Wait—Maybe "MSM Narratives" Are a Thing?
What if JVL Was Always . . . Wrong?
1. Sullivan Redux
I wanted to say something about Andrew Sullivan that I probably should have included yesterday, but didn’t.
There are a number of people operating in the woke-media-bias space who are there—and I’ll just say this—as a career choice. It’s their mode of production. Glenn Greenwald, pretty obviously, is one of these.
Andrew Sullivan is sometimes right and sometimes wrong in his analysis of the world. He seems to come by all of it honestly. I don’t think he’s ever been on the make. People tend to love or hate Sullivan depending solely on whether his current passions confirm their priors.1 But I think the proper appreciation of him should come from knowing that he doesn’t play angles. The guy tells you what he really thinks.2
And while we’re at it, what today’s Triad presupposes is . . . maybe Sullivan was right?
I have two pieces of feedback to share.
The first is from one of my closest friends, who said that I was nuts because the Jussie Smollett incident was absolutely a media narrative. He said that the only reason I didn’t know this was because I’m not on Twitter.3
Maybe this points to something real: What we think of as “media narratives” are actually manifestations of the Twitter hive-mind.
One of the things I used to do self-consciously was watch presidential debates without having Twitter on a second screen. I found that my analysis of the debates often diverged from the conventional wisdom, because I wasn’t ingesting the Twitter hive-mind and allowing it to color my perceptions of reality as it unfolded.
So maybe there is a media narrative, but it’s on Twitter? I’m open to that possibility.
But if so, that’s much more of a platform-specific Twitter thing than a “media” thing.
The second email was from a buddy who was generally sympathetic, but thought that I underplayed the danger of stifling woke culture, generally.
And maybe that’s the case.
I said yesterday that we write what we know. Our epistemic status shapes our views.
So here is where I sit: I live in a non-fancy neighborhood in a very average American suburb. I work at a small, independent publication. I’m not on Twitter. Because of these factors, I don’t see an overweening amount of wokeness, day-to-day. I could be under-appreciating its danger.4
Maybe if I lived in Brooklyn and worked for the New York Times op-ed page and spent a couple hours a day on Twitter I’d get radicalized right-quick and would be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Sullivan.
Again: I am open to that possibility. In this life, we are all hostage to our own experiences.
And yet, I don’t think that’s the case.
In 1980 “the media” consisted of three national networks, maybe ten national magazines, a handful of wire-services, and a conglomeration of big-city daily papers. That’s it.
The median quality of this media was better than what we have today, because the gate-keeper function was very much operational. But there was also less media. Which meant that any downside from the gate-keeper effect was magnified and that the corrective, peer-review process had fewer participants.
Today “the media” is much larger. Which probably makes the median piece of journalism less useful and creates lots of sorting problems for audiences trying to separate wheat from chaff. But also, this super-saturation makes it harder to have real media cover-ups5 and easier to correct bad journalism.
Here is the bottom line: If you are a well-informed consumer of news in 2021, do you know more about the world than a similarly well-informed consumer of news in 1980? Or any other era?
I think the answer is yes and I don’t think it’s close.6
To me, that’s ultimately the test to get around our lived-experience bias: Does the media available today make you smarter about the world than you would have been 10 or 20 or 50 years ago?
If so, then I find it hard to get too worked up about woke MSM narratives. This isn’t to say that we don’t have media problems. Here are the Big Two in my view:
The death of local news.
The increasing ability of tech aggregators to siphon off the economic value of reporting.
But these problems aren’t sexy. You can’t make bank on Substack or fund a pretend university by talking about local news and the impact of aggregator theory.
2. Cancel Culture
Also, I am not convinced that Conservative Inc.’s protestations about cancel culture are entirely in good faith?
3. Be Best
We’re going to get a verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial soon and I want to put something in your ear before it hits: Don’t react.
If the verdict seems just to you, don’t gloat.
If the verdict seems unjust to you, don’t rage.
Because no matter what the verdict is, this entire situation is a tragedy for all concerned. A tragedy for the people who were killed. A tragedy for a kid who has his card marked for the rest of his days. A tragedy for the local community and our American family.
No one wins with this verdict, no matter what it is. We all lose.
And the only thing we can do to make the situation better is hug it out. Seriously. Pray for Rittenhouse, the souls of the deceased, and all of their families. Pray for the DA and the judge and the defense lawyers. Pray for all the people who aren’t on your side.
Because if this verdict becomes another source of division, then we’ll get more tragedies.
There will be bad actors on Twitter and Facebook and in the media. Don’t dunk on them. Don’t argue with them. Don’t give them your time or energy. Instead, try to take the temperature down in the world around you.
One Last Thing: I am sensitive to complaints that the Triad can be a dark place. So I’ve been making an effort to give you some candy every once in a while.
And today I’ve got a King Size Snickers bar.