Richard Hanania’s article Why the Media is Honest and Good went hugely viral.
It’s interesting how many comments are praising the article by many of the same people who since 2016 unanimously expressed skepticism or outright antipathy about the ‘liberal media’, such as vaccines or the suppression of the Hunter Biden laptop story–and rightfully so–but now somehow are onboard or accept the premise of the article that perhaps ‘the media is not so bad’.
Maybe it has to do with how Mr. Hanania conveys a lot of intellectual authority and credibility that people who would otherwise automatically dismiss such a thesis are willing to at least entertain the possibility of having been wrong about the media all along. It shows the importance of intellect in terms of persuasiveness. Had some social-justice liberal from the NYTs or Vice written that exact same article probably the reception would have been far worse, owing to a lack of credibility on his or her part.
The gist of his argument is that the mainstream media is well-intentioned and mostly accurate, and although the MSM does get things wrong, critics on the right overlook or ignore that the media is accurate most of the time, and that conservative media is worse (or more guilty of the very misinformation or ‘fake news’ that the right accuses the left of). Also, that the mainstream media is more accurate than the foreign media or alternative media.
I agree…foreign media is not uncommonly directly influenced and controlled by governments, such as in China or Turkey. As biased or compromised as the mainstream media is, it’s not as bad as having the media literally be an apparatus of the state or directly regulated by the state.
But in spite of this, I am not a fan of the media overall, whether mainstream or alternative. Being anti-MSM does not imply being pro-alternative media. Alternative may be better, but not that much better. I think random blogs, ‘anons’ on 4chan, and Twitter nobodies are the most accurate. Mainstream and alternative media are both affected by the same clickbait incentives, but just different biases and agendas. Non-profit media is bad, too, because it’s also biased, even if does not engage in clickbait as often. As soon as something or someone gets too much clout or becomes a brand, protecting that image becomes more important than impartiality.
I have found that it’s not so much that the media outright intentionally lies, but is inaccurate by omission or bias, not admission (although the NYTs did arguably withhold the Hunter Biden laptop story, waiting over a year before at least acknowledging the existence of such a controversy). There are occasionally key details left out, like the race of a murder suspect, or stories written in an intentionally confusing way to as to omit certain details. For this reason I disagree with Mr. Hanania that the mainstream media is good or honest. If the media seeks to mislead (or is so incompetent that the difference between an honest mistake and malice is irrelevant or indistinguishable), isn’t that the opposite of honesty? How is an incompetent but honest media better or different from a dishonest one if the reporting is equally bad/misleading?
From the post There is no reason to trust the mainstream media (which was also in response to an earlier Richard Hanania post):
On November 22nd, 2021, when a driver plowed his SUV into a Wisconsin holiday parade, killing 5 people, the media withheld the name and race of the driver, Darrell Edward Brooks Jr., 40, an African American. The headlines, written in the passive voice, made it seem like the SUV had suddenly become sentient and started to kill people, and the coverage was widely mocked on Twitter. Even liberals could not help but to cringe.
Regarding accuracy rates, this doesn’t tell the whole story. For example, the NYTs may be right 90% of the time about small stories, but still get big things wrong, like the Iraq War. The media overstating the efficacy of vaccines or the lethality of Covid possibly led to overreactive countermeasures and mandates that negatively affected millions of lives, and businesses closing. The media overhyping the threat of Russia conceivably could have led to nuclear war. A serial killer is indeed a good person the 99.9% of the time he is not killing people; good luck using that as a legal defense.
Yes, maybe the media was right about the threat of Russia, but the willingness of the mainstream media to dive headlong into a narrative with incomplete information, when waiting or at least being more nuanced would be the more prudent thing to do, is part of the problem (it’s too bad the NYTs didn’t show as much restraint regarding Russiagate as it did about withholding the Hunter Biden laptop story). The incentives are aligned in such a way as to encourage a shoot-first and ask questions later approach, such as page views and ad dollars from drumming up a story, and then when wrong quietly memory-holing it or issuing a retraction but still profiting anyway (like about the Iraq War, the UVA rape hoax (which Rolling Stone was forced to retract), ‘noosegate‘, the Jussie Smollett hoax, ‘smirkgate’ (which CNN issued a retraction), among many others…).
For years, we were told about the dangers of Trump possibly not accepting the results of losing his reelection campaign, and as it turned out, he and his allies waged a comprehensive campaign to overturn the results in 2020, which culminated in the storming of the Capitol.
At best this is half-true. The whole point of the Jan 6th committee was to try to prove what link, if any, that Trump was directly involved in the storming of the Capitol; we cannot take this as a foregone conclusion. Sure, some of his allies may have plotted to overturn the results, but this is not the same as Trump refusing the concede, which he eventually did without incident. Trump availing himself of all legally permissible options to contest the results is not the same as refusing to leave. So the media was wrong.
