Print the Legend

This past week’s events in Wisconsin’s Kenosha and Waukesha offer useful perspectives on a recent clash between pundits Andrew Sullivan and Jonathan V. Last of The Bulwark over the accuracy of the news media. Sullivan argues that the press makes numerous errors, while Last suggests that they get almost all matters of fact correct.

On his Substack newsletter, Sullivan complained:

But when the sources of news keep getting things wrong, and all the errors lie in the exact same direction, and they are reluctant to acknowledge error, we have a problem. If you look back at the last few years, the record of errors, small and large, about major stories, is hard to deny.

Indeed, the amount of Sailerbait with which the news media humiliates itself has definitely grown during the Great Awokening. But it’s also easy to exaggerate the relative number of factual errors compared to the thousands of details printed daily by newspapers.

Instead, the larger problem is the worldviews inculcated by the press, which in turn lead to mistakes. For instance, millions of loyal readers were shocked by the jury’s courageous acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse because they had come to believe in the antiwhite male mythos peddled by the press. Therefore, the actual facts of the case couldn’t stick to their brains because they’d been indoctrinated that armed white men are The Problem.

Last, the author of the prescient What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, replies to Sullivan:

What and/or who is “the mainstream media”? Is it the New York Times and the Washington Post? The AP? NBC News and CNN? Ryan Lizza’s Twitter feed? The Los Angeles Times? BuzzFeed? Axios? NPR?… The point is that the MSM universe is so large that you’re always going to be able to cherry-pick examples to support the notion that “they” are feeding “us” false narratives.

That’s true to some extent, which is why my media criticism centers on The New York Times, the traditional lead dog in the media pack. Generally, almost all respectable outlets follow the NYT’s guidance as to what’s fit to print and what’s not.

I also pay heightened attention to The Washington Post, the Associated Press, CNN, NPR, and the broadcast network news.

I’d add that we should keep in mind the distinction that publications themselves make between news versus opinion. I try to make clear how the source has labeled the text I’m quoting, so as not to mislead about how bigoted the publication is when speaking in its news voice.

For example, CNN has drawn some attention for its “Analysis” (i.e., in between news and opinion) about how terrifying you are:

There’s nothing more frightening in America today than an angry White man
Analysis by John Blake, CNN
Updated 8:14 AM ET, Sat November 20, 2021

So, CNN doesn’t exactly call this “news.” On the other hand, Blake is a veteran CNN writer and producer, not some outsider tossing an op-ed in over the transom.

More important, fake narratives are slightly different from plain fake news. Fake narratives don’t lie outright. Instead, they mislead readers into biases that make it hard for them to develop an awareness of the truth.

For instance, a number of media figures sent out tweets last week to the effect that Kyle Rittenhouse had crossed a state line with an automatic weapon to a city he had no connection with and gunned down three black peaceful protesters.

I doubt that they were knowingly trying to convince their readers that Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz were African-Americans. Instead, they couldn’t remember the facts because they were inconvenient for the Narrative. They had absorbed from their colleagues’ articles a worldview in which, of course, all that stuff virtually had to be true, so why would they need to fact-check the way they remember the story? That they got so much embarrassingly wrong would imply that their picture of the world is based on low-brow hate and fallacies, and that can’t possibly be: They’re media professionals!

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