Political reporters at our leading news organizations routinely put a thumb on the scale in favor of the far right – both by failing to call out its racist and increasingly homophobic nature, and by adopting right-wing frames in reporting current events.
I point out examples of this all the time on Twitter, which is a big reason why I mourn that platform’s ongoing dissolution. Twitter was the only place where media critics, both professional and amateur, could reach a significant audience. No more.
Among the news articles I’ve critiqued lately are:
- A Washington Post article about homophobes fighting against libraries that let the homophobes define themselves as concerned citizens simply looking out for the little ones.
- A New York Times article that whitewashed the overt racism involved in a decision to rescind an offer to a Black professor, suggesting only that it revealed “wide divisions about diversity.”
- A Washington Post article about how Ron DeSantis is trying to rewrite Black history that didn’t even raise the possibility of racism or white supremacy as motive.
- A Washington Post article on smalltown opposition to solar farms that fell hook, line and sinker for a well-funded right-wing astroturf campaign.
- A Wall Street Journal article reporting from an alternate reality where there are in fact “deepening divisions” among GOP leaders over the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
- A Politico article that cast Alabama’s defiance of a Supreme Court ruling that it give Black voters more power as a partisan “brawl.”
- A New York Times article that took seriously the preposterous allegation that Jack Smith’s special counsel investigation is sucking away resources that could otherwise be used to combat crime.
Homophobia Takes Center Stage
The right-wing’s anti-woke war against trans people has now — as was entirely predictable — morphed into a war on any expression of gender or sexuality that isn’t Biblically-approved procreative sex between a man and a woman.
The political discourse has taken a whomping, decade-spanning steps backward, causing enormous harm, and the media is just like whatever.
The Washington Post story about the homophobic attack on libraries that I mentioned above is just one example. The article by Gregory Schneider, was headlined “Public libraries are the latest front in culture war battle over books“.
But this is not a story about concerned “community members” legitimately worried about “terrible violations of the social order, of sexualizing and brainwashing children,” as Schneider described it.
There has been no violation of the social order — unless that social order is mandatory cis heterosexuality, which, at least for the moment, it is not. There has been no sexualizing and brainwashing at these libraries.
The story is actually about a little library defending itself against steamrolling by homophobic zealots who call anything that isn’t heterosexual pornography.
Schneider shamefully called it “part of a national movement of parental grievance against cultural change in education.”
But it is not. This is a case of homophobes who have found an effective way to lash out against homosexuality – so effective, in fact, they persuaded the county to hold the library’s budget hostage.
It wasn’t until 27 paragraphs in that Schneider offered a broad hint to readers that the people filing complaints have no idea what they’re talking about. He noted that “almost all filers said they had not read the books, only summaries.”
But why leave it to the reader to figure out that they have no case? Why not just say so? Isn’t that a reporter’s job, rather than just to take lobotomized stenography?
In paragraph 28, Schneider finally acknowledged the real motivation: One form “listed ‘homosexual content’ as the reason for removal; ‘LGBT lifestyle,’ said another; ‘abnormal sexuality treated like it’s normal’; and on and on.”
But he did so in such an anodyne way it’s like he accepts homophobia as a legitimate political viewpoint. It’s not.
Racism Isn’t a Rift
A New York Times story headlined “Bungled Hiring of Journalism Director Exposes a Rift at Texas A&M” dramatically underplayed the role of racism in both the “bungled” hiring and the alleged “rift”.
Kathleen McElroy’s job offer to be the tenured director of the journalism program at A&M was rescinded because she was Black.
This was euphemized by reporters Colbi Edmonds, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Marina Trahan Martinez, who wrote that the “shifting offers” were due to “a backlash over the Black professor’s views on race and diversity.”
Worse, they turned a story about a powerful racist subculture into one about a “rift” over “opposition to diversity initiatives”.
There is no evidence of such a rift. Indeed, faculty members, for instance, are appropriately aghast at the administration’s moral collapse in succumbing to racist criticisms.
To support their hypothesis that “some Aggies are questioning the direction of the university,” the reporters quote who? A conservative news website and the chairman of the university’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter. That’s it.
