A couple of weeks ago, I did a Wall Street Journal Radio interview about our new smartphone app, Progressive Voices. I explained the importance of a Progressive media aggregator that puts out written, aural and video content to balance the burgeoning online presence of so many right leaning sites, and the continuing appeal to older Americans of conservative talk radio.This isn’t a treatise about their fantasy of an overwhelmingly liberal media. I think the concept has been fairly thoroughly debunked everywhere from simple format analyses of broadcast outlets, to the rigorous academic work presented by Eric Alterman in his 2004 book, “What Liberal Media?” Still, the masters of the Right Wing media machine, have done, and continue to do, a great propaganda job on the subject. They want our pity. They want us to know that they, the majority, Christian, white, wealthy men who run the media establishment, are victims of terrible media bias. A silly premise, but they do have good messaging, consistency, and incredibly good message-discipline, so their complaint isn’t ever far from their lips, and it is always uttered in precisely the same way because they understand that for the human brain, repetition equals credibility.
An early question was, why does the world need another politically ideological media silo? Isn’t it just that kind of divisiveness that sets us against one another? I’ve gotten this question a lot since we started Air America Radio in 2004.
First, as always, let me say that I wish it weren’t necessary. We cannot let lies told so convincingly, and told so often across so many platforms, to so many people, go unchallenged.
Second, in today’s post-mass media world, there are no more hit records we can all sing; no more hit TV shows we all watch; and, no more news broadcasts we all see. For better and worse, public opinion is no longer shaped by a shared media experience. There’s no Walter Cronkite reaching tens of millions of Americans every night. Now there are many outlets on many platforms. It is a fragmented media world, and it is far too easy for people to get and stay in their media comfort zones. One of our goals is to encourage people to become their own editors and to sample opinions that run counter to their own. This is particularly important in a world that also appears to be “post-factual,’ a new wrinkle that essentially says, “Who are you going to believe, me, or your own lying’ eyes?”
There are great journalists working in television, at the Wall Street Journal, NPR, the New York Times, The Atlantic, and many other newspapers and magazines. These journalists are truth seekers and are not attached to the outcome of their work. If one reads a few different papers every day, hears credible news radio, and watches a little national broadcast network news (don’t get me started on the culture of chalk outlines and house fires on local TV news), one can get a fair view of the happenings in our world. But, the reality is most people haven’t got the time or inclination to sample a number of sources. They find that comfort zone, and have their existing opinions reinforced.
“False equivalence” is a term that is coming up more and more recently. It refers to the cowardly way many news organizations now reduce their exposure to criticism. When reporting on the Holocaust, why is it necessary to give a Holocaust denier equal time and status? It’s a false equivalence and you will not find it in any journalism textbooks. We might hope that the mainstream media would fill the breach and effectively tell the real story, but they are less and less reliable, and often are simply motivated by the revenue gains associated with the big ratings that come when you parrot the conventional wisdom, whether or not it is the truth. Ah, mainstreamers, we liked it better when you were all about telling the truth, not providing a platform for prevarication.
More than ever, if you have only one news source, you are under-informed, misinformed, or uninformed. Our world today demands multiple sources.
So, I answer the question by saying that in this climate, even though it runs the risk of further division, there has to be an online Progressive Media Portal that can take its place alongside the many other opinion outlets now extant.