The dominant press is a giant inertia machine

Dominant journalism might actually make social change more difficult.

Giant cogs drawn in blue and corral with small bodies ground between the gears.

Journalism is often spoken of in terms of democracy, liberalism, public service, development, informed citizenry, and progress.

“Speaking truth to power” and “duty to inform” are long standing talking points, espoused by the press, about the press. 1

The Washington Post’s tagline is “democracy dies in darkness.” The Globe and Mail claims they “shine a light,” creating “a path for reform and positive change.”2

But here’s an old idea: what if dominant journalism, by and large and in the long run, is actually a drag on progress? What if the mainstream press, is actually, in aggregate, a conservative force? On this view, it’s a drag on change. It’s momentum.3

I think about this sometimes when I think about The National Post, Maclean’s, and The Globe and Mail. They’re all partisan. They’ve all been huge drags on a host of issues.

I think about this sometimes when I think about the media attention that Trump got in 2015 and 2016, and the role that mainstream news played in getting Trump elected to office.

I think about this sometimes in the context of climate change denialism, and obstructionism, in Calgary. If I read the Calgary Herald, or the Calgary Sun, everyday, I would likely deny that humans cause climate change too.4

I think about this when I see the line up of old white men who dominate the bylines in the dominant press.

Sometimes I try to imagine different metaphors to describe the press. The mainstream press is a giant train. The press is a giant mechanical wheel. Journalism is a gargantuan spinning top.

And the spinning whirring iron parts of this giant machine are the people and ink and widgets and advertisements and style guides and owners and histories and keyboards and screens and narratives, and cultures and behaviours and half-truths and zombie falsehoods.

And it rolls and chugs, on and on. It slows and speeds here and there. It turns direction now and then. Slowly. Heavily.

It can be slowed and accelerated and it can change course, but only slightly and only through a great expenditure of collective force, like a shifting advertising industry, or the invention of the internet. And if you try to make change, be careful. You might get rolled over.

Meet the Press booked a climate denier in November of 2018 and then announced in the waning light of 2019 that they decided to stop giving climate change deniers air time.5

Sigh. Better late than never I guess. But denial is only the first option in a multi-step obstructionist strategy. In other words, it’s weak to reject deniers. Still, rejecting deniers is better than nothing.

What assurances have Maclean’s, the National Post, or The Globe and Mail, given us?

None.

Postmedia continues to publish the “Friends of Science” and Robert Lyman. 6

And The Globe and Mail continues to publish The Fraser Institute.7

  1. The press has been considered to be a revolutionary force in some, not all, eras. Especially so, however, when countries take a democratic turn, or when press freedoms are granted. And to this day the press in Canada positions itself against what it sees as the dominant powers. From Margaret Wente to Rex Murphy, Barbara and Jonathan Kay to Andrew Coyne, the most highly paid members of the mainstream press pose as underdogs who are bucking the status quo.
  2. Full quote: “Globe journalists play a vital role in our democracy. They shine a bright light on the events, people and policies that affect Canadians at home and overseas. Through daily news coverage and large-scale investigations, our reporters and columnists hold the country’s institutions and public figures accountable, creating a path for reform and positive change.” Accessed May 7, 2019: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/about/journalists/
  3. Note: it doesn’t matter how many individual stories, or journalists, we think are doing good work. This is a claim about the aggregate effect of dominant journalism.
  4. If I never studied religions in University, and I read the National Post everyday, I would likely hate Islam too.
  5. Better late then never.
  6. See Friends of Science press release and Lyman’s article based on it: https://www.prweb.com/releases/canadian_taxpayers_doomed_by_green_titanic_of_engo_activism_due_to_charities_law_changes_says_new_report_from_friends_of_science/prweb16280504.htm & https://business.financialpost.com/opinion/the-green-new-deals-toughest-transition-will-be-returning-its-supporters-to-reality
  7. By my quick count, The Globe and Mail has written six articles in 2019 that explicitly use the Fraser Institute as a reference. Climate Change in Denial in Canada (PDF)

One thought on “The dominant press is a giant inertia machine

  1. Exactly! One doesn’t expect the press to lead change, but this conservative behaviour is equally unacceptable and is the norm unfortunately

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