A recent editor’s resignation from The New York Times shows mass media’s hostile intolerance to those who won’t follow predetermined narratives of the far left – and she’s even considered a centrist or liberal with some conservative views. It reveals the pressure news media receives from social media and big tech (like Google/YouTube) to shape the news toward those narratives. All of this places the First Amendment at risk.
Bari Weiss described in her nearly 1500 word resignation that the Times has become “…more and more, the record of those living in a distant galaxy, one whose concerns are profoundly removed from the lives of most people.”
For years now, people have suspected or accused mass media of having a mass disconnect with people who desire the truth or at least the semblance of objectivity so they can decide for themselves. Instead, we often have commentary and opinion dressed up as objective journalism. (BTW, this is an opinion piece or commentary – if you weren’t sure the next paragraph should make it clear.)
Now the news media finds itself in a death spiral of trust serving a new master – social media and big tech offering crashing waves of crowds used for sentiment analysis. “Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor,” wrote Weiss. This is true for too many in mass media.
Instead of attracting readers with intellectual curiosity, they attract those who want to hear more of the same so they can feel good about their ego and choices. Thought, logic, conversation, and debate fall to the socially measured “sentiments” (ironic and prescient 2009 New York Times article, “Mining the Web for Feelings, Not Facts”) to mine internet clicks for cash.
This combination leads to less objective reporting and reporters using what Weiss calls “self-censorship” through the pressure of unspoken rules:
“Rule One: Speak your mind at your own peril. Rule Two: Never risk commissioning a story that goes against the narrative. Rule Three: Never believe an editor or publisher who urges you to go against the grain. Eventually the publisher will cave to the mob, the editor will get fired or reassigned, and you’ll be hung out to dry.”
Weiss reminds The Times, “I was always taught that journalists were charged with writing the first rough draft of history. Now, history itself is one more ephemeral thing molded to fit the needs of a predetermined narrative.” The predetermined narrative created these unwritten rules which replace objectivity with a proclivity for subjectivity.
Objective discussion is often suppressed by social media and big tech. Social media and big tech hide behind a misused and broad legal shield found in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.
Social media pretends to be pure intermediaries related to produced and shared content, but the fact is shadow banning, outright banning, blocking, unequally applied fact-checks, and expulsion means they shape opinion. Because of these actions, social media sites have trained many in the news (and individuals) to self-censor too.
They intentionally or unintentionally affect all of our First Amendment protections without even legally passing a law. They circumvent the law by their community standards, policies, and “terms of service” which no one should be required to agree to if it breaks a constitutional right. Most individuals, though, can’t fight multiple billion and trillion-dollar organizations.
The First Amendment protects the freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and religious liberty. So when the free press is suppressing free speech (as they’ve learned from their social media masters) or religious liberty, it is a tragedy in the making that hurts all of America.
Can the press not see as they erode those other freedoms that they are next? The end result is the First Amendment will be obliterated.
God help America. God help us all. We’ve met the enemy and he is us.
Weiss apparently tries to help slow this destruction and relight the fire of objective journalism, truth, and fairness when she concludes her resignation by calling them back to the words of the former publisher and owner of The New York Times:
"But I can no longer do the work that you brought me here to do—the work that Adolph Ochs described in that famous 1896 statement: “to make of the columns of The New York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.
Ochs’s idea is one of the best I’ve encountered. And I’ve always comforted myself with the notion that the best ideas win out. But ideas cannot win on their own. They need a voice. They need a hearing. Above all, they must be backed by people willing to live by them."
Unfortunately, since this doesn’t fit their predetermined narrative (or that of mass media or social media as a whole), those sparks of truth will not be fanned – probably because they didn’t see enough likes on social media.