The left and right have very different approaches to the mainstream press, and that directly impacts the relationship between the media and two major parties and ideologies in America.
First, the right. The right takes a blunt approach to any media outlet that is not directly in the tank like Fox News, talk radio, or right-wing news/blog sites: They are the enemy. It doesn’t matter if it is CNN, The Nation, or the New York Times, if your outlet doesn’t parrot the Republican Party line at every moment, you are no better than a propaganda outlet singing the praises of Barack Obama in their eyes.
This is the infamous “liberal bias” argument. The problem, from an objective point of view, is that the notion of bias is always squishy, always a moving target. Repeating a scientifically valid data point is fair game, in the view of the right, to be labeled as “bias.” There is no way to satisfy this complaint.
That is why the relationship between the mainstream press – outlets like CNN, New York Times, and Washington Post particularly – and the right seem so weird to us on the left. These outlets, and many others, believe the way to stop the torrent of abuse from the right about bias is to kowtow to their demands. They give objectively untrue conservative lines of argument “equal time” with reality-based arguments, or they hold Democrats and liberals up to standards created by the right.
The starting position, for example, is that Hillary Clinton “must prove” she is telling the truth, or gun safety advocates “have to admit” that their proposals are unpopular. But even when the mainstream media indulges the conservative argument and adopts it as its own, the charges of bias will still come. It doesn’t matter what the press does, the right will always see it as the enemy. If the New York Times said Donald Trump was the second coming of Jesus, conservatives would complain that the font used to tell the story was too small and evidence of liberal bias.
Despite all this, the relationship between the left and the mainstream media is even worse, and it is the left here who is the submissive half of the duo.
While liberals expect to see their point of view in the press, they understand, unlike the right, that it is okay to report negatively on the figures and issues we support. If a Democrat has clearly done something wrong, liberals will not object to a news report that indicates this.
Where the left goes off the rails is that they believe that their end goals are one and the same with the media’s. Because seeking out injustice and fighting malfeasance has so often been the domain of the left, liberals assume that journalism which does the same automatically means the press is “on our side.”
But the media in America, except for public media like NPR and PBS and a few others, is a profit-making exercise. That means their bottom line is their bottom line, not necessarily making the world a better place.
Because liberals are often stuck in this mindset, we reward good behavior by the press and are confused when they go off the rails, and are even more confused when they don’t respond in a rational manner to our criticism.
The mainstream press responds very poorly to critiques from the left, largely because until the last decade or so they didn’t hear them much. Beyond complaints about corporatization and consolidation, liberals do not have the track record of day-in-day-out media critiques that the right has had.
With the advent of social media, along with organizations like Media Matters (where I used to work), the press is now hit from the left on a regular basis (hourly, and half-hourly, if I can manage the time for it).
That is why their reaction is not as it is with the right. They don’t hop to it and bend over backwards like they do in reaction to the right. Instead, their posture often is “how can you do this, I thought we were friends.”
The mainstream media treats the left like an attractive teenager treats the lovelorn nerd who hangs on his or her every word. The left is in the friend zone, and no matter how often we buy the media lunch, give them our candy, or take the blame for something they did, we are never getting out of the zone.
Even worse, they only use us to get what they want, and won’t even acknowledge us in public lest they be embarrassed. Click the links, generate revenue for their advertisers, but shut up about the content because your complaint just isn’t valid, not like on the right.
How can this be remedied? Liberals do not, and should not, take the approach the right has. The media is not a blood enemy, to be attacked and spat on and body slammed because they don’t agree with our every utterance.
But they also are not our friends. They’re not on the team. Our goals are very different and we should never confuse ourselves with the notion that they are.
The mainstream press is a worthy adversary for the left. To be cheered on when they do the right thing, but to be respectfully but extremely forcefully called to task when they do the wrong thing. We should not reward their bad behavior while passing a link along when they’ve done their jobs properly.
They must learn that we’re not going to sit in the friend zone for all eternity, allowing bad reporting to lead to bad policy decisions that end up with hundreds of thousands of people dead. The stakes are too high and too important to subjugate ourselves to the mainstream press any longer.
It is long past time to push back, and start saving lives.
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