News Release

Political Journalism in 2024

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RICK PERLSTEIN; nixonland@gmail.com, @rickperlstein
    Perlstein is a journalist and a historian of the post-1960s American conservative movement. He is the author of several  books including Reaganland.

Perlstein told the Institute for Public Accuracy: News media are meant to “give citizens a basic understanding of what is happening in the world around them. I’m attached to the idea that the First Amendment was the first thing that Congress did. Journalism is the most powerful tool of self-governance that we have, [especially] in a nation that is within spitting distance of dictatorship. A hundred years from now, what will historians make of the way this story was told by journalism? Was it adequate to the task? 

“A lot of the journalism about the rise of Trump and the increasing coarsening of American political culture looks more like the journalism of an authoritarian country. Just looking at the front page of the Washington Post or the New York Times, you would think that the Republican Party and the Democratic Party have equal responsibility for the acceptance of violent rhetoric, because of this professional norm [in journalism] that the contributions of Democrats and Republicans need to be ‘balanced.’ But if you have one political party in a two-party system that has built lying, cheating, and stealing into its DNA… and the media treats [both parties] as equal actors, then the media is biased toward the party willing to lie, cheat, and steal. The Republicans get a booster seat from mainstream journalism. 

“[American] journalists have fallen from their appointed role. As Trump has tightened his vice grip on the Republican party and openly embraced the idea that government is an extension of his own will for revenge and power, the norms at the highest levels of political journalism mostly, though not exclusively, haven’t changed. Journalism has gotten worse because it’s more inaccurate––because the stories they tell are the same stories they told in 1996.

“The coverage of what Republicans do in Washington––or even in state capitals like Austin or Madison––and the ‘insurgent forces’ within the party’s coalition that show up at the border with guns are part of the same story. They work together. Responsible political journalism has to make a space for reporting on how the next January 6th is going to happen. That’s not happening yet. The way insurgent campaigns are covered should be the way counterinsurgency warfare is covered in Ukraine. The Republican Party has evolved into a formulation with both parliamentary and paramilitary wings. These guys are on the same team, in ways that we can’t yet grasp.”