‘These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends’: The Risks of Media Bias During the Trump-Biden Transition

‘These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends’: The Risks of Media Bias During the Trump-Biden Transition

American and British news coverage of recent events surrounding the end of the Trump Presidency and the beginning of Biden’s term in office has been polarised for a while now. Almost every article which has appeared on mainstream media outlets on either side of the Atlantic has seemed to neglect important facts, which (disturbingly for any of us who would like to see objectivity rather than political bias in journalism) clearly demonstrates that most official coverage of this issue has long been dominated by an anti-Trump sentiment.

To anyone reading this, such political antipathy might seem sensible, given the recent, appalling violence around the Capitol. Yet the desire to cover such events from an uncritical, partisan perspective runs the risk of greater violence, an outcome which we would obviously all do well to avoid.

In this piece, for the sake of space, and because as a UK citizen it’s interesting to see how the media of my own nation is presenting such momentous events from a distanced position on the other side of the pond, the focus of analysis will be two pieces from the foremost UK news organisations: the official corporation of the BBC and the newspaper the Guardian.

Both, even in their most balanced pieces discussed here, present the same messages, and consistently fail to mention, let alone account for, certain facts which might challenge them.

By viewing reality through the lens of such blinkered coverage, we can often fall into the trap of understanding the wider context. For these reasons I will be providing evidence from news organisations based in other countries, as well as more anecdotal (but no less reliable) views expressed by individuals on YouTube. It is my hope that this piece will provide a more nuanced and accurate view of what is actually going on, why, its dangers, and what might be done to prevent greater destruction.

It’s all too easy to cite examples of UK media bias on issues surrounding Trump, however, citation is still necessary. From the latest report (at the time of writing this) by the BBC, we do at least get some bare facts: ‘Trump is accused of inciting a mob that stormed Congress last week’.

However, we find details which are hardly intended to inspire the reader’s support for the President: ‘after he repeated false claims of election fraud’. Regardless of the evidential bases of such claims, it is difficult to read them with any confidence when, even before any legal challenge to Biden’s nomination were mounted, several (if not indeed all) BBC pieces had claimed that Trump’s allegations of election fraud were unfounded. The final legal results of the challenge are irrelevant; as an organisation, they had already made up their minds about the issue, even before it had reached the US courts.

But let’s continue reading the piece. We discover that ‘five people died’. Again, there are no details on who these individuals were, or the circumstances of their death; the implication, however carefully (and doubtlessly for legal needs) unstated, is that Trump and his supporters are guilty of their murder. The fact that they ranged from police officers to pro-Trump protestors (one of whom died from a heart attack while simply standing and talking on the phone to his wife) is utterly neglected. Even the hardly Pro-Trump New York Timespointed out these facts. The reader of the BBC version, by contrast, especially if they know little about the issue already, would surely have been inoculated against any sympathy for Trump by the time they had read this phrase about these five deaths.

There is, however, a degree of ‘BBC balance’ evident in the quotation of Trump’s remarks before the events around the Capitol last week: the author cites Trump’s phrase ‘peacefully and patriotically’ as well as his ‘fight like hell’, which he did indeed make. However, this last statement has often been confused as a direct incitement of violence.  

This is certainly rather strange considering that the President was quite clearly referring to his legal efforts to flip the state of Georgia (and other states) in his favour. Even if we are to dismiss the wider context of Trump’s speech, how can we determine that the phrase ‘fight like hell’ (three simple words) was the direct cause of the events that transpired on the 7th of January?   

It’s worrying that writers, holding such eminent positions, can lack the critical thinking skills necessary to achieve an unbiased report (that is to say, if this wasn’t an intentional effort to begin with). Instead of looking at Trump’s statements, with open eyes, open minds, and open hearts, they have gone down the path of projection; attempting to find the words they what to find and extrapolate the meaning(s) from them that will almost certainly produce the best headlines.  

The article of impeachment, quoted in the piece, claims that Trump ‘wilfully made statements […] that encouraged and foreseeably resulted in lawless action at the Capitol’. The use of the word ‘wilfully’ is interesting here, for it assumes Trump’s intentions without any true knowledge of them. However, the reader is guided by this assumption to believe that these statements were the causal link to the precipitating events.

Willfully Definition

A similar mixture of fact and careful elaboration can be seen in the coverage of these events by Daniel Strauss in his 13th January piece in the Guardian. In many ways this can be seen as an earlier rendition of the BBC article we have discussed above, in which it covers much of the same subject matter and tone.

In Strauss’ piece, we find a similar characterisation of Trump’s supporters (‘last week’s attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob), as well as negative references to the president’s comments (‘incendiary remarks before the attack’).

While Strauss’ report does admit that Trump released a statement saying that he desired a peaceful transition into Biden’s administration, which demonstrates a degree of even-handedness, the rest of the article does very little to show a real awareness of other points of view.

We see this in his reference to Republican statements that the Democrats were perfectly happy to allow violence in the name of Black Lives Matter, thereby demonstrating (in the words of congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene) that ‘Democrats are on record supporting violence when it supports their cause’.

