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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Mainstream Media’s Timid Defense of Democracy

Some excerpts from Eric Alterman’s ‘Altercation’ column on “The Sins of the Mainstream Media: The many reasons why the media is failing to reckon with the loss of our democracy” at The American Prospect:

As this benighted year comes to an end, you, dear reader, are no doubt wondering why our media has failed so miserably when tested by a political party that seeks to destroy our democracy and our planet with it. The answer, sadly, is “it’s complicated.”

The media critic Dan Froomkin wrote an excellent column recently which pointed to another aspect of the problem. Nina Bernstein, a reporter who covered homelessness for The New York Times, tells him that at the Paper of Record, “To write factually, up close, with what I like to call intelligent compassion about these people’s lives basically invited charges of partisanship … Many reporters across the traditional news media are struggling against institutional tics and timidities that make ‘balance’ a false idol.” The result: “The inadvertent normalization of existential threats to democracy and public health by one party and its right-wing media echo chamber.” Bernstein points the finger at Times mid-level editors. They are often the ones “who are more timid, more ready to water down or reject a story.” But, she notes, “They’re trying to do what they think the top editors want.”

This is how an allegedly liberal newspaper ends up whitewashing Republican corruption, cruelty, and purposeful (often, but not always) faux stupidity, because it’s really true that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

Alterman notes “numerous instances where a terribly misleading headline will appear above a reasonably OK story. Given the fact that the headline is all most people will ever read, people receive a completely false picture of reality.” He provides a couple of examples from New York Times headlines and cites nine ways that the media dithers when it comes to standing up for democracy, including these excerpts:

“When Democrats do not do what journalists think they should—which is quite frequently—journalists take it personally and attack them, regardless of how inconsequential the offense. Republicans, whom journalists tend to find weird and scary, might be attempting to overthrow our government, but this turns out to be less of a concern.”

“Journalists like to pretend to objectivity, but what they really mean is quoting from “both sides” and failing to distinguish between what they know to be lies and what they know to be true. In this lengthy article on the 2016 election, I went into a great deal of detail about how it works and where it comes from.”

“Yes, most journalists are liberal on social issues like abortion and gun control and even, God help them, evolution. But most also work, by and large, for multinational corporations whose top executives earn eight-figure salaries and hate taxes, unions, and anything that threatens their power and profits.”

A few major media outlets, including MSNBC, and to a lesser extent CNN, have done a decent job of prioritizing reports about the investigation of the complicity of the Trump Administration and Republican office-holders in the January 6th riot. But reports about Republican-driven voter suppression in the states have been spotty in general, given their serious threat to American democracy.

Some have suggested that restoring the Fairness Doctrine would promote balance in reporting. Others argue that it was never all that ‘fair’ in practice. Although there are no quick ‘fixes’ for media sins of omission or distortion, there is plenty of room for new ideas for reform.

One comment on “Mainstream Media’s Timid Defense of Democracy

  1. pjcamp on

    ” a political party that seeks to destroy our democracy and our planet with it. ”


    They accuse Democrats of seeking to destroy America. Is that true? Well neither is this. Republican voters have been fed a steady stream of nebulous Democratic conspiracies for 21 years now. The purpose is to make Rupert Murdoch richer.

    Believing something that is wrong doesn’t make you evil. There are actually very few people who truly want to destroy America or the planet. Even Rupert Murdoch doesn’t want to do that. He just doesn’t care much if it happens.


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