Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
Democracy is not served by censorship, malice, derision, and denunciation.
Newspapers are an endangered species. Between 2000 and 2018, US newspaper advertising revenue didn’t merely fail to keep pace with inflation. It shrank. By a catastrophic 70%. Over the past decade, the number of daily newspapers in physical circulation has halved. Newspaper jobs have also dropped by half.
During these times of upheaval and crisis, it would be great if journalists were trying extra hard to be constructive members of society. It would be marvelous if editors set a proper tone, reminding newsrooms continuously that their job is to provide a broad range of useful information, from multiple perspectives, so that voters are empowered to make well-informed decisions.
Instead, journalists have become heavy-duty enforcers of conformist thought. They do this first by ignoring the existence of anyone who dissents. Newsrooms have decided the public doesn’t need to know about entire swaths of opinion. Non-conformists are simply disappeared from the public square.
Then there’s ritual denunciation. Rather than giving non-conformists an honest hearing, a fair chance to communicate their views, journalists are now rabid attack dogs. They urinate in the snow, demarcating what can be uttered, and what can not. Columnist Paul Krugman has spent years denouncing climate skeptics from the pages of the New York Times. In his view, such people don’t merely have a different analysis. They aren’t merely mistaken. He insists they are morally depraved – sinners who deserve to be punished in the afterlife.
How does it serve democracy to deride and denigrate alternative perspectives in this manner? How does it serve democracy to refuse to listen, with an open mind, to non-conformist points-of-view?
Which brings us to deliberate misrepresentation. How does it serve democracy to ‘interview’ a non-conformist and then twist their words into things that were never said? So you can smear them. So you can insult them.
An ‘interview’ of this sort appeared a few weeks ago, on the cover of the Sunday London Times. Titled Jordan Peterson on his depression, drug dependency and Russian rehab hell, it’s an example, as Peterson says, of “cruelty and spite” masquerading as journalism.
I encourage you to read the compassionate request-for-an-interview that Megan Agnew, a Times editor, sent the Peterson family. The one promising “objectivity,” and a telling of “the whole story.” This email promised the opportunity “to clear up any factual inaccuracies that might have been reported in the press.” It promised to celebrate Peterson’s “life and career so far.”
Then read what the Times actually published. Perhaps followed by an analysis over at Frontpage magazine, titled: Crucifying Jordan Peterson: The Times of London does a hit job. The entire affair is nauseating.
If you still aren’t persuaded that the most prestigious newspapers imaginable are now malevolent, anti-democratic cesspools, I further invite you to read Glenn Greenwald’s recent essay about the feral pack of young US reporters who think their job is to destroy the lives of anyone who utters anything politically incorrect.
Journalists as tattletales. Journalists demanding free speech be squelched, that free thought be extinguished. Journalists who, in Greenwald’s words,
devote the bulk of their “journalism” to searching for online spaces where they believe speech and conduct rules are being violated, flagging them, and then pleading that punitive action be taken (banning, censorship, content regulation, after-school detention)…these journalistic hall monitors cannot abide the idea that there can be any place on the internet where people are free to speak in ways they do not approve…they spend their days trolling the depths of chat rooms and 4Chan bulletin boards and sub-Reddit threads and private communications apps to find anyone – influential or obscure – who is saying something they believe should be forbidden, and then use the corporate megaphones they did not build and could not have built but have been handed in order to silence and destroy anyone who dissents…
Greenwald uses strong language: Deeply anti-intellectual. Dishonest in the extreme. Malicious, disgusting, and sociopathic. Spite, stupidity, and vindictiveness. Lowlife tactics.
It all applies. Journalism is utterly broken.
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