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Scandal fatigue, wealth redistribution, and the media


This twitter thread from Marc Jacob is getting a lot of attention:

I used to edit Page 1 stories for the Chicago Tribune, including many from Washington. In this thread, I explain why the media (including me) have been unintentionally complicit in the rise of fascism that threatens our democracy.

1/9Mainstream media have long tried to treat Republicans and Democrats equally. Some, like me, thought that was the way to be fair. In fact, it was the way to be lazy and not have to sort out the facts. Just quote a Democrat and quote a Republican and you’re done.

2/9When I edited political stories, I went so far as to count the quotes from Republicans and Democrats, thinking an equal number would make us fairer. I didn’t think I was helping either party. I thought I was helping the readers. I was wrong.

3/9If you look back 3 or 4 decades, you see many corrupt pols in both parties. Scandals like Abscam and Keating 5 were mostly Democratic. But in recent decades it’s obvious the GOP is more unethical and anti-democratic. Which means treating the parties equally helps Republicans.

4/9Hillary Clinton mishandled emails. George W. Bush lied to get us into a war. Both were bad. But one was way worse. The media’s self-assigned job to treat Republicans and Democrats equally has compelled them to pump up coverage of Democratic scandals. It’s fairness-signaling.

5/9The Republicans have overwhelmed the media with corruption. They’ve created scandal fatigue, prompting journalists to do something I call ethics norming. That’s when something that would have been a huge scandal in the recent past is considered normal now.

6/9The Republicans have pulled off quite a trick. If news is defined as something unusual happening, GOP corruption is not news because the party is so widely corrupt. Some media have turned off their outrage impulse and decided that corruption is normal.

7/9What’s needed is new framing. Not party-oriented but democracy-oriented. Truth-oriented. The media shouldn’t elevate liars in the interest of “fairness.” Yes, media should be fair – to the readers, to the facts. But not to the 2-party system. To our democracy.

8/9We are now in the midst of an assault on democracy unlike any our country has ever seen. Any journalist who doesn’t frame their reports in that context is doing a grievous disservice to our country.

9/9 (Source: https://threader.app/thread/1442587928174153728)

There’s a lot of truth in this. On the other hand:

(1) The “scandal” frame for covering news stories runs into big problems when those engaging in scandalous behavior aren’t trying to hide it, because things that are done right out in the open don’t really fit very well into the the concept of investigative journalism. The whole “it’s not the crime, it’s the coverup” idea that has ruled American journalism post Woodward and Bernstein doesn’t work when in fact it is the crime, and there’s no coverup to report on.

(2) The corporate and individual people who own the major media outlets in the USA are extremely opposed to anything smacking of progressive let alone actual left-wing politics in anything even vaguely related to economic policy. That’s because plutocrats reflexively defend plutocracy. Under the circumstances, asking why the major media are so slanted against even the mildest policies pushing for some sort of brake on growing wealth inequality is like asking why sharks eat seals. That’s what they do because that’s what they are.

(3) The two biggest stories of our time — climate change and revenant fascism –can’t be both sided without a whole lot of quite conscious lying on the part of those doing the both siding. And both are intimately related to the advancement and protection of plutocratic interests.

I think Jacob understates the extent to which what has happened has been intentional rather than merely negligent.

But even what he is saying isn’t said nearly enough by those who need to be saying it. So this is progress of a sort.

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