BRIAN STELTER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. I’m Brian Stelter.
If you asked New York City’s mayor what lies behind a lot of the negativity and the divisiveness creeping this nation, he’s got a simple answer for you. He says it’s the media empire of Rupert Murdoch that’s at fault. Bill de Blasio has long been a critic of the hometown “New York Post” newspaper. Murdoch has owned it for years. He says it’s right-wing propaganda.
Now, he’s also been talking about Fox News as well, of course on a week when Laura Ingraham’s hateful comments are on the news. …
STELTER: What is your critique of Murdoch? You were quoted recently by “The Guardian” saying, imagine the country if Murdoch had never had papers or networks here.
DE BLASIO: We would be a more unified country. There would be less overt hate. There would be less appeal to racial division, I guarantee it, because what Murdoch did through Fox News and “The New York Post” among others is to create a dynamic where that stuff could come out in the open.
We saw it in New York City for years and years where race was infused into the dialogue in a very negative way and it was a sort of apocalypse vision was created of the notion of going back to a time of crime and decay and always putting that through a lens of people of color as the villains. Whether you talk about Central Park Five or so many other instances, certainly you saw that around the election of David Dinkins in New York. He was vilified by “The Post” throughout his mayoralty.
But you’re seeing it on a national level too. They don’t just dog whistle, they go a lot farther than that. They put race front and center, and they try and stir the most negative impulses in this country.
There is no Donald Trump without News Corp. I firmly believe that. He never gets to the presidency, because he would never have been elevated the way he was consistently for years and years.
I believe in a free strong media with diverse views. I’ll defend it with all I got, but we have to be able to call out when a particular company has a corporate agenda, has a political agenda and has very effectively changed the American discourse.
When I was growing up with some real heroes of journalism. Walter Cronkite is an obvious one and Murrow and so many others before him, they set a tone of evenness, respect. The civil rights movement of the ‘60s got a fair hearing because the American media gave them that opportunity to be heard. Today, you have one outlet and one outlet only that is constantly sowing division and we should be able to talk about that.
STELTER: So you’d rather not have “The New York Post” or Fox News exist?
DE BLASIO: Look, it’s a free country. I’m saying because they exist, we’ve been changed for the worst.
STELTER: But isn’t that like saying they are fake news or they’re enemy of the people?
DE BLASIO: No, because I think what the president has tried to do is create a dynamic that’s anti-media, anti-free speech, undermining democratic norms. This is a president that doesn’t really believe in democratic norms. It’s quite clear. I believe in them deeply and I believe in a free discourse. But —
STELTER: It sure sounds like you feel anti-media feelings.
DE BLASIO: No, I feel anti-News Corp feelings. I feel very angry when I see a media outlet, a corporate giant, a profit-making giant dividing people and creating hatred and negativity and changing our political landscape for the worse.
Now, I think we have to be able to talk about that. They — we have to respect their constitutional rights, of course, but we also are consumers. We’re also citizens. If we don’t talk about it and they continue to do this to our country, something is wrong.
STELTER: There’s lots of media critics out there, but politicians make lousy media critics. Why do you feel it’s your role to be calling out a newspaper because you don’t like the content?
DE BLASIO: Because I think it’s not happening enough. Now, I agree with you that —
STELTER: So, you’re doing it because nobody else is? Is that what you’re saying?
DE BLASIO: No, it’s not that no one else is. It’s not happening the way I think it needs to.
I agree with you. Anyone in public life, we’re going to get criticized by all kinds of media, right? Left and center. And we have to respect it and we have to take it and we have to listen.
By the way, even “The New York Post” sometimes writes a story on something happening with a government agency that proves to be right and we have to address it, we have to fix it.
But I think it’s fair to say also that when you look at CNN, for example, you look at the major networks, they do not harbor a daily hourly political agenda and bias. They provide both sides. It’s part of their DNA. They may have values and views.
When it comes to News Corp, they have a political mission and we have to be able to talk about it. So, my —
STELTER: By singling out News Corp, it’s like Trump singling out CNN. Two wrongs don’t make a right?
