In his magisterial two-volume work, Democracy in America (1835-1840), Alexis de Tocqueville argued that a free press was necessary to protect the common man from “exigencies of power.”
“In our day,” de Tocqueville declared:
…a citizen who is oppressed has therefore only one means of defending himself; it is to address the nation as a whole, and if it is deaf to him … he has only one means of doing it, which is the press. Thus, freedom of the press is infinitely more precious in democratic nations than in all others; it alone cures most of the ills that equality can produce. Equality isolates and weakens men, but the press places at the side of each of them a very powerful arm that the weakest and most isolated can make use of. Equality takes away from each individual the support of his neighbors, but the press permits him to call to his aid all his fellow citizens and all who are like him. Printing hastened the progress of equality, and it is one of its best correctives.
The press, he concluded, “is the democratic instrument of freedom par excellence.”
For most of our history, media outlets checked the power of political, corporate, financial, and intellectual elites by investigating and exposing their corruption, abuse of power, fraud and other misdeeds.
Mainstream media strove to be objective in their news coverage. Journalists generally abided by the rule best expressed by the longtime New York Times managing editor A.M. Rosenthal: “OK, the rule is, you can [make love to] an elephant if you want to, but if you do you can’t cover the circus.”
In recent times, however, many Americans have questioned the integrity of mainstream journalists because of their obsession with Donald Trump and their inability to discern truth from spin. Instead of reporting the opinions of those they disagree with, they sit in judgment.
To understand this phenomenon, I recommend you read Batya Ungar-Sargon’s new book Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democrats.
Ungar-Sargon, who earned a Ph.D. from Berkley, is deputy opinion editor of Newsweek. She has been published in The New York Times and The Washington Post and has appeared on MSNBC and NBC news programs.
Ungar-Sargon’s thesis in Bad News is that Americans have lost faith in journalism because “the majority of our mainstream news is no longer just liberal; it’s woke. Today’s newsrooms are propagating radical ideas that were fringe as recently as a decade ago, including antiracism, intersectionality, open borders and critical race theory.”
There was a time when journalism was a blue-collar trade dedicated to servicing working-class readers by reporting on issues that were important to them.
In the final decades of the 20th century with news outlets increasingly dominated by employees who graduated from the “right” universities, that dedication waned.
These “enlightened” journalists, who are “cosmopolitan in background and liberal in outlook,” frown upon the values of the working-class (a/k/a deplorables) and find them no longer newsworthy.
As a result, Middle Americans have stopped reading publications like The New York Times and Washington Post.
Ninety-three percent of Times readers have college degrees. New York magazine loves to advertise that 76% of their readers have incomes north of $150,000 annually. A Times media kit boasted that most of their subscribers were “elite,” “affluent,” “influential” with median household incomes of $191,000.
After Trump took office, the rule book of objective news coverage was completely discarded.
Jim Rutenberg, in a Times column titled “Trump Is Testing the Norms of Objectivity in Journalism,” insisted that because Trump “is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies,” it was OK “to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century.”
And so, they have.
Take, for example, the Trump-Russian hoax. The New York Times treated this specious claim as fact and mentioned it 15,000 times.
Because woke journalists believe all Trump voters are racists, Ungar-Sargon notes they “no longer have to care for them.” This false “racist” narrative, “completely absolves journalists of the inner twinge of doubt that must come to any honest reporter when they realize that they are afflicting the afflicted.”
Instead of hard news stories, the Times and other like-minded news outlets have “returned to the sensationalism of a bygone era” to prick the emotions of the rich.
“If you want to know what makes America’s educated liberal elites emotional,” Ungar-Sargon writes, “you only have to open The New York Times to find out.”
By abandoning the working classes and by aligning with corporate and leftist elites, Ungar-Sargon, echoing de Tocqueville, warns that our democracy is being undetermined.
A press, Ungar-Sargon rightly concludes, “that is so solidly on the side of the powerful few, so solidly of it, that afflicts the afflicted and comforts the comfortable, will hasten our demise. And that should terrify us all.”
De Tocqueville could not put it better.
George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact," and "Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy." Read George J. Marlin's Reports — More Here.
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