However, to Hanania’s point, the media is not a monolithic entity. When someone says “The NYTs (or the media) was wrong about Covid,” who in the NYTs? Which writer? The NYTs has many writers. It’s possible for contributors who write for the same publication to hold diametrically opposing views, so it’s not like any one journalist speaks for his or her publication as a whole. Some articles were too optimistic about the vaccines, but there were also articles in early 2021 that expressed some skepticism. The claim of the vaccines being ’95-99% effective’ was just one of many opinions at the time by the mainstream media, not the only one.
From NPR, as early as Sep. 2020, said vaccines may only be ‘50% effective’. Yet at the same time CNN was touting 94% effectiveness. Same for LA Times. But even as early as Feb. 2021 did the NYTs begin to question vaccine effectiveness against variants, as did Fauci (of all people). This well predates by 6 months Biden’s claim, “You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.” Same for a Jan. 2021 NYTs article, Why Vaccines Alone Will Not End the Pandemic. Yet NYTs columnist David Leonhardt took the opposite side, arguing that vaccine effectiveness was being undersold. In April 2021 Apoorva Mandavilli of the NYTs said ‘We Don’t Know’ if the vaccines stop the spread of Covid. NBC in July 2021 also expressed some reservations, too, that the ‘95% efficacy rate’ may have only been at preventing serious disease, not stopping the spread, in which vaccines were only 60% effective. So what to make of all of this? There is no ‘single media narrative’, even within the ‘liberal media’, and even within the same publication. (I think, overall, Healthline was the most accurate, in Jan 2021 writing that ‘You Can Still Spread, Develop COVID-19 After Getting a Vaccine’).
I agree that the conservative media is ‘dumber’ than the left-wing media. There are more ads, especially for dubious stuff like get-rich-quick schemes or overpriced gold. The headlines tend to be less nuanced compared to left-wing media. Right-wing media does seem to come off as a ‘grift’ more so than left-wing media. This brings me back to my original point that all media sucks. Too much hype, too many ads, too much bias, etc.
Many times I have bypassed NYTs paywalls with archive links, but have never felt compelled to do the same with conservative media. Does this demonstrate that the NYTs is honest? Not really. The NYTs produces so much content that inevitably some of it will pique my interest, especially for things that have nothing to do with politics, and right-leaning websites seldom use paywalls it seems (probably because they have so many ads, paywalls are not needed).
But op-eds and ‘general interest pieces’ are not the same as ‘the news’ per say; rather, they are like editorially-screened blog posts. It’s not as if they should be held to the same standard of accuracy as actual reporting. But when the mainstream media for the past 30 years, as far as I can remember, warns of impending global warming, and then lo and behold, another very cold winter, makes me not want to take any of it seriously.
Again, both sides are guilty of this, and is why I don’t have a high opinion of the media on either side. For example, just as the left-wing media in 2020 wrongly attributed non-Covid deaths as being directly caused by Covid (due to Covid being present at the time of death), the right-wing media has sorta fallen into the same trap regarding alleged vaccine deaths. Same for the right-wing media chasing the dead-end that was the Obama birth certificate non-story, similar to the left-wing media and Russiagate. Had Trump won in 2020, would many of the same people who are going on about shortages or high inflation still be making such a big deal about shortages or supply line problems? Likely not. Instead we’d be hearing from the likes of Tim Pool and others that ‘shortages are indicative of a strong economy’ or that ‘the inflation is transitory’.
Hanania devotes half of his essay to how the media is wrong, which agrees with my points. Ironically, he engages in the same sort of clickbait which makes the media dishonest to begin with, by making a bold claim “The media is honest!” and then equivocating and walking back his original position later in the article. This is similar to Scott in his article about the how the media never lies, in which he was forced to equivocate after obvious objections were raised. So it’s more like, “The media is honest, except when it isn’t,” which I guess is a less click-worthy claim. He writes:
But I don’t have high standards for humanity. “Be intelligent, don’t explicitly lie to me, don’t see yourself as on a team trying to ‘own’ the other side, and have some kind of professional standards where you at least care a little bit about truth” is about the best that I think we have the right to expect. And institutions like the NYT, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic generally meet that standard, at least to a much greater extent than most of their critics.
So this is an admission that the media does lie, only implicitly/covertly?
He says “The MSM is at its worst when it comes to issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation because the left has lost its mind on these issues,” which is what ‘we’ have been saying all along (no shit). Continuing, he makes an argument that in spite of this bias or omission of information, that the liberal media is still better than conservative media. Maybe. But this is a different claim than the former being honest. It’s more like they are both dishonest but in different ways.
Overall, just because the mainstream media has (mostly) accurate science reporting (or anything non-political), does not mean it’s honest or good. It’s just selectively dishonest, which is more effective anyway as far as propaganda goes, because being 100% dishonest would make neutral parties disinclined to take any of it seriously at all. Having good or accurate science reporting adds credibility to the social-justice stuff, too.