When was the last time an opinion piece or television commentary surprised you?
Much has been written about the political divide. Red and blue states, Never Trumpers, Democrats versus Republicans. But what’s disturbing is the number of organizations that have picked a side and surrendered any pretense of objectivity. It’s no longer mass media, it’s half-mass media. And yes, you can write that again and leave out the m.
You no longer have to read an essay or watch a program. You now only have to look at the byline or the host. If either is unfamiliar just consider the source. Is it Fox or MSNBC? Is it the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal? Slate or Instapundit?
Remember Johnny Carson and Jay Leno? They poked gentle and sometimes not-so-gentle fun at politicians in general. They were broadly popular throughout the viewing audience as both hosts were devoted to humor wherever they found it. Late night television is now all Trump all the time. Whether you love or hate Trump is beside the point. The major American broadcast networks have decided to write off a large portion of the viewing audience. Everyone has decided to find a niche and hunker down. If you savage both sides of an issue you don’t get rewarded; you get “canceled” by both sides.
America is now occupied by Tribes. And it’s so easy. You no longer have to think.
Conservatives want tanks and troops in the streets, and a police state.
Liberals have been reduced to groveling before any special interest group that comes along. They have given Trump a stick to beat them with by bowing down to the concept of defunding the police. They hasten to say they don’t really mean to defund the police. Then shut the hell up. If you don’t really mean it, don’t say it. But you have to say it because your Tribe demands it and you don’t want to think for yourself.
What’s scary is the loss of media that make you think or possibly learn something. Science didn’t used to be a matter of opinion. Experts could be relied on for hard data. That was before computer models and social media. You can find any scientific opinion you like and if your Tribe decides that climate change is settled you don’t have to question it anymore. If your Tribe believes that humans don’t cause climate change you can find your own evidence on the internet.
If your Tribe says vaccines are dangerous just put your fingers in your ears and go la-la-la-la. But keep an eye out for jet contrails.
The coronavirus has demonstrated the minefield that further undermines a belief in experts. It has become obvious that in the beginning we didn’t have enough data or experience to predict the future. But that didn’t prevent predictions taking place. You don’t need a mask. The virus will have little effect on the U.S. Then computer models began to predict the end of the world. Then maybe not quite. The experts all over the place let people reassure themselves that there is nothing to worry about. Then politics got involved. President Trump told his supporters they were right. No need for a mask. Take a Clorox enema. Take a malaria drug.
Leftists warned that attending the Trump rally in Oklahoma would spread the disease. The right wing says thousands of people at a protest rally for George Floyd is an example of hypocrisy.
Where do you go to get reliable information? Where is the honest broker?
The New York Times used to be the gold standard of newspaper journalism. Lately we have had the staff rising up against management causing the editorial page editor to resign and management to apologize for running an op-ed piece by a U.S. senator.
If you are a regular reader you know I violently oppose the position of U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton who wants military troops in the streets. But the Times’ handling of his opinion piece was a travesty. In my 50 years in journalism I’m trying to imagine a newsroom telling the management what it can run on the editorial page and having the editorial page editor fired. The wording may be different at different papers but the general tenor of the response would be something on the order of “Go (expletive deleted) yourself” and an invitation to go to Human Resources and pick up your final paycheck.
Liberal columnist Andrew Sullivan wrote: “The NYT editors have effectively ceded their authority permanently. A woke committee already vets everything. Now it will be super-charged. And readers now know this is no longer a paper dedicated to the truth. … We all live on campus now.”
I guess there are a few columnists who can still surprise you.
Frank Cagle is a veteran newspaper editor and columnist.