What Roy Moore's Near-Miss Tells us About America's Great Media Divide
As partisan skepticism degenerates into media illiteracy, in-house media criticism devolves into pompous wagon-circling.
Last night's nail-biter of a special election in Alabama revealed several sharp splits in the American body politic—between evangelical whites and African Americans, between single-issue pro-lifers and the rough American consensus on abortion policy, between Bannonism and professional Republicanism, between #MeToo and she's-lying.
But as I contend in today's L.A. Times, one of the biggest chasms of perception—and generators of political activity, particularly on the right—is between the way insiders and outsider look at media. Excerpt:
All political media criticism—whether it was the more left-leaning alternative and New Journalism of the '60s and '70s, the right-leaning AM radio revolution of the '80s and '90s or the social media cacophony we see today—begins as a necessary and bracing reminder to the big media fish that they, too, swim in water, even if they don't feel it.
But soon, the outsider critique brushes up against the first iron law of media criticism: Partisan skepticism inevitably drifts toward media illiteracy. What starts out as a tool for more sophisticated news consumption eventually degrades into an excuse for those who choose not to believe inconvenient journalism.
So we see headlines like The Federalist's "It's Media's Fault 71 Percent Of Roy Moore Voters Don't Believe WaPo Allegations," and startling sentences like this one from the Wall Street Journal's William McGurn: "They may well be wrong about Mr. Moore and his accusers, but is their skepticism really that difficult to understand?"
That's not a corrective; that's an apologia for ignorance and nihilism.
Insider media criticism, the kind practiced both by in-house media reporters such as [CNN's Brian] Stelter and various ombudsmen and readers' representatives, suffers from its own iron law: Industrial self-critique inevitably drifts toward pompous defensiveness.
Plenty more examples of the latter at the link.
Some related Reason reading from me:
* "The 'Truth' Hurts: How the fact-checking press gives the president a pass"
* "Biased About Bias: The hunt for ideology becomes an ideology."
* "Hack Roast: When citizens attack…reporters"