NY-22 Minute: Tenney's Social Media Series Criticizes News Media By Luke Perry
Claudia Tenney recently began a new social media series on Twitter and Facebook entitled “Fact Check Friday” to “set the record straight” when “the media fails to cover our wins of NY-22.” “It seems like every day,” Claudia Tenney for Congress stated on June 22, “there are biased, misleading reports.”
Tenney has long been a critic of the news media, which she believes is not fulfilling its role as the fourth estate. During her first Congressional campaign in 2016, Tenney said she ran her family newspaper “honorably” as “an alternative to the media we had out there.” (2:20 mark)
In March, Tenney claimed “the single biggest destructive force in our country is the media.” She recently stated that one of President Trump’s “greatest achievements” is "calling out" the news media, who “need to be a watchdog” and “need to be as independent as they can be.” (9:08 mark) Trump described the news media as an “enemy of the American people” soon after taking office and has frequently attacked them during the first two years of his presidency.
Tenney has regularly criticized the Observer Dispatch (OD), the 200 year old daily newspaper in Utica, NY-22's largest city. "Fact Check Friday" has focused on OD reporters. (I have served as an unpaid political analyst and columnist for the paper since in 2016.)
Tenney recently stated she is “just appalled” by how the OD covers the region. “They have been instrumental in causing a lot of the decline in our community by not telling the truth to a lot of our residents here," Tenney explained.
"They seem to be in the bed with the politicians that are in power instead of really kind of calling them out.” (10:15 mark) Tenney believes the news media has not wanted to cover her perceived accomplishments and/or do so positively enough.
The news section of the OD regularly reports on what Representative Tenney is doing, while the paper’s editorial board has criticized some of her comments.
For instance, Tenney recently hosted a round table with banks and credit unions. The OD reported on this with a direct statement from the Congresswoman and her related press release. Tenney recently pursued legislation regarding opioids. The OD reported on this (examples here & here) with direct statements from the Congresswoman and her related press releases (here & here).
When Anthony Brindisi began his campaign in July of 2017, Tenney described Brindisi's father as being “very involved with the organized crime in Utica for many years,” stating that is the family he comes from. The OD's editorial board believed this was “just plain inappropriate, especially coming from an elected official.”
In February of this year, when Tenney stated that people who commit mass murders “end being Democrats but the media doesn’t talk about that,” the OD's editorial board described the comments as “shameful” and a “huge embarrassment” to the district.
Last Friday's "fact check" referenced OD reporter Greg Mason, and his examination of Tenney's claim to be the most productive representative ever from NY-22. Mason compared Tenney's record to her predecessors.
Mason has interviewed Tenney multiple times (examples here & here). In January, for instance, Mason asked “what do you think were some of your key accomplishments this year?” The OD printed her response:
Anthony Brindisi's campaign responded via Twitter to Tenney's recent "fact-check," referencing Tenney's mass shooter comments with a link to Politifact New York, who researched the claim. Politifact is an organization of journalists operated by the Tampa Bay Times focused on fact-checking.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans now feel exhausted by the amount of news being disseminated with Republicans experiencing this more (by 16 points) than Democrats.
70 percent of Americans also believe that the news media is fulfilling its role of government watchdog and “keeps political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done.” Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided on this.
Nearly 90 percent of Democrats agree compared to just 42 percent of Republicans. This helps illustrate the potential political gain regarding Tenney's media criticism.
All Congressional incumbents strategically seek to claim credit and deflect blame. Turning out Republicans is a key focus of Tenney’s reelection campaign, particularly without Trump atop the ticket.
Tenney’s media criticism ingratiates her with Trump supporters, connects with a passionate and growing segment of conservative Republicans, and may help deflect perceptions the Republican controlled Congress and presidency has not accomplished as much as possible, given setbacks with healthcare and immigration.
Alienating moderate Republicans and independents, who tend to look more favorably toward the news media, is a potential strategic risk with Tenney's strategy. While Tenney privately laments her press coverage, some around her differ on whether the problem is the media or Tenney insufficiently focusing on her record.
Staff recently wrote a letter thanking Americans for their support and stating “we won’t forget being called an enemy of the people” because “exposing evil, shining light on wrongs and fighting injustice is what we do.”
In some ways, the current political and media environment has come full circle to the U.S. founding. The volume, pace, and mediums have changed significantly, but early political elite frequently went negative, making accurate and false accusations toward their perceived adversaries, often through media outlets deemed favorable to them.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Chair and Professor of Government at Utica College.
Read the NY-22 Minute for timely and comprehensive analysis of the campaign.