People like [Margaret] Sullivan would have you believe that “balance” is a mandate to give voice to clearly illegitimate points of view, but it’s really about not falling so completely in love with your “values” that you stop caring to avoid mistakes about those who don’t share them, or even just mistakes generally.
By any standard, the press had a terrible four years, from the mangling of dozens of Russiagate tales to scandals like the New York Times “Caliphate” disaster and the underappreciated Covington High School story fiasco. Still, many in the business can’t see how bad it’s been, because they’ve walled themselves off so completely from potential critics.
The point is not to try and convince the most hostile Republicans to tune back into mainstream media outlets. Many of them are unreachable by this point, showing less interest in doing or seeking out better reporting than in using accusations of double standards and hypocrisy to help build support for the right and attempt to tear down liberal institutions. Some go even further, to use the failings of professional journalism as a justification for pedaling deliberate distortions on alternative platforms. Those who take this position view all so-called news as a form of propaganda or information warfare and defend the deliberate promulgation of lies as a tit-for-tat response to the actions of their enemies: “If the left does it, then so should we, and with even less restraint.”
But there are plenty of Americans situated between the burn-it-all-down hyper-cynical right and the journalists and Democratic Party politicos who naively or enthusiastically passed around the CNN story last week. Whether the right succeeds in persuading more and more people to join them in tuning out mainstream journalism will depend in large part on whether its accusations of dishonesty and bad faith look accurate to observers. Does the media seem fair-minded and scrupulous in what it labels news? Or does it seem highly invested in enhancing the power of one side in our country’s deep political divide?
The media practicing postjournalism produce nothing else but the donating audience through the manufacture of its anger. Their agenda production entails no consumption. Nobody learns news from this agenda. It does not even have any impact on the assumed audience. Real propaganda involves the proliferation of ideas and values. However, postjournalism cannot do even that. Those whom it is supposed to reach and convert are already trapped in the same agenda bubble.
The only “others” for the agenda bubble, made of the donating audience and their media, are the inhabitants of the opposite agenda bubble on the other side of the political spectrum. Paradoxically, postjournalism supplies not so much content but, rather, the reason for the foes’ existence and their motives, which justify their outrage and mobilization. However, there is also no expected agenda impact on opponents. The opponents do not consume ‘opposing’ content as information. They regard it as a source of energy to feed their anger. Polarization is the essential environmental condition and the only outcome of postjournalism (besides the earnings of the media that practice postjournalism).
Because of its self-containment and the need for energy input, postjournalism exists in a binary form in which the strength of the one side depends on the strength of the other. Their confrontation strengthens their audience-capturing power and maintains their business.