Opinion: How Much Does the Press Have to Answer For?

Opinion writers are asking. No answers yet.

I published a piece on opinion writing this morning at my Substack sister publication, Writer Everlasting, and the person who wrote it—that would be me—shamed me into feeling guilty about not having written a political opinion piece for a while.

It’s not that I haven’t wanted to. Everything about our politics these days is pissing me off. So much so that I’m out of words. That’s what unrequited rage does to a person. It’s the least professional way of looking at things if you’re an avowed opinion writer, but there it is, and it’s not the first time.

This time it’s the American press. They’ve let us down and no amount of pointing at them with our shaming fingers seems to have any effect. I’ve had it with them, but all I can do is spit and sputter. So today I’ll point you to a handful of opinion writers who are as pissed as I am but are far more professional about it and have done a far better job of writing about the lack of responsibility by the mainstream press in these times when we need their clear-eyed observations the most.

Robert Reich, The Media Bias No one is Talking About.

Battling white supremacy is not the same as advocating it. Passing laws to prevent voter suppression is not the same as passing laws to suppress votes. Fighting for our democracy is not the same as seeking to destroy it. 

The media equating both sides, one “left” and one “right,” suggests there’s a moderate middle between hate and inclusion, between democracy and proto-fascism. 

This is misleading, dangerous, and morally wrong. Don’t fall for it.

In his latest Substack piece called, “The Media’s Systemic Failure on Afghanistan”, Judd Legum weighs in:

This was a failure that comes with real consequences for innocent Afghans. At particular risk are the Afghans that assisted US efforts, who may face retribution if they remain in the country, and women and girls, who may be stripped of their rights by the repressive Taliban regime. 

But was this primarily a failure by Biden, for deciding to withdraw now? Or was it the unavoidable conclusion of failed policies in Afghanistan across four presidential administrations? Most coverage has focused criticism on Biden. And to bolster that argument, media outlets are relying on many of the people responsible for two decades of failure in Afghanistan. While there are legitimate criticisms of the way Biden executed the withdrawal, the result is an extremely distorted narrative.

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Eric Boehlert’s Substack newsletter, Press Run, consistently exposes the quirky, often dishonest press. This is from his latest, called The Media’s Summer of Discontent—Waging War on Joe Biden.

Commenting on Biden’s Monday address to the nation and the cultural disconnect between the public and the press, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace observed, “"95% of the American people will agree with everything [President Biden] just said. 95% of the press covering this White House will disagree."

The question is, why? Why is there such a chasm between the public and the press. (Prior to the withdrawal, Americans overwhelmingly supported Biden’s plan to bring U.S. troops home.) Why has the Beltway media covered the Afghanistan story with an unrestrained frenzy that so far outweighs the facts in play?

Laser focused on blaming Biden for a military defeat two decades in the making, while wildly overplaying the evacuation story in terms of historical context, the press seems genuinely eager to echo GOP spin and denounce the White House, as well as demand weird public acts of contrition.

At Salon, Andrea Marcotte writes this in The Afghanistan blame game begins — and the media immediately ignores what triggered this disaster:

The generous view of this pro-war bias on the media's part is that journalists give undue credence to the opinions of military brass and foreign policy hawks. It's tempting for a lot of journalists to treat these leaders as objective experts, rather than as people whose own egos have led them to embrace forever war to avoid admitting defeat. Certainly, it seems that the "defer to the experts" mentality is why Obama, who went into office with an anti-war message, was so easy to cow on these matters. But even the Washington Post's own reporting shows how much of a lost cause the Afghanistan war has been for years, and probably always was, making this "Biden screwed up" narrative even more inexcusable. 

NOTE: Adding Laurence O’Donnell’s take on ‘no good way to vacate a war’ from “The Last Word” last night. Many thanks to those who pointed it out to me.


ADDED for further reading 8/21/21: https://www.alternet.org/2021/08/media-enabling/

I urge you to read all four pieces above and weigh in, pro or con. We should all be howling about the press coverage these days. It’s abominable. We can’t maintain a viable democracy without a free press, but we’ll never succeed if the message they send is one of deliberate obfuscation, constant chaos, and a biased lean toward dishonesty. (Yes, I said biased. You’ll argue, I know, that this entire piece is biased as I pick and choose the writers I most likely agree with, and you would be right. But my choices are biased toward the truth, and so am I. If you want to argue that or take it beyond what’s here, there’s a comment section below. I really want to hear from you.

If you can’t be polite at least be accurate. And a reminder: leave all personal attacks in the kindergarten room. We’re all adults here.)

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NOTE: Friday Follies returns next week. I wasn’t feeling it today. This came first.