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Thursday, December 14, 2023

Journalism and Illiberalism

A number of posts have discussed media bias.

James Bennet at The Economist:
In my experience, reporters overwhelmingly support Democratic policies and candidates. They are generally also motivated by a desire for a more just world. Neither of those tendencies are new. But there has been a sea change over the past ten years in how journalists think about pursuing justice. The reporters’ creed used to have its foundation in liberalism, in the classic philosophical sense. The exercise of a reporter’s curiosity and empathy, given scope by the constitutional protections of free speech, would equip readers with the best information to form their own judgments. The best ideas and arguments would win out. The journalist’s role was to be a sworn witness; the readers’ role was to be judge and jury. In its idealised form, journalism was lonely, prickly, unpopular work, because it was only through unrelenting scepticism and questioning that society could advance. If everyone the reporter knew thought X, the reporter’s role was to ask: why X?

Illiberal journalists have a different philosophy, and they have their reasons for it. They are more concerned with group rights than individual rights, which they regard as a bulwark for the privileges of white men. They have seen the principle of free speech used to protect right-wing outfits like Project Veritas and Breitbart News and are uneasy with it. They had their suspicions of their fellow citizens’ judgment confirmed by Trump’s election, and do not believe readers can be trusted with potentially dangerous ideas or facts. They are not out to achieve social justice as the knock-on effect of pursuing truth; they want to pursue it head-on. The term “objectivity” to them is code for ignoring the poor and weak and cosying up to power, as journalists often have done.

And they do not just want to be part of the cool crowd. They need to be. To be more valued by their peers and their contacts – and hold sway over their bosses – they need a lot of followers in social media. That means they must be seen to applaud the right sentiments of the right people in social media. The journalist from central casting used to be a loner, contrarian or a misfit. Now journalism is becoming another job for joiners, or, to borrow Twitter’s own parlance, “followers”, a term that mocks the essence of a journalist’s role