DE BLASIO: No.
STELTER: Two versions of something bad aren’t —
DE BLASIO: Couldn’t disagree more.
CNN on a regular basis provides both sides of the story. You can find politics in CNN, but it does not even come close to resembling the clear political agenda of News Corp. Why should we talk about it? Because it’s changing our lives and if we don’t talk about it, how do we address it?
STELTER: Look, I had staffers at “New York Post” this week say to me you were doing exactly what Donald Trump does.
DE BLASIO: Couldn’t be more untrue.
STELTER: You’re saying you think it’s a false equivalency?
DE BLASIO: Unbelievably false.
STELTER: But two things can be bad even if they’re not equal. They can both be bad.
DE BLASIO: OK. So, let’s break it down. If one agrees and look at the facts over decades, does News Corp have a clear right wing agenda? I think that one is pretty obvious.
Do they sensationalize, racialize and divide? Yes. Does that compare to CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, “The New York Times”, “The Washington Post”? No.
They have a right to exist, but we also have a right to confront what they’re doing to our country and not simply stand idly by .
STELTER: OK, but a “Post” staffer says that makes me feel unsafe leaving my building in midtown Manhattan. Isn’t that a problem?
DE BLASIO: It’s not a problem if you say, we respect all media. We defend all media’s rights, but we also have to be able to say if a media outlet is affecting the national discourse in a certain way.
STELTER: Are you doing this because you want to run for president in 2020?
DE BLASIO: I am mayor of New York City and I continue to be. My term goes to 2021.
STELTER: Because I think Bernie Sanders hit on a vein when he attacked the corporate media in 2016. It makes me wonder if you view this as a wedge issue or a campaign issue.
DE BLASIO: I’ve been talking about the corporate media since 1980. ….
DE BLASIO: What I was calling out is the sensationalism which I think has infected “The Daily News” too much as well, which creates a bad civic discouse. We want a respectful, high road, intelligent civic discourse. What I think is happening to the tabloid culture has actually created a lot of division in my city and a lot of obscuring of some of the bigger issues affecting millions of people.
We have a massive income inequality crisis in our city, but if you look at the tabloid approach, it takes attention off of that and on to, unfortunately, a lot of the divisions that exist, particularly along the lines of race. I want to see that fixed.
But I also believe “The Daily News” plays an absolutely crucial role. I would like it sold to someone that cares about New York City.
Tronc, its parent corporation, does not. They don’t want real, insightful reporting. They want “The Daily News” to dig into the every day stories of every day New Yorkers. They want a profit and they’re laying off half the newsroom. That’s unacceptable too.
So, I hope you can hear that I believe in a free, strong media, diverse views. But that doesn’t mean we should be silent on the outcomes of some of the approaches if they are specifically for an agenda, and that’s what gets me back to News Corp.
I don’t accuse “The Daily News” or “New York Times” of having that kind of agenda. I sometimes say “The New York Times” takes an elite view of the world too often. I don’t think that’s a news flash, but I respect what they do and I respond to what they do.
But if we have a force in our society that’s fundamentally changed us, just again, think of that equation, a world without News Corp, a world with the kind of reporting both sides and a real devotion to objectivity that was the norm up through the 1970s in this country, what would we look like today? I guarantee you Donald Trump would not be president and I guarantee you that what we’re seeing today in Washington, the right and the alt-right and negativity and the division coming to the fore and feeling it has license, that wouldn’t be true. And that’s good when those forces don’t feel they have license.
STELTER: I still think politicians make lousy media critics, though.
DE BLASIO: We may, but if you’re someone who has a belief system as I do, you can’t stay silent if you see something not being recognized.
It’s not the same. And this is part of the argument. You know, sometimes when I made this criticism, people have tried to say, we have to defend “The Post” and everyone else. I defend their right to exist, but can we not acknowledge that they are different than essentially every other outlet out there?…
This article was first published in RealClearPolitics