February 17, 2021
I posted this Twitter thread this morning. It should be self-explanatory, but it is more than a little infuriating to see the media (not just Thomas Edsall) act like they are innocent bystanders in the rise of an anti-democratic right-wing movement that constantly lies to advance its agenda. The media have agency but have thus far largely sought to pretend to just be observers. As a result, they allow themselves to be played endlessly by liars like Cruz, Hawley, and Trump.
I saw this Thomas Edsall piece in the NYT that includes a variety of genuflections about social media and democracy. What the piece never addresses is the responsibility of the mainstream media (thread):
It is one thing for random individuals to spew nonsense on social media sites. That is a real problem with no comprehensive solution.
Libel law can be helpful, as in the suits that Dominion and Smartmatic are filing against various prominent figures who have falsely accused them of rigging the election.
It would also be helpful to allow libel suits against the platforms that spread these lies. But, unlike the New York Times and CNN, Facebook and Twitter enjoy protection against such suits due to Section 230.
Apparently, the media considers it beyond the pale to question Section 230 protection, since I have never seen the issue seriously raised. Much better to have endless articles and columns fretting about the spread of lies on the Internet.
Perhaps even more important is that the fact that mainstream media outlets allow public figures to spread their lies and not have it affect their reputation.
To take a somewhat overblown analogy, if someone were running around denying the Holocaust, would they still be politely interviewed on the evening news, or on the Sunday morning talk shows, or quoted respectfully in the New York Times?
Of course, a Holocaust denier would not be given this respect, and their identification as a Holocaust denier would follow them wherever they went. Any time they were mentioned in a serious news outlet, “Holocaust denier” would be part of their identification.
We are now facing something similar with a large percentage of Republican political figures who refuse to acknowledge the results of the presidential election. Obviously, these people do not respect democracy.
For this reason, they should be treated as pariahs in the same way that a Holocaust denier would be treated as a pariah. Their views on issues should not be treated seriously until they can speak truthfully about the election outcome.
And, every reference to them in a news story or opinion piece should identify them as an “election denier.” This isn’t partisan, it is about standing up for reality.
That may not solve the problem of social media spreading crap, but it is a simple step that responsible news outlets can take, rather than just fretting about the lack of a common understanding of reality.