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Conscientious Objectors of the Media Mind Trap

We, the viewing public, can only hope that the courage shown by these two young women will be the start of a movement among journalists. That others may follow their lead of saying "enough" to the systemic and often downright dishonest, fringe-bating sensationalism of the major media outlets.

“The problem is the job itself. It forces skilled journalists to make bad decisions on a daily basis.”

“A new consensus has emerged in the press, but perhaps especially at this paper: that truth isn’t a process of collective discovery, but an orthodoxy already known to an enlightened few whose job is to inform everyone else.”

The former is a lamentation from recently departed MSNBC producer, Ariana Pekary. The latter, an excerpt from the resignation letter of former New York Times opinion editor, Bari Weiss. Both young women became disillusioned with the culture of woke intolerance at their A-list, mainstream media “dream jobs.” Both resigned abruptly in recent weeks. Both chose unemployment in a time of national uncertainty over remaining at their steady, presumably well-paying jobs. They are likely blazing a trail that others will soon follow.

In Peckary’s open letter, posted on her website, she quotes someone she called an insightful TV veteran as saying, “We are a cancer and there is no cure. But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”

She applies the cancer metaphor to today’s media climate. “As it is, this cancer stokes national division, even in the middle of a civil rights crisis. The model blocks diversity of thought and content because the networks have incentive to amplify fringe voices and events, at the expense of others… all because it pumps up the ratings.” She goes on to describe how the cancer focuses on the politics rather than the science of the coronavirus, prioritizing scrutiny (though well deserved) on Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic over the progress of vaccines, treatments and studies.

Weiss opined a similar sentiment in her resignation letter, posted to her own website. “The paper of record is, more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people. This is a galaxy in which, to choose just a few recent examples, the Soviet space program is lauded for its “diversity”; the doxxing of teenagers in the name of justice is condoned; and the worst caste systems in human history includes the United States alongside Nazi Germany.”

These aren’t the words of the “severely conservative,” to quote Mitt Romney. Weiss is a self-described centrist and one can only presume that Peckary leans leftward, given her career at MSNBC and NPR. But they are ideas that more and more open-minded Americans (on the left and right) likely share when confronted with the sensationalist, ratings-driven avalanche of media madness day after day.

This reality is confirmed in a study released today by Gallup and the Knight Foundation. The study finds that 86 percent of Americans see either a “great deal” (49%) or a “fair amount” (37%) of political bias in news coverage. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed consider it a “major problem” that there is too much bias in news that is supposed to be “objective.” That’s up eight points from the 2018 survey. Republicans are more likely to believe the media is dishonest than are Democrats, but there are plenty on both sides who share that notion.

So if centrists and principled liberals are being driven out of left-leaning media, and Americans are growing ever more distrustful of their news sources, which filters can we trust to inform us? Because that’s truly what they are – filters. There are no more “objective news sources.” On the left you have, well too many to count. But to name a few, ABC, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, etc., etc., etc. On the right you have… well you have Fox News. There’s OAN, but they aren’t that widely distributed. Maybe the Wall Street Journal. Those are just the ones that all claim to be objective. There are countless publications, like The Resurgent, that don’t proclaim absolute objectivity and are therefore more honest in their content delivery.

If you just want the news, and objective coverage of the political stories of the day, where do you turn? This is not a rhetorical question. I don’t know the answer, other than to say that we are all out of luck. We each make decisions on what to watch and read, based on our preferences and biases – either what we like or what we can most tolerate. In doing so, we often allow others to think for us – to shape how we perceive the facts. As Weiss put it, we allow “an enlightened few” to inform us. Or as a slightly more trusting, but still cynical Pekary described it, we fall prey to “skilled journalists” making “bad decisions on a daily basis.”

We, the viewing public, can only hope that the courage shown by these two young women will be the start of a movement among journalists. That others may follow their lead of saying “enough” to the systemic and often downright dishonest, fringe-bating sensationalism of the major media outlets. Objective-minded journalists – of any political persuasion – should sound the alarm when reasonable alternative points of view are stifled. I predict that more producers, editors, writers and pundits will follow the lead of Weiss and Pekary. Perhaps they can band together to fill the considerable void that is the absence of honest, centrist news coverage, with equal time for opinions on the left and right. They just might find considerable demand from a starving public.

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