Liberal Literature's Losing Leg

I read an article today by Matt Taibbi titled "The Inevitable Coronavirus Censorship Crisis is Here". Throughout the article, the author puts into words a set of feelings I've had for a while regarding liberal media. Most of the material seems to revolve around the topic of censorship and dumb democracy. At its core however, there are a set of statements about how liberal media's approach to things are its own undoing. And instead of stepping back and evaluating strategy, they seem too eager to double down in the hope that they'll eventually be vindicated.

A preface to this is that I do not intend in any way to make it seem okay what the conservative media is doing regarding topics like climate change and essential conversations around equality and discrimination. It in no way is looking away from how conservative media suppresses dissension. It's just that liberal media represents a lot of my beliefs. They represent conversations around equality and equity, choice, and belief in science. Even if they botch the delivery of it a lot, the core tenets that they stand for these days are topics I believe in passionately. And when they screw up, it hurts me and many of the people I am connected to. So this is more of a sharing of thoughts on where they are going wrong and how those moments keep getting taken advantage of.

Also, while I wish I could have the time to pull up more examples from around the world, I'm sticking to just American news for the moment. It's not unique to America. I've seen it in British content as well. And while there are examples of liberal media done right in some parts of the world, American politics drive a lot of change and impact around the world. Critiquing the media conversation within a global superpower is of interest to almost anyone no matter where they are.

Finally, I'm not attempting to present solutions here. Just sharing frustrations.

With that said, on to talking about some errors that I constantly see in the liberal media's approach today.

Blustering rushes

For all their bluster about pushing for the truth, the liberal media's rush to paint their versions as absolute truths consistently paints themselves further into a corner. They begin a narrative with an attitude that oozes smugness that they are right. Questions are posed as take downs. Just a few days ago we saw this when a Yahoo reporter asked a question about American test rates in the manner of a takedown. The reporter claimed that testing rates per capita in America were lower than South Korea's. And you should search for the video on YouTube to see how embarassingly the data is returned to him. But then the smugness with which questions were asked and follow ups were written were just begging to be trounced. And they were once the Yahoo reporter publicly apologised for their question at the conference.  I've watched these scenarios happen since 2016. And it's not slowing down. From repeated proclamations that the moment where everything falls apart for Trump regarding Russia has arrived to Rachel Maddow boldly proclaiming the floating hospital would never arrive in New York, the cycle of self assured proclamations followed by a downfall just keeps coming. This isn't to say that they never get things right. But they keep creating PR disasters for themselves.

See, on one hand the liberal media is constantly making absolute prophetic predictions and they claim that they represent and are backed by science. Conservative media meanwhile fashions itself as the champion of alternative thinking which involves doubting the predictions of the liberal media and the peddling of conspiracy theories.

The thing is, when it comes to predictions, people are wrong more than they are right. And therefore from a pure statistics point of view, liberal media continues to damage themselves because they present their predictions as correct by default. Conservative media on the other hand puts forward their punditry in the form of doubts and conspiracies that are difficult to be proven false. Example: how do we know they didn't hide the records? It's much harder to disprove something if it didn't happen as confusing as that sounds. In the long run, the damage accrues more on the side of liberal media. And the tragedy here is the collateral damage where the reputation of science and the fights over valid causes suffer as a result of these errors.

A good example playing out right now?

Lockdown vs non lockdown approaches to covid

Liberal media: Complete shutdown is the only working approach today.

Conservative media: Well maybe but can't a relaxed approach work?

Note the two approaches. Liberal is absolute. Conservative both refutes and poses a question leaving enough room for maneuvering. And they've found success in it. Sweden for the time being seems to be a holy grail for non lockdown approach theories. And then there's a group of doctors ready to say on conservative media channels that lockdown isn't the right option. If you were on the fence about this topic, you'd go with an approach of skepticism (which in this case is healthy up to a degree). And then you combine it with a 1-2 punch where the next topic is "liberal media is just fake news", and you see conversion.

The problem with the liberal media approach is that in its arrogance it needs to be right 100% of the time. This leaves room for opponents to simply find a few cases where the arguments don't hold up and the rest is easy.

What gets lost in this? Intelligent debate. As desperation kicks in conversations devolve further and further into more absolute, more partisan, more emotional statements. And more errors are made and the cycle keeps going.

An example of this from the article:

“Instead of asking calmly if hydroxychloroquine works, or if the less restrictive Swedish crisis response has merit, or questioning why certain statistical assumptions about the seriousness of the crisis might have been off, we’re denouncing the questions themselves as infamous. Or we’re politicizing the framing of stories in a way that signals to readers what their take should be before they even digest the material. “Conservative Americans see coronavirus hope in Progressive Sweden,” reads a Politico headline, as if only conservatives should feel optimism in the possibility that a non-lockdown approach might have merit! Are we rooting for such an approach to not work?”

And so this continues. And as it continues, the liberal media continues to lose trust of the people who are standing on the fence on critical issues such as climate change and structural changes in favour of historically oppressed communities.

Is there a solution?

I haven't thought about this one enough. At this point no immediate remedies come to mind either. I don't know if we've reached a tipping point already where the only way out is for new liberal media institutions to rise up and push out the old guard. But if there's any chance of redemption it's worth liberal media and even liberal supporters taking a look at the key parts where they seem to keep outplaying themselves.

Predictions. And Strategy

I've already mentioned how predictions continue to erode trust in the liberal media's machines. But strategy is also important. You can't not predict when you are in news. Good journalism to me is the act of investigating, distilling information, and being able to extrapolate to paint a bigger picture. But when painting the picture, maybe adopt the practice of giving yourself space for error. It's helpful to everyone around too to have a more realistic picture.

But then again, maybe that isn't going to help pay the bills. Maybe that news isn't going to be interesting enough to generate the viewership needed to support good journalism. And if that is the case, then maybe we really have passed the tipping point and the old guard must be razed.

I don't know. I don't have a solution and I don't want to spitball further in an attempt to come up with one. But a solution is needed. And soon. Liberal media needs to understand both their missteps and also recognize the engagement patterns if it ever hopes to counter it.

On calm debate

One thing that should be noted is that calm debate is not something that should be applied universally. Calm debate and considering both sides when it comes to a topic like gay marriage for example is out of the question. There's nothing to get wrong in saying that we should granting all people fundamental rights. Attempting to listen to both sides is a classic tactic that privileged communities use to their advantage to stifle minority communities. I've personally had to face this where whenever I try to discuss racial profiling of muslims I have to go through a both-sides-of-the-debate process to explain why muslims and terrorism shouldn't be equated before I can even talk about current racial profiling. That's bullshit and it shouldn't be entertained.

Drawing that line, and drawing it responsibly is a need in today's society. And it shouldn't be done at the cost of forcing minority communities to have to keep re-explaining everything in the spirit of calm debate.

But drawing that line is something we certainly need to get better at.

A final note on the original article

None of what I have to say is in any way supportive of the premises presented in the original article's discussion of censorship of media. That is a separate and difficult discussion on its own. To say that alone is to say that I support some form of censorship. I probably do. I've watched too many people suffer physically over the lack of control on people's speech. But the devil is in the details and I don't have any opinion on the details presented by Matt Taibbi.

Posted on May 01 2020 by Adnan Issadeen