Actual Journalism Is Under an Asymmetrical Attack
Our political media today is a one-sided battle. In one corner, we have the old-fashioned gatekeepers doing business as they always have: fearful of offending the powerful, and constantly attempting to strike a balance between profit and what they deem the “public interest.” In the other is an amalgam of right-wing institutions that found a path to riches by combining lies, prejudice, and conspiracy theories—with precious little actual journalism. Donald Trump’s presidency has boosted the latter’s influence, helping to metastasize its cancerous mendacity throughout the body politic. But the phenomenon precedes Trump—indeed, without it he would still be a C-list celebrity grifter.
In their in-depth 2011 study of the Tea Party, political scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson observed that “what America has right now is a thousand-pound gorilla media juggernaut on the right, operating nineteenth-century style, coexisting with other news outlets trying to keep up while making fitful efforts, twentieth-century style, to check facts and cover ‘both sides of the story.’” Back then, the juggernaut was mostly Fox News and Rush Limbaugh–style talk radio. But today, there’s been a proliferation of outlets that exploit their audience’s gullibility and the unwillingness of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to take responsibility for the lies and hatred they so profitably distribute.
Eric Alterman, a columnist for ‘The Nation,’ explores how the rules of journalism appear to be different for the left and the right.