The left must move from media criticism to social media criticism


For most of its existence, left-wing “netroots” (or “blogosphere” or whatever you want to call it) have focused on media criticism as much or more than partisan politics itself. From the first days of Eschaton, MyDD and DailyKos, Just as writers and activists aimed at Republicans and centrist Democrats, the main goal was to shame more mainstream media sources and journalists for adopting a “reality-based” approach to journalism.

It was a noble and necessary project. The world seems so broken up that many younger and newer activists may not appreciate how much things have changed for the better since the dark days of the mid-2000s. Not long ago, Fox News was seen as a legitimate journalistic organization like any other; when the Conservatives’ complaints about deficit spending were treated with serious death rather than the height of hypocrisy; when CNN reporters enthusiastically integrated into the military in Iraq and treated opponents of the war with thinly veiled derision; when Rudy Giuliani was hailed as “America’s Mayor”; when marriage equality was seen as a far left position relegated to non-seriousness; when to call the modern conservative movement as a workhorse for racism and sexism was too left-wing for a polite society or respectable opinion pages; when climate change has been treated as a matter of controversy and debate rather than a blunt fact. Etc.

The media criticism project has by no means ended, and there remains a lot of bad faith and false objectivity disguised as truth and seriousness. Jay Rosen at Tap Think, for example, continue to do the necessary yeoman work on this front.

But there is also no doubt that the battlefields have changed considerably since mid-August. It is now common practice to read in mainstream media sources like CNN meteoric attacks against one-sided Republican extremism. Today excellent piece by John Harwood is a good example. the New York Times and the Washington post increasingly use unfiltered language about conservative lies and polarization, openly using the word “lies” and denouncing anti-democracy legislative projects as racist attacks on democracy. In the spaces on the left, magazines like The nation, The new republic and The American Perspective have taken a more adversarial and rigorous approach than in the past under editors like David Dayen – even as the Overton Window in the media has shifted to give voice to more radically leftist perspectives like those of Interception or to Jacobin which once had no visibility in the American landscape. Without too much organizational self-congratulation, I would say the Washington Monthly has also refined its coverage of politics over the past decade, alongside these trends, balancing political orientation with effective media criticism.

But the same trends that have led the mainstream media to become more honest about the state of the Republican Party and the Conservative movement, have ironically reduced the importance of their action. In 2005, progressive activists would have been delighted to see prime-time broadcasters on CNN delivering a meteoric puddle against the leadership and tactics of the Republican Party. But now it has almost become a joke in itself, as no convincing conservative even considers CNN or the New York Times one more mainstream news source. The media landscape itself has changed so drastically that the Conservatives are now enveloped in a no-fact bubble of their own, while the center, center-left and left all occupy a mix of what was once considered ” general public ”or left. -cleaning sources that rarely, if ever, penetrate the polarized conservative bubble.

In 2021, it is hardly useful to quibble over the particular language Washington post uses to describe the terrible reality of climate change or the breathtaking lies and hypocrisies of Mitch McConnell, when hardly anyone is inclined to vote for candidates who deny the climate crisis by Mitch McConnell even reads the Washington post in the first place.

As far as giant problems remain in journalism itself, they are primarily the product of media ownership rather than journalistic culture: the growing presence of far-right ownership of local TV stations, l purchase of large newspaper chains by vulture capitalists, the ongoing struggle. to establish a reliable revenue model, etc.

The much bigger problem now is social media. The relevance of traditional media sources is diminishing as more people in America and around the world get their “news” from viral posts on Facebook and other social media. These posts often refer to specious “articles” from propaganda sites, or contain false personal anecdotes with no underlying article link. QAnon’s conspiracy theories and anti-vaccine false beliefs are not the product of poor framing in mainstream media sources, but of viral social media misinformation. Authoritarian far-right leaders around the world are taking power through WhatsApp and Facebook, not because of insufficiently honest coverage by a traditionally objective newspaper.

The attention of activists and progressive writers must change accordingly. It is always important to ensure that mainstream journalism prioritizes truth over false objectivity. But if democracy is to survive and progress, the most important task ahead is to hold social media companies accountable for allowing the de facto isolation of millions of people trapped in bubbles of disinformation and changing the regulatory landscape around their behaviour. As traditional media remain important, attention should shift to establishing consistent revenue models for quality original reporting and opinion journalism, and to preventing the conservative takeover of existing media.

It is difficult for anyone to retrain. But left-wing writers should win and accept that in many ways they are victims of both their own success and the horrors of modern far-right populism. Now is the time to solve the problem that lies ahead, rather than the problem behind us.


About Madeline Powers

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