This would seem like Strauss is giving the other argumentative side its due, but before repeating this last remark, he feels that it’s important to note that Greene has ‘supported the QAnon terrorist movement’. We are therefore instantly led to believe that her remarks should be discredited.

Yet, noting Greene’s alleged QAnon sympathies does nothing to challenge her argument that the law-and-order response to BLM violence last year were rather less strident than those currently being deployed against impassioned Trump supporters.

In hindsight, the case of George Floyd appears to have merely been exploited by BLM’s lust, or religio-political need, for a martyr figure who would stir up inter-racial hatred. The confected opposition between ‘vicious’ police and ‘virtuous’ BLM activists neglected to mention the number of black police officers who were abused, sometimes in shockingly racist terms, by white BLM supporters in the course of such protests. These facts highlight that the purpose of the armed presence around the Capitol right now must be questioned. Yes, pro-Trump supporters ran through its halls last week causing enough damage for a clean-up team to work on, but would the same contingent of police and soldiers (in numbers which, as congressman Seth Moulton has observed, outnumber the US troops currently stationed in Afghanistan) have been deployed in response to a pro-Biden demonstration? Probably not.

What seems to have been forgotten is that before the election results were announced last year, businesses had been boarding up their shops in fear of the far-left violence; events which would have almost indefinitely been re-enacted had Trump been re-elected. Why is this side of the story so rarely publicised?

Connected to this, it is striking that the majority of those impeaching the President now, let alone many of those in favour of doing so, had never been happy about his attainment of the Presidency to begin with, and had unsuccessfully attempted to impeach him in 2019, before the Capitol events this January.

The flood of anti-Trump polemic which we have all had to wade through since his election has had little to do with a critical consideration of the evidence but an attempt to remove him in despite of it.

Recently, such polemic has been augmented by the election promises of Biden and Harris, which attempted to mobilise race (2020’s identity-political flavour of the year) as a major reason for voters not to support Trump at the ballot box. Yet you didn’t need to be a black Trump supporter as eminent and ardent as Candace Owens in order to recognise the positive impact Trump has had on the lives of black individuals in America. Why didn’t major media outlet cover the arguments and attitudes of people such as Bedros Keuilian, The Hodge Twins, or Barricade Garage, who have shown their support for the president and have tried to persuade other members of the black community to do the same?

I may not be a great fan of Trump… His personal qualities certainly leave much to be desired in a President of the US. However, his achievements cannot be so easily dismissed. Yet the polemic against Trump continued (and continues) unabated and reached its zenith in the midst of last week’s events when social media platforms, notably Twitter, banned him, just as they have banned the comments of anyone else whose views their leaders and administrators disagree with. Regardless of the comments of the bosses of these platforms, such as Jack Dorsey, have made that acknowledge the dangers of  these actions, they have still proceeded to do so due to their beneficial political, economic, or social outcomes.

The consequence of the kind of polarising polemic seen in the brief review of the BBC and Guardian articles discussed above, is that regardless of our individual political sympathies, we are collectively being prevented from fairly hearing different viewpoints and are being pushed to amend our own worldviews in the light of the insights they appear to provide.

The value of free speech is not simply about putting your own opinions out there but having the opportunity to access the information which might change these views. Undoubtedly, those in favour of Twitter’s actions, or any other kind of censorship, will remark that the right to free speech stops when it incites violence but how can we accurately determine when incitement truly begins?

If we are unable to discuss issues rationally, in a free marketplace of ideas, will we be in a position to know how we wish our society to change and better itself? Even at the risk of inspiring others to act passionately, free speech (in its most full form) must be maintained.

Does this view of mine condone violence? Not at all. I deplore violent acts by supporters of any political position but allowing pro-BLM rhetoric (for example) to continue unchallenged on social media has only done more to not only break windows and topple statues, but to divide the multi-ethnic societies of the US and UK which were well on the way to forgetting that racial differences existed.

This violence was condoned in similar terms, by those who said it was the voice of the voiceless. But the perpetrators of such acts were not voiceless; if anything, they dominated the culture’s discourse, and still do, because for the most part they are also the people who write and speak for news outlets, hold official university posts, govern social media platforms, and, of course, oppose Trump.

But what about those others, who are truly voiceless and alienated in US society, those who feel that Trump is their only source of hope for a better future not only for themselves, but for everyone in their country? Because this really is the appeal he provides in a cultural consensus which seems set on privileging the elite members of certain social groups and enforcing new dogmatic rules which neglect the needs of ordinary people regardless of their ability to identify with such pieces of the intersectional jigsaw. How else will these ordinary people make their struggles known if free discourse is denied to them?

The serious answer to this question, and conclusion of this piece, is that if such partisanship by news outlets and the tech giants running platforms such as Twitter continues, we will have likely seen violent acts not only continue but grow in scale. For if people’s freedom to speak is removed, then what other options are available to them to express their thoughts, feelings, and political opinions?

For more content, check out Mouthing Off’s Politics & News section!

About The Author

Brett Mottram

Is it a bird? Is it deranged? No-one knows. Dividing available time between university research and teaching, Brett keeps moderately sane by indulging in musical pursuits, penning non-academic pieces of writing, and experimenting in the kitchen

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