A Time of Reckoning for US Media

Blaming the media is one of the laziest arguments you’ll find on Twitter. Which is saying something because Twitter was, it seems, designed from the ground up to be the birthplace of lazy arguments, a museum of lazy arguments and the final resting place for most lazy arguments.

But it is hard not to read an article like this one in the New York Times and not be triggered on many levels including but not limited to disgust, contempt and profound concern for its approach, content and execution.

The disgust comes both at the intellectual slackness and inherent dishonesty of the both sides approach. Arguing that there are “different realities” is the antithesis of making an objective effort to support the truth.

The GOP “reality” of thinking or at least arguing that Democrats are responsible for the threat to American democracy is steeped in lies, deflection, projection and founded in no facts of any kind whatsoever.  On the contrary, it is like writing that we should listen to the arguments of arsonists that they care as much about the houses they are burning down as the people who are being made homeless or worse by the fires the arsonists start.  It is saying the arsonists’ reality is somehow equivalent to that of their victims, that their arguments deserve the same credence. Americans believe many things. That does not mean reporters should be treating them all the same. Belief is not a component of truth.

Truth is what is, whether you believe it or not. The world is not flat. History is what actually happened. Conspiracy theories don’t become reality based on the number of adherents they win. Vaccines are better for fighting disease that household cleaning agents.

The contempt comes because the journalists involved know better. So, you ask, why does the Times (and why do other news organizations) do this over and over again? It has nothing to do with journalism, nothing to do with balance or fairness and everything to do with business.

That is where the profound concern comes in. Both sides-ing a sustained assault on democracy, freedom, decency, and truth obscures the real truth–that we are in danger. And worse, it increases the danger by validating those who are responsible for the threat we face.  Only one party in America, the Republican Party, is responsible for the reality that our democracy is at risk. No Democrat nor the Democratic Party is responsible for that threat in any way. The division in our views does not alter that reality in the slightest.

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This is just one article. But it is symptomatic of problems all of us who are news consumers see daily. I do not know, for example, what is happening at CNN. I read that there is an effort afoot to broaden its appeal by trafficking in false equivalencies and both-sidesism.

I do not know why @JohnJHarwood no longer works there. I have read the accounts. But when he and people like @brianstelter are let go and they have been known to regularly speak the truth about the political crises in which America finds itself, it is deeply disturbing.

It is just as disturbing as when CNN puts on the air the shills and mouthpieces of the right and offers them up as analysts and compounds the problem by failing to challenge their views that are based on rumor, innuendo, lies and ignorance.  It is just as disturbing as when anchors on CNN seem to seek out ways to “add balance” by playing up “counter-narratives” that are based on the unsubstantiated or distorted murmurs of the GOP press machine or right-wing social media.

Was the fact that two Marines appeared behind Joe Biden when he gave an important speech on the profound and growing threats our democracy faces worthy of coloring their assessment of the speech, comparable in any way to the gravity of the President’s message or the moment?

Of course it was not. It was a complete fake story. Others, like @MuellerSheWrote to choose just one example, have explained that presidents are surrounded by signs of their office, their ties to the military.

It happens when they salute the military as they board Air Force One, when they walk past the Marine guards outside the White House, when they appear on the decks of aircraft carriers declaring “Mission Accomplished,” when they wear military style jackets.

Presidents abuse the setting when they stage campaign rallies as Trump did in using the military as props or sets. Biden appearing in front of the birthplace of our democracy to raise the fact-based, appropriately earnest alarm that democracy is at risk was not one of those times.

The decline of CNN into both-sidesism, pandering to an audience whose standards are set by the right-wing media establishment, who literally believe in “alternative facts” as well as conspiracy theories…while they provide excuses for seditionists, racists and other felons would be a terrible loss to journalism and toward this nation’s ability to apprehend the truth. That in turn would be yet another devastating blow to democracy. As Jefferson once wrote, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” He did not say that because of a love doing crossword puzzles or reading the sports pages.

He said it because access to facts and fact-based analysis is the oxygen of democracy, of a successful society. It is the source of our wisdom. It is the basic ingredient of making the right decisions and choices in our lives.

Letting the political beliefs of viewers or readers shape the content provided by a media outlet is no more journalism (wherever those beliefs may fall on the political spectrum) than suggesting that because some people believe in it, superstition is the same as science.

At the same time suggesting that because a group of people believe something their beliefs are automatically of equivalent value to anything any other group of people believes is pernicious, the opposite of journalism, a path to greater misunderstanding of the world and worse.

Our democracy is at risk in part because our media is failing. Every rational voice with a platform–on social media, in newspapers, on TV–must speak up, make that clear, demand best practices. If not, unmoored from truth, we will soon lose the essence of what made the US great.

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