The mainstream media likes to portray itself as a protector of democracy. But it fails miserably when it comes to holding anti-democracy forces to account.
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All reasonable people agree that US democracy is under attack — and has been for some time. Yet some of its self-proclaimed defenders, such as President Joe Biden and the news media, are not doing a very simple, yet fundamentally important, thing to protect it: calling out democracy’s enemies in unambiguous terms and making them face consequences.
We have seen two examples in recent days. One was the revelation of unassailable proof that Fox “News” not only acts as the GOP’s propaganda arm but also views that as its core mission. The network’s owner Rupert Murdoch said so.
Now, if a multibillion dollar corporation pretends to be a news organization to get people to vote for one party by feeding them a steady stream of misinformation and lies, that’s a threat to democracy.
But, by and large, those who could do something about it are letting Murdoch and his ilk get away with influencing elections in this way.
Here is what should happen:
Fox “News” should no longer be shown on government property, such as federal buildings and military bases. The latter is especially important. Why broadcast white nationalist propaganda to the very people who are known to be susceptible to it?
Next, everybody has to stop treating Fox personnel as news reporters. Yes, there are some actual journalists employed there, but it’s clear that journalism isn’t the company’s purpose.
The various press associations should revoke Fox’s credentials. Again, they are not a news organization, so why should they have press passes?
Then there is the White House. Why are Fox “reporters” getting a coveted spot in press conferences, and why are they ever called upon to ask questions?
They are not journalists acting in good faith; they are puppets trying to advance an agenda. Yes, other reporters also use these briefings for grandstanding, but that’s usually driven by ego and not done to advance a specific political agenda.
Instead of letting Fox’s operatives — a much more applicable term for them than “journalists” — grill the White House press secretary, why not turn the tables on them. Wouldn’t it be delightful if the following exchange were to occur?
White House correspondent Peter Doocy: “I want to ask a question about [insert Fox’s manufactured outrage item of the day].”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre: “Let me stop you there, Peter. I only take questions from journalists working for news organizations, so I’ll ask you something first: Do you think it should be the mission of a news organization to get Republicans elected, as your ultimate boss Rupert Murdoch has stated? And do you think that reporters should be fired for fact-checking a false statement, which is what Tucker Carlson wanted?”
The point is that it’s really important to force people to respond to these questions on the record instead of letting them craft their own reality.
In that regard, the media is failing even more when it comes to dealing with the GOP.
This week, Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Future Confederate State of Georgia) proposed that red states once again secede from the union. The last time they tried that, the goal was for them to be able to own people. This time around, they just don’t like that drag queens read to children, or something.
Sure, her proposed “national divorce” would be hilarious. The blue states would get most things of value and the red states would get poverty, poor health care, some decent beach property, and college football. But that’s not really in the spirit of the Constitution. You know, the document Republicans like to make such a fuss over, and the one that MTG swore to “support and defend” a few weeks ago.
So what does the media do? Apparently, make this a story for a day, then shrug its collective shoulders and say, “Well, that’s just crazy Marge being Marge.”
What should the media do? Ask every single Republican lawmaker whether they support sedition, and not let them get away with nonanswers.
And at their press conferences promoting whatever bills they are introducing, like how the AR-15 should be America’s “national gun,” ask them about what they think of the proposed sedition.
This failure to persist in asking tough questions is how the media botched covering former President Donald Trump’s coup attempt. As a result, all of the people involved are still around — most of them unscathed.
That’s almost entirely the fault of journalists more worried about losing access to Republican politicians and appearing biased than doing their jobs. News flash: It’s OK to be biased toward democracy and against autocratic takeovers, and what’s the point of having access to powerful people when you let them get away with lying and making bad-faith arguments?
Here is what should have happened: Every single Republican should have been forced to go on the record in answering these questions: Who won the 2020 election? Who won the popular vote? Who won the majority in the Electoral College? Do you have evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome?
When those questions were asked, many Republicans weaseled out with: “Joe Biden was sworn in.” That’s not an answer, so why let anybody get away with it?
And until they provided actual answers to these extremely simple questions, reporters should have blacklisted them.
But too many Washington journalists are now mere stenographers. Here is how things now work: A lawmaker (usually a Republican but, too often, also a Democrat) says something that is blatantly false, and reporters just use that quote without telling readers that it is bogus. Of course, good journalism is still being practiced from time to time, but it is now the exception and not the rule.
Here is our message to the DC press corps: Stop letting disingenuous lawmakers (and Fox) set the agenda! Ask the tough questions and do not write the stories they want you to write. If you want to be the “fourth estate,” then act like it.
There is even a precedent that illustrates how coddling these people will lead nowhere. The same mistake was made after the Civil War.
Instead, the media is screwing up by wringing its hands about “threats to democracy” while doing nothing to hold accountable those who pose the threats.
It’s really simple: Elected officials (or candidates for office) who won’t say who won the 2020 election or can’t formulate an opinion on whether some states should leave the Union shouldn’t be interviewed or quoted in any other context.
And they certainly shouldn’t be allowed on reputable talk shows to tell lies. They can still go on Fox and do that.
There is even a precedent that illustrates how coddling these people will lead nowhere. The same mistake was made after the Civil War. Instead of eliminating the scourge of racism in the Confederate states, the North let them off the hook and allowed them to revert to their old, white supremacist ways. That is a big reason why, more than 150 years later, much of the South is still susceptible to racist dog-whistles from demagogues like Greene.
And that is precisely why Fox should be called out as a propaganda network and Republicans should be called out for posing a serious threat to democracy.
Sadly, neither of these things is happening. The result: Just this week, we learned that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is giving Fox’s chief demagogue Tucker Carlson exclusive access to all surveillance tapes from the January 6 coup attempt so that he can craft an alternate reality palatable to his audience.
And when he does, we’ll see some circus-worthy contortions from journalists who are simultaneously wringing their hands while trying to pat themselves on the back for being such stalwart protectors of democracy.
Journalists may not be the enemies of the people, as Trump has said, but they are failing in their responsibility to identify those enemies and hold them to account.
The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: Peter Doocy caricature (DonkeyHotey / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), White House (Tobias Wrzal / Flickr), face (OpenAi – PD), unhoused man (Travis / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), logo (The White House), and cart (Don DeBold / Flickr – CC BY 2.0).