out by the beating of war drums” when presidents launch military strikes. From the the April 9 edition of CNN’s Reliable Sources:
Stelter encouraged major media to self-reflect on Trump’s missile strike and advocated hosting more diverse perspectives about military operations, saying “there are hawks and there are doves” and that it is important to hear every opinion on the military actions. Contrary to Stelter’s call for reflection, much of the coverage of the missile strike was dominated by praise from voices like Time magazine’s Michael Duffy and sparse on moments of analysis and criticism from voices like ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, a former aide to President George W. Bush who split with the administration over the Iraq War. Rather than provide the public with a balanced discussion of actions in Syria, cable news producers featured a disproportionate amount of commentators that called for further military action.
In spite of consistently negative news coverage of the Trump administration, major media outlets have tended to band together to defend and praise military actions Trump takes as “presidential.” Weeks before the Syrian missile strikes, media went full bore in praising Trump after he shamelessly used the widow of a fallen Navy SEAL as a prop during his speech before a joint session of Congress to diffuse public concerns about a botched raid in Yemen that left many civilians dead, including an 8-year old American girl, and “yielded no significant intelligence.” In his analysis of Trump’s speech, liberal CNN commentator Van Jones went as far to declare Trump “became president of the United States in that moment. Period.”
Media Matters’ Eric Boehlert told MSNBC host Joy Reid that, when covering Trump, media are “desperate to present him as normal” so they “don't have to acknowledge how radical he is,” and likened this coverage to the reckless reporting during the Iraq War, which was used to win public support for military action.
It is grossly irresponsible for media outlets to praise the president for military operations and advocate for war without offering audiences equal doses of skepticism and opposition. One-sided coverage can oversimplify complex geopolitics and dissuade the public from participating in the balanced discourse matters of national security deserve.