What’s really wrong with the mainstream media

What’s really wrong with the mainstream media

Robert Reich December 9, 2021

‘Top editors and reporters want to be accepted into the circles of the powerful – because such acceptance is psychologically seductive.’
‘Top editors and reporters want to be accepted into the circles of the powerful – because such acceptance is psychologically seductive.’ Photograph: Sarah Silbiger/EPA

I’m often asked how I keep up with the news. Obviously, I avoid the unhinged rightwing outlets pushing misinformation, disinformation and poisonous lies.

But I’ve also grown wary of the mainstream media – not because it peddles “fake news” but because of three more subtle biases.

First, it often favors the status quo. Mainstream journalists wanting to appear serious about public policy rip into progressives for the costs of their proposals, but never ask self-styled “moderates” how they plan to cope with the costs of doing nothing or doing too little about the same problems.

A Green New Deal might be expensive but doing nothing about the climate crisis will almost certainly cost far more. Medicare for All will cost a lot, but the price of doing nothing about America’s cruel and dysfunctional healthcare system will soon be in the stratosphere.

Second, it fails to report critical public choices. Any day now, the Senate will approve giving $778bn to the military for this fiscal year. That’s billions more than the Pentagon sought. It’s four times the size of Biden’s Build Back Better bill, which comes to around $175bn a year. But where’s the reporting on the effects of this spending on the national debt, or on inflation, or whether it’s even necessary?

Third, it indulges in false equivalence, claiming that certain Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as “troublemakers” within their parties or that extremists “on both sides” are “radicalizing each other”.

These reports equate Republican lawmakers who are actively promoting Donald Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen with Democratic lawmakers who are fighting to protect voting rights. These are not equivalent. Trump’s big lie is a direct challenge to American democracy.

In the looming fight over whether to preserve the Senate filibuster, the mainstream media gives equal weight to both sides’ claims of radicalism. But ask yourself which is more radical – abolishing the filibuster to save American democracy or destroying American democracy to save the filibuster?

The old labels “left” versus “right” are fast becoming outdated. Today, it’s democracy versus authoritarianism. Equating them is misleading and dangerous.

Why doesn’t the mainstream media see this? Not just because of its dependence on corporate money. I think the source of the bias is more subtle.

Top editors and reporters, usually based in New York and Washington, want to be accepted into the circles of the powerful – not only for sources of news but also because such acceptance is psychologically seductive. It confers a degree of success. But once accepted, they can’t help but begin to see the world through the eyes of the powerful.

I follow the mainstream media, but I don’t limit myself to it. And I don’t rely on it to educate the public about bold, progressive ideas that would make America and the world fairer and stronger.

I read the Guardianevery day.

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.