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I think this should be the headline in every newspaper, on news websites, and the lead story on news shows:

Never in the history of American journalism have so many reporters owed an apology for such shoddy work to so many.

The reason is their coverage of the Afghanistan troop withdrawal.

For five days editorials and news stories were relentless in declaring the Biden presidency essentially over and his legacy forever stained because of an Afghanistan troop withdrawal the media called a “debacle,” an “embarrassment,” an “irresponsible” action.

Here are a few examples:  

CNN’s online headline Monday afternoon read: “Biden points finger at others for the unfolding crisis.”

Stephen Collinson opined: “The debacle of the US defeat and chaotic retreat in Afghanistan is a political disaster for Joe Biden, whose failure to orchestrate an urgent and orderly exit will further rock a presidency plagued by crises and stain his legacy.”

That was almost kind compared to others. In the Atlantic the headline on George Packer’s analysis: “Biden’s Betrayal of Afghans Will Live in Infamy.” Ouch!

Not to be out done, this appeared on the Axios website: “Rarely has an American president’s predictions been so wrong, so fast, so convincingly as Biden on Afghanistan.”

There are more, and I haven’t cited even one from the conservative media’s attacks on Biden. But enough said, especially since a day is a lifetime ago in the news business, and my, how fast the news cycle changes.

Today there is hardly a story, much less a headline, burying the Biden presidency. I suspect there are a few, but only a few.

What happened? You would think if Biden caused a catastrophe as huge as the above quotes suggest, the story would warrant more than a few days of attention.

Unless…unless…unless a few journalists with some integrity and self-respect saw right through what their colleagues were doing and called them out and they had no reply.

They were caught red-handed doing what has become common for the media – substituting punditry for reporting.

Indeed, that is exactly what happened, and no one called her colleagues on it better than Margaret Sullivan:

“If ever a big, breaking story demanded that the news media provide historical context and carefully avoid partisan blame, it’s the story of the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. Instead, what we largely got over the past few days was the all-too-familiar genre of “winners and losers” coverage. It’s coverage that tends to elevate and amplify punditry over news, and to assign long-lasting political ramifications to a still-developing situation.”

She continued: “And when news consumers have been tuned out of a story — as they are, unfortunately, with most international coverage — this quick-take journalism can be damaging and misleading…“Evidence of this nuance-deprived, overstated coverage was obvious throughout big and small news organizations over the weekend and across the political spectrum.”

Her conclusion was brilliant: 

“…so far there’s not enough thoughtful, context-rich news coverage to counter it. And so a false idea can take root: That a war that cost trillions over two decades, killed many thousands, and was destined to failure from the start is the sole fault of the president who — hamstrung by all that came before him — was the one to end it…

“As always, the media moves too quickly to the blame game, allowing the most extreme punditry to carry the day. When history is in the making, as it surely is here, that’s far from the best approach.” 

The title of what she wrote had the perfect headline: The Afghan debacle lasted two decades. The media spent two hours deciding whom to blame.” (Washington Post, 8/16/2021)

Talk about bankrupt journalism. That’s about as bad as it gets, short of just making up stuff the way Fix News does.

I would argue that several things have led the mainstream media to this precarious loss of credibility:

1. In order to sell their papers and secure viewers they have adopted a “tabloid” approach to the news in the hope that hype and sensationalism will secure readers and viewers.  

2. Younger journalists are Watergate’s Woodward and Bernstein wannabees who offer punditry instead of facts to make a name for themselves instead of focusing on doing the best job they can as reporters.  

3. Worst of all, today’s journalists have decided that since many Americans have adopted the bankrupt view that opinions are of equal value to facts, that’s what they will give them. 

Read and/or listen to the lead statements a story has or a news host makes and that will alert you to the biased slant everything they say afterwards will have.

Stories will say, for example, that Democrats are “divided” when in truth they simply hold different points of view on the same issues, but the reporter decides “differences” means “divisions.”

Stories abound about the Biden administration doing nothing about voting rights as if reporters know what is happening behind the scenes. They don’t, of course, but that doesn’t stop them from concluding that the mid-term elections will be a disaster for Democrats because they have determined Biden is not doing anything to avoid it.

Pundintry has become synonymous with reporting. Reporting “facts” about something that happened is laced with editorial comments as if they are part of the story.

Naturally, then, coverage of the pull out of U. S. troops from Afghanistan would be cased in words that are a commentary rather than report. The operation was called a mess, a debacle, a calamity, and then reporters went the next step and assessed who was at fault and why they were.

Their opinion became bigger than the story itself.

But now there is virtual silence. What happened?

Maybe it was their being called out, and facts that revealed many of the critics of Biden being quoted were the same people who got us into Afghanistan in the first place and lied about how well things were going for 20 years.

Maybe they were simply Republican partisans who may be the only group in the country with less credibility than the news media.

Whatever the reason, the coverage of the troop pull out has exposed the state of American journalism to be something other and less than truth seekers serving the interests of democracy at a time when the country needs a strong, free press.

Donald Trump tried to convince Americans that the press was our enemy. That was a self-serving, much like most of what Trump said.

But the press doesn’t have to be our enemy to betray our trust and undermine its own credibility. Spinning a story to make a point that is the reporter’s own view rather than telling us the facts that help us understand what happened will do it every time.

I confess that pre-Trump I held a negative opinion of the mainstream press (major news networks and papers such as the Times and the Post), then found myself defending the press because of Trump’s attacks, and now find my post-Trump self back where I started.

So from my perspective, when it comes to the American news media, the more things change, the more they stay the same.