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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Can the Left Get it Right?

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Last month, NBC News Group chairman Cesar Conde hired – then speedily fired – Ronna McDaniel as a political commentator. McDaniel is the immediate past chairperson of the Republican National Committee. Understandably, Conde desires to have a news organization that offers disparate voices. However, NBC’s marquee personalities vociferously objected to McDaniel’s hiring while on air. She barely lasted three days at the network.

The outrage was driven by McDaniel having chosen to be a leading propagandist in advancing the lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Thus, this wasn’t merely a case of liberals rebelling against the hiring of a conservative; it was appropriate indignation directed at someone who spent years cynically fostering a historic political divide just to placate Donald Trump. The left and right can (and should) disagree about certain policies; that’s the nature of a healthy democracy. But the two sides should never “disagree” about objective reality, especially when said disagreement undermines democracy. McDaniel is guilty of exactly that.

More recently, NPR stalwart Uri Berliner wrote a well-received essay regarding his belief that the organization has shifted from being somewhat left-leaning to being an all-out, ideologically-driven echo chamber that “tells listeners what to think”. Berliner, who spent a quarter century at NPR, also catalogued why he believes this “new” direction has resulted in a shrinking audience. He resigned from the network after having been chastised by Katherine Maher, NPR’s new CEO.

Notably, the criticism that NPR has become “too liberal” isn’t new; Richard Nixon wanted to, um, nix it in its infancy. In every decade since, Republicans have tried to have federal funding for NPR (and PBS) gutted. That’s just politics. What is new is the fact that a seemingly growing number of people on the left agree with Berliner, a self-described progressive who embraces “diversity of thought”.

Here’s what I find interesting. There is scant evidence that such internal gut-checking occurs at right-wing organizations like FOX News, Breitbart, Newsmax, et al. At a minimum, such arguments don’t rise to the level that they do at NPR. Perhaps there was some amount of debate about the need for Fox to actually be “fair and balanced” after the network paid a nearly $800 million settlement due to its incessant lies about Dominion Voting. However, it’s fair to assume that such level-headedness was quickly squashed.

While I agree that NPR has an obvious liberal bias, the organization strives much more diligently than its conservative competitors to present more than one side to major political stories, such as the war in Gaza. Yes, there are inherent dangers in groupthink. Yes, diversity of viewpoints is important. However, NPR does not – and should not – present “the other side” when it comes issues such as climate change, the 2020 election, or the COVID pandemic. Tolerance for disinformation is not a sufficient excuse to jettison journalistic integrity.

All this leaves left-leaning news organizations in a quandary. Most of them genuinely desire to offer a diversity of viewpoints. Yet, when it comes to highlighting Republican voices, it is very difficult to present people who have not sold their soul to Donald Trump – proverbially of course. For example, they are required to preach the gospel of “election fraud” and similar nonsense. That is the cost of remaining a denizen of Trump Land.

All of this begs a crucial question: What is the purpose of journalism? My answer is that context matters, which is not something that I could have conceived of arguing before 2016. Historically, the proper role of journalism has simply to present the facts in as objective a manner as is humanly possible. Obviously, it is impossible to completely eliminate bias, including confirmation bias; but serious news organizations should make a serious attempt to do so.

Today, however, things are different. Given what Donald Trump and his followers have publicly said, I believe that our democracy is in genuine peril. (For example, consider Project 2025.) In short, Trump and his followers are not merely different in degree from prior political machines; they are different in kind. For example, it is inconceivable that any other former president, of any political party, would openly advocate “suspending” the Constitution. News organizations have a moral duty, a debt of honor, to fight back against any clear enemy of the state, foreign or domestic.

Otherwise, what’s the point?

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