Bogus election audits. A refusal to investigate the January 6th riots at the U.S. Capitol. A slew of anti-voting laws across the country. As the Republican Party steadily drifts toward an anti-democratic platform, one prominent media critic thinks journalists must break out of “both-sidesism” and “false equivalence” to more forcefully make clear the “craven” nature of the GOP.
In a column for The Washington Post focusing on the Congressional committee investigating the 1/6 riots, Margaret Sullivan writes “the media has played straight into Republicans’ hands, seemingly incapable of framing this as anything but base political drama.”
This strain of news coverage, observed Jon Allsop in Columbia Journalism Review, centers on twinned, dubious implications: “That bipartisanship is desirable and that Democrats bear responsibility for upholding it — even in the face of explicit Republican obstructionism.”
This stance comes across as both cynical (“politics was ever thus”) and unsophisticated (“we’re just doing our job of reporting what was said”). Quite a feat.
Sullivan thinks reporters are too focused on being seen as “fair-minded and nonpartisan.” But she has recommendations on how to improve coverage:
Toss out the insidious “inside-politics” frame and replace it with a “pro-democracy” frame.
Stop calling the reporters who cover this stuff “political reporters.” Start calling them “government reporters.”
Stop asking who the winners and losers were in the latest skirmish. Start asking who is serving the democracy and who is undermining it.
Stop being “savvy” and start being patriotic.
Sullivan acknowledges that media bosses are unlikely to abandon habits solidified over decades, but she warns “For the sake of American democracy, it’s now or never.