As much as we might wish for a more positive and uplifting media, the job of journalism–the legitimate kind–is to report what is newsworthy, and to do so accurately.
No thumb on the news scale, so to speak.
A great deal of the criticism of the press revolves around that gatekeeper function: why didn’t the media report on such-and-such? Why did the news media give so much attention to thus-and-so? Why did reporters fall into a “both sides do it” false equivalency?
Around the same time that Rep. King was practicing his neo-KKK oratory skills, newly elected Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan made a statement that referred to Donald Trump as a “motherfucker.” The statement was relevant, as she and other Democrats were elected to attack the blatant corruption in the current government—including with the possible impeachment of President Trump.
A lot of hand-wringing ensued on both sides about both statements. The fact that traditional media outlets covered both King’s racism and Tlaib’s use of the word “motherfucker” is not a surprise, nor is it wrong. Both stories, after all, are newsworthy. But it turns out that both stories weren’t covered at the same rate. In fact, Media Matters reports that Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s curse word received about five times more news coverage than Rep. Steve King’s white supremacist lament.
According to the media watchdog, CNN spent 14 minutes and 42 seconds covering King’s remarks, and dedicated over an hour’s worth of discussion to Rep. Tlaib’s expletive. According to the study, MSNBC spent around over twice as much time debating whether or not Trump is an impeachable motherfucker when compared to discussion about how much of a goddamn nightmare the racist King is. Finally, Fox News predictably dedicated nearly an hour to fearmongering about Tlaib’s plot to steal Jesus out of American homes, while spending not even a full minute on King’s most recent bigotry.
The article on Daily Kos attributed the disparity in part to media’s conservative bias and in part to Americans’ ingrained sexism: we are more likely to expect–and ignore– foul language from men than from women, so Tlaib’s comment was considered shocking.
To be fair, it might also be that Tlaib is new, while King’s racism has been on prominent display for years. It’s old hat, day-before-yesterday’s news.
But I have another theory, one that doesn’t depend upon newness or media bias or the male/female angle.
When a progressive political figure says something incendiary, or makes a gaffe, Right-wingers can be counted on to make a big deal out of it, no matter how trivial or meaningless it is in the scheme of things.
The problem is, you can usually count on some part of the Left to be equally critical. Democrats routinely eat their own.
Rightwing commentators, on and off Fox, will jump to the defense of Republicans who make outrageous comments or engage in inappropriate activities, if they cover the matter at all. Did Trump boast about grabbing lady parts? Just locker room talk. Nothing to see here. Did you hear about that celebrity who…
For some reason, Democrats and Leftwing commentators tend to repeatedly revisit the progressive’s gaffe; explaining why it was wrong or counterproductive, analyzing the context within which the offending remark was made or “interpreting” it to mean something else. Even when they’re playing defense, they’re like a dog with a bone.
The result is that people keep talking about what the Democrat said or did, and after the initial report, no one is talking about the alt-right asshole.
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that Democrats and left-leaning media should ignore or minimize misbehavior from their ranks just because Republicans do–but it would be nice if the party would set the bar for triggering outraged disapproval a bit higher, or at least reduce the length of the imposed purgatory.
It may be news, but it doesn’t have to be forever.