And they make excuses for the racists. “Some conservative alumni and students had criticized [McElroy] for her research on race in media and recent writings in which she described the benefits of having a diverse faculty or newsroom.” As if describing the benefits of diversity is a legitimate, non-racist reason to oppose someone’s hiring?
Being opposed to diversity period – not even to specific DEI programs – is racist. One can conceivably oppose extreme steps to increase diversity and not be racist. But being against diversity entirely? That’s another thing.
The reporters also distorted the findings of a 2021 report to support their “rift” argument. They quoted the report saying that “large portions” of the community were “conflicted about the university’s culture” and D.E.I. efforts. But the report explained that some respondents were conflicted because they felt the DEI efforts weren’t effective enough.
The Other Articles
Washington Post education reporter Hannah Natanson’s article, “All the ways Ron DeSantis is trying to rewrite Black history,” opened up with a crushingly inane first paragraph: “It is increasingly difficult to say what Black history means in Florida.”
What followed was a restrained, balanced story that completely ignored the obvious, central motive behind DeSantis’s attempts to obliterate Black history.
These moves aren’t just ahistorical, they’re racist. They’re assertions of white supremacy. And readers can’t fully understand their significance if you don’t understand that motive.
Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein really stepped in it with his remarkably naïve article headlined “Small-town GOP officials are torn over Biden’s clean energy cash.”
Stein describes a “growing backlash in rural Ohio,” involving “hundreds of activists” who are largely “nonideological.” He describes a county commission meeting “where more than 200 opponents of the solar project showed up in matching red shirts.”
But as climate journalist David Roberts tweeted: “Amazing. Yet another piece about rural opposition to clean energy that does not even *mention* the massive, coordinated, well-funded astroturf campaign of right-wing propaganda that has been marshaled against it….. Like where do you think that roomful of old people *got* those matching red t-shirts?”
Robert has reported on his podcast that “community groups receive organizational help and money from billionaire-funded right-wingers. Across the country and the Internet, there are hundreds of conservative think tanks, groups, and individuals working to stir up community opposition to renewable energy with misinformation and outright lies.”
Reuters reporter Nichola Groom described last year how the Facebook groups organizing opposition “air a mix of legitimate concerns, such as the loss of scenic vistas, tree removal, and soil erosion, with misinformation about climate change and alleged health hazards from solar electricity. The false claims include arguments that climate change is a hoax to groundless assertions that solar farms leach the carcinogen cadmium into the soil and nearby waterways when it rains, or that they rarely produce electricity.”
Wall Street Journal reporters Alex Leary and Eliza Collins, in their article headlined “GOP Splits Over Jan. 6 Deepen as Trump Indictment Looms” reported, evidently in all seriousness, that “The likelihood Donald Trump will be indicted over efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 election is deepening divisions within the GOP over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot, forcing the issue back to the forefront in Congress and on the campaign trail.”
Unsurprisingly, the most evidence they were able to muster is of what they call “conflicting signals.”
It’s just more wishful thinking on the part of our major newsrooms that the Republican Party is on the brink of returning to something approaching normal. It’s not.
Politico reporter Zach Montellaro’s article headlined “Alabama’s redistricting brawl rehashes bitter fight over voting rights” was a great example of how even the most outrageous conduct by Republicans gets normalized by Politico (and others) as just so much more partisan squabbling. A Republican legislature defying an order from a right-wing Supreme Court is not a political fight between two sides.
And what happens when you assign four different New York Times journalists to report out a bogus Republican talking point?
You get an utterly incoherent Glenn Thrush, Ben Protess, Alan Feuer and Adam Goldman story headlined “As Inquiries Compound, Justice System Pours Resources Into Scrutinizing Trump.”
The article described the vast work being devoted to various Trump-related investigation and prosecutions – but eventually acknowledged that, compared to what’s available, “These efforts, taken as a whole, do not appear to be siphoning resources that would otherwise be used to combat crime or undertake other investigations.”
What was the point?
Why would you conceivably assign four reporters to a non-story?
Only if you feel it’s your obligation to take every bogus Republican talking point seriously.