A book argues that the media has abandoned the middle class

As the books progress, 2020 has been the year of shocking merit. Daniel Markowitz warned:merit trap,” While “tyranny of entitlementMichael Sandel has received several Book of the Year awards. Both books noted meritocracy’s ability to legitimize inequality beyond the point of endurance. But they overlooked the media’s role in covering this growing inequality. in a “The bad news: How Woke Media is undermining democracy(2021), Newsweek’s deputy opinion editor Bhatia Angar-Sarjun says that “the identity culture war has allowed journalists to portray our nation as hopelessly divided along partisan and ethnic lines as a smokescreen of the virtually impenetrable and devastating division taking place along the separation.” lines.”

Most of Ungar-Sargon’s book first-hand documents what she calls the “moral panic” currently sweeping the US mainstream media, which has warmed to the killing of George Floyd In May last year. She argues that this panic is intertwined with a much older trend: the media’s disengagement from the values ​​and fears of America’s working class. The book begins by tracing the rise of populism in the mid-nineteenth century, ignited by such prominent journalistic figures as Benjamin Day and Joseph Pulitzer, who sought to sell newspapers with content relevant (albeit often sensational) to the lives of working men. Despite the seemingly insurmountable class divisions of the Golden Age, the so-called Day and Pulitzer of critical journalism, with its focus on work, corruption, and crime, emerged as the equivalent of knowledge and an instrument of empowerment. While the US economy is heading toward similar levels of inequality, today’s media plays the opposite role – it caters almost exclusively to the interests of upper-class liberals in cities.

Ungar-Sargon points out three main trends driving the transformation of the once socially selective mass media into skewed class journalism. First, the “dignified counterrevolution” has stigmatized working-class culture as unworthy of media attention, prompting the urban press to cater to the tastes and interests of American pioneers instead, as summarized by The New Yorker. Second, the “status revolution” has transformed journalism, once a primarily middle-class profession, into an upper-class profession, with aspiring writers and reporters from humble backgrounds forced to scramble through a series of apprenticeships just to get their first job. Third, advertising has replaced subscriptions as the main source of media revenue, even as the industry has merged into five major national conglomerates at the expense of the rapidly disappearing local press. Taken together, these trends mean that high-end journalists increasingly cater to high-end and liberal-minded readers, while the few remaining outlets that address the working class are becoming radicalized.

The most decisive – and complex – factor in the social and ideological stratification of the media is the Internet. Through information bubbles, echo chambers, and suppression of customer interaction, “social media has sacrificed quality journalism at the altar of the selfishness of individual journalists.” Writers and reporters are locked in a battle for online likes and engagement, leaving less time for direct reporting that was once the bread and butter of journalism. Then came Donald Trump, describing him to the press as “Enemies of the people. Ungar-Sargon writes that the 45th president gave the mainstream media license to push working-class whites away from their editorial lenses. Because the mainstream media viewed Trump as an enemy of the journalism profession itself, they dealt with policies introduced by his administration, such as strengthening border security, as evil—even as many of these policies win voter approval.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump has called the press “the enemy of the people”.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP via Getty Images

Generational change was a factor, too. Older groups of journalists realized that their trade thrived on diverse viewpoints and rigorous reporting; The younger generation of digital natives view their role “as less of an understanding of their topics and more of sitting in the judgment of those who disagree with them.” This awakened regiment is intent on spreading its crusade to the wider community. Ungar Sargon writes: “For all the talk of the struggle for racial equality, the racial segregation of American life through an awakened culture war was simply the next stage in the revolution for the standing of journalists—and who they considered their readers—immersed in critical race theory and post-thought. Modernism, younger journalists have brought into the newsroom an “obsession with race elegantly searching around a real chasm in American life – economic inequality.” Thus, the focus on race distracts from the privilege many of these young journalists (regardless of color) enjoy on their path to professional success.

Senator Tom Cotton
New York Times employees revolted after they published an article by Senator Tom Cotton.
Tasos Katopodis/Paul via Reuters/File Photo

This generational change has jeopardized ancient liberating practices. Editors once had absolute power over what was published; Today’s newsroom crowds often wield this power, as evidenced by the staff’s rebellion afterwards The New York Times published an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton He called on troops to quell the rioting and looting that followed the death of George Floyd. Ungar-Sargon explains that “what is so appalling about this censored development in the American press, is not that online activists will try to use their power to impose their opinions, but that a larger generation of journalists – people who should, and who know best – succumb to pressure.” Ungar-Sargon believes that the responsibility for restoring the mental health of our media strip rests with all consumers of news. By choosing wisely the outlets we read and keeping politics out of the rest of our lives, we can resist the degeneration of the media into a polarizing force in American life.

Jorge Gonzalez Galarza (Tweet embed) is the co-host of the ‘Uncommon’ podcast on European issues (Tweet embed) and Research Associate at Fundación Civismo (Madrid).

Reprinted from City Journal

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