In certain circles, it is fashionable — no, I would say necessary — to disparage the mainstream media. Take for example this excerpt from Marjorie Taylor Greene’s video that I have been discussing lately:
So this may really be happening. Now, the sad thing is, it’s really the job of the media to tell you about these things. It’s really the job of journalists to reveal these things and tell these stories, but our mainstream media is so corrupt that they don’t tell these stories. So if these things are true, why has our mainstream media turned their back on America and turned their back on the American people, and not reported about these things? That’s something that really bothers me a lot.
I hope to make two points in this post:
- When someone discounts the conventional experts, your falsehood detector should issue a boop, boop, boop of warning.
- When that person also completely misunderstands the role of those experts, the BOOP, BOOP BOOP should get much louder.
The mainstream media have inherited the tradition of Walter Cronkite, The New York Times, and National Public Radio. They haven’t always gotten it right, but their currency is trustworthiness rather than ideological axe-grinding.
I acknowledge that some mainstream media outlets have disappointed me as they have struggled to hold on to a declining subscribership (Newsweek comes to mind). I catch other mainstream outlets showing more bias than I would expect (looking at you, CNN.com). However, even they are still in touch with their noble tradition of reporting the truth, in ways that the unhinged hosts on Fox News and the reporters at Newsmax are not.
Mainstream reporters may be ordinary people subject to the same faults as the rest of us, but they usually rise to the occasion and take their role as arbiters of fact seriously, just as so many ordinary people take jury duty seriously once they are empaneled.
Mainstream reporters are experts at what they do. Experts are experts for a reason: they have training and experience that the rest of us don’t have.
The recent pandemic is an obvious case in point. The scientific experts said we should take it seriously; people who like to go with their gut or who were invested in a business-first ideology or in their political careers said it was over-hyped. Hundreds of thousands of American deaths later, we know who was right.
Tellingly, mainstream reporters relayed the judgement of the experts. The right-wing media beloved by people such as Congresswoman Greene clung to conspiracy theories as long as they could.
It is becoming clearer every year that climate change is another example where mainstream reporting on the science was correct and ideologically invested reporting has been not just wrong but dishonest.
We should also remember that mainstream reporters are the ones who uncovered everything from the crimes of Watergate (Wahington Post) to the rampant sexual abuse by Catholic priests (Boston Globe) to the tens of thousands of lies and misleading statements by President Trump (Washington Post again). They could do this because they were experts at their jobs.
Okay, maybe the one about President Trump didn’t take much expertise, but still, if someone disparages the ability or integrity of mainstream reporters as a group, they forget those acts of public service.
In Marjorie Taylor Greene’s case, she also seems unaware of what a reporter is supposed to do. She asks, “So if these things [put forward by the QAnon conspiracy theory] are true, why has our mainstream media turned their back on America and turned their back on the American people, and not reported about these things?”
Ummm…the answer is very simple. It is not the job of mainstream media to report things that are still in the “if these things are true” category. In other words, the mainstream media are doing their job by not reporting dubious claims as something that should concern us.
It’s fun to believe that all the experts are wrong and you’re in on the secret truth. The boring fact is that experts are right more often than the rest of us. Anyone who says otherwise should arouse our suspicions.