Will the Press Recognize the Existential Threat and Fight Back, or Buckle Under?

It should astonish even the jaded that Republicans are calling CNBC, that stodgy home of supply-side Wall Street cheerleading, an agent of the left.

Still apoplectic at being asked some basic questions at the debate, Republican candidates are doubling down on their freakout.

Ted Cruz is flat-out calling CNBC debate moderators “left-wing operatives” and demanding that right-wing radio hosts moderate their debates, instead.

Donald Trump, who openly lied during the debate about what is on his own website, called debate moderator John Harwood a “dope” and a “fool.”

All of this after Republican candidates spewed forth one of the most embarrassing explosion of lies ever witnessed during a television presidential debate.

The press is facing an existential threat. With Republicans increasingly unashamed to tell grandiose lies and respond to any press criticism with derogatory insults and whines about media bias as well as blackmail threats to cancel appearances if the questions are too tough, the press must decide how to respond on two fronts. First, it must decide how to present an objective face while acknowledging that both sides do not, in fact, behave equally badly. Second, it must determine whether it will continue to ask the tough questions that need answers regardless of the threats made by the GOP, or whether it will meekly submit to the demands for kid-glove treatment.

If the press chooses to assuage and give comfort to the GOP, it will lose what little credibility it has left. The Republican base will never accept mainstream journalists as fair arbiters–but the rest of us will lose what little respect we still have them. If the press stands up to the bullies and calls out GOP tactics and untruths for what they are, they will gain in respect what they lose from conservative hatemongers in the perceived objectivity department.

The choice is clear: stand strong and call out the lies as they are, or fall further into the abyss as the Republican Party ramps up its threats and insults. It never pays to give a bully what they want, unless the bully has absolute power over you. The GOP does not hold that sort of power over the press. Indeed, the GOP has far more to fear from the press than the other way around.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.