Journalists Abandon Crucial 'Accountability' Projects in the Post-Trump Era

March 16, 2021

America's journalists sacrificed so much during the Trump administration. What the Royal Air Force was to the Battle of Britain, our media establishment was to the Battle for America's Soul. You can read all about it in one of the many bestselling books about how dangerous it was to be a journalist during the last four years.

As one media veteran of the Trump era recently explained: "Covering the [Trump] administration was thrilling for many journalists, in the way that I imagine storming Omaha Beach must have been for a 20-year-old fresh from the plains of Kansas." Journalism under President Joe Biden just isn't the same.

For starters, fewer journalists are required in the post-Trump era. Bloomberg News laid off nearly 100 employees in February. HuffPost laid off dozens earlier this month. Donald Trump might have been on to something when he predicted "all forms of media will tank if I'm not there because, without me, their ratings are going down the tubes."

When Trump was president, a number of journalism projects—some more gimmicky than others—were established to hold him accountable. Less than two months after Biden was inaugurated, most of them are no longer operable.

FiveThirtyEight, a website for nerds, had a special section dedicated to "Tracking Congress In The Age of Trump." Every member of Congress was given a score based on how many times they voted to support or oppose Trump's position on a given issue. The page was last updated on Jan. 13 and has yet to be replaced with a tracker for the Biden age.

The day Biden was inaugurated, the Washington Post ended its special section tracking the number of false or misleading claims made by Trump. A spokeswoman for the paper said at the time that "we do not have plans to launch a Biden database" but would continue to fact-check "political figures of all party affiliations."

Since then, the Post has indeed fact-checked claims by Biden and other Democrats, but the language in these fact checks tends to be considerably more nuanced and forgiving compared with its fact checks of Republicans.

For example, Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) was "wrong" about vaccines. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R., Colo.) said something that was "not true." Biden, on the other hand, "flubbed" a talking point, "stretched the truth," and made claims that were "unverified and misleading." Whether or not Sen. Chuck Schumer's (D., N.Y.) claim about COVID-relief legislation was correct "depends on which narrative you embrace," the Post explained.

Glenn Kessler, the Post's leading fact-checker, couldn't wait to analyze Trump's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 28. "Trump complaining about kids not back in schools yet. Who was president a month ago?" Kessler wrote on Twitter during the speech. (Fact check: Joe Biden was.)

CNN's Daniel Dale, whose sole job was fact-checking Trump, has also struggled to diversify. Dale's most recent fact checks involve claims from Boebert, Rep. María Elvira Salazar (R., Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), former vice president Mike Pence, the CEO of Goya Foods, as well as one about Biden's primetime address on March 11.

Now that Biden is in charge, CNN's ominous graphic—"CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC IN THE UNITED STATES"—which projects a running tally of cases and virus-related deaths, is no longer affixed to the right-hand side of the screen. It occasionally rears its head, for example, during a segment about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) and QAnon but disappears during other segments, such as last month's hard-hitting piece: "President Biden Comforts Second Grader Afraid of Coronavirus."

The COVID Tracking Project, a data compilation site launched by the Atlantic in 2020, stopped publishing data on March 7, now that the federal government can be trusted again, even if some state-level data, particularly as it relates to nursing home deaths, "remain inadequate." (Looking at you, Andrew Cuomo.)

Nevertheless, our nation's journalists remain laser-focused on holding the powerful to account. Politico reports that Biden has "surprised some of his former colleagues and allies with a largely gaffe-free White House debut after a lifetime of verbal stumbles." That might have something to do with the fact that he hasn't held a single press conference, but as the New Republic reports, "Who Cares?"