Salena Zito / February 25, 2020

Media Silence on Voter-Registration Attack Deepens Our Divide

In the hours and days after Gregory Timm reportedly plowed his vehicle into a tent of Republican Party volunteers registering voters in the Kernan Village Shopping Center parking lot in Jacksonville, Florida, national coverage of the event has been alarmingly lacking.

In the hours and days after Gregory Timm reportedly plowed his vehicle into a tent of Republican Party volunteers registering voters in the Kernan Village Shopping Center parking lot in Jacksonville, Florida, national coverage of the event has been alarmingly lacking.

Local news channel WJXT reported days later on the arrest report, which showed Timm telling the sheriff’s office his “disapproval of Trump” was the motivating factor for the attack. He showed the office a self-recorded video of him driving straight at the volunteers, expressing frustration that the video cut out before “the good part.” Even then, as I write this, the best The New York Times could muster was wire coverage.

No teams of reporters were sent to uncover his dark motivations, upbringing or political leanings. No psychological profiles have been written up, nor have any experts weighed in on how this is a growing threat. These are all tools that would have been used by an army of reporters if Timm had been a Trump supporter plowing into Democratic Party volunteers registering voters.

The problem isn’t that Timm’s attack on the GOP wasn’t covered by most of the media. It’s that it wasn’t covered with the same voracious appetite news organizations have whenever someone who is even peripherally associated with the right does something to a Democrat.

This isn’t whataboutism; this is realism. It gets to the heart of why people, especially conservatives, believe the media not only has a liberal bias but also either doesn’t cover stories that show when conservatives are attacked or buries them.

Jeryl Bier, a freelance writer whose dispatches can be found in the Wall Street Journal and National Review, says no journalist can approach the news completely disinterested. “But I find that many reporters and journalists who either present themselves as nonpartisan or nonideological or seem to think they are or that they overcome it in their reporting just can’t really seem to do it,” he said.

In the odd case of the feeble coverage of the attack on the Republican volunteers, Bier says story selection is clearly a problem, and it is something he has taken to social media to amplify repeatedly.

Bier was also struck by the irony that at the same time he was pointing out on Twitter that The New York Times was literally ignoring the attack, its national editor, Marc Lacey, tweeted there was “a bounty of fabulous new jobs on the @NYTNational staff, all aimed at deepening our coverage of the country. All of them will be based outside of NY and DC.”

“I thought it was quite ironic and telling,” Bier said, adding that it may be a sure sign the newspaper understands it hasn’t gotten the middle of the country for a very long time.

It’s one thing to have a reporter parachute in to cover an event. It is another to have him emotionally embedded and wedded to the community he is covering.

One of the many layers of the story untold about the attack was that Timm’s intent was likely meant to strike fear in people wanting to do anything that would associate them with the president in public, including helping him get reelected.

Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said in an interview that the reaction had been the opposite at the Duval County Republican Party headquarters, where the volunteers who were attacked came from. “The chair of the Duval GOP, Dean Black, said not only has interest in volunteering picked way up since the incident, a bunch of Democrats came into the office to personally renounce what happened,” he said.

It should come as no shock, particularly if you’re conservative or independent, that when it comes to trust in the media, people are sharply divided.

According to a new Pew Research Center study, more Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents trust, rather than distrust, most of the 30 outlets in the study, which includes The New York Times. The reverse is true among Republicans and center-right independents. In fact, the gap has widened substantially in the past six years for Republicans’ trust in the media to get the story right, or without bias, or report it at all.

Bier says the danger for right-leaning news organizations is overcompensating for what they see as left-wing bias. “It is truly difficult to walk the line, but more in media need to strive for that balance,” he says.

One of the more common observations I hear from people on how my profession reports on politics in this country centers on how Trump has been covered since he became president.

The conversation typically goes something like this: “I don’t mind that you scrutinize every move he makes or what his motivations are. That is your job. I just want to know why you didn’t cover the last guy with the same gusto, which was also your job.”

It is fair to say that logic should also apply to how incidents that affect Republicans are covered. There would have been a week’s worth of cable news coverage, several nationwide protests and someone calling for a national conversation by now had the victims of the attack been supporting anyone but Trump.

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