FredBauerBlog, Im-Politic, Mainstream Media, media bias, MSM, race relations, racism, Tablet, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, wokeness, Zach Goldberg
As RealityChek regulars know, I’ve long been strongly critical of the American Mainstream Media (MSM), and presented any number of examples of its brazen bias – including, and in fact especially, in ostensible straight news reports. My main focus has the pronounced slant of these big, influential news organizations’ in favor of interventionist U.S. foreign policy globalism, supportive of Open Borders-like immigration policies, against any departures from jobs- and growth-killing trade agreements, and unremittingly hostile to anything said or done by President Trump.
But I’ve also paid attention to media bias on largely domestic issues, and in particular on the adoption (notably by The New York Times) of a clear perspective endorsing – and often embodying – the emergence of a highly intolerant strain of progressivism and in American life, and a view of the country’s society, politics, and history stressing the central role of what’s called systemic racism.
At the same time, even though I’ve cited numerous examples of all the above developments, there still aren’t enough to prove a trend. Recently, however, exhaustive evidence has emerged on the systemic racism front, and we can thank a political science student named Zach Goldberg who’s conducted wide-ranging research on the subject for his Ph.D. and just published in the on-line magazine Tablet.
Goldberg has performed the kind of content analysis that’s only become possible with new information technology tools, literally counting the number of times The Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal in particular have used words describing what he calls “wokeness”: “a prevailing new political morality on questions of race and justice that has taken power at The Times and Post—a worldview sometimes abbreviated as “wokeness” that combines the sensibilities of highly educated and hyperliberal white professionals with elements of Black nationalism and academic critical race theory.”
His main finding: this racial wokeness’ takeover of The Times and the Post in particular preceded the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police by several years; that it’s completely unrelated to any change in levels of racism in the United States; and that it at the very least correlates – and may have played a big role in triggering – a significant rise in the numbers of Americans who agree with the woke/systemic racism claims.
This graphic shows the skyrocketing increase in the use of wokeist race relations terms by these publications. The absolute percentages are of course tiny. But keep in mind that they represent shares of all the words in these publications, and that recent years haven’t exactly been devoid of major developments in countless other fields.
This graphic, when combined with the first, indicates how robustly American perceptions of racism’s pervasiveness has risen in tandem with the Mainstream Media’s treatment of the phenonemon. And the strongest effect has been among white liberals.
Indeed, although the graphic below covers a somewhat different timeframe, it makes clear that not only did white Democrats’ views on the power of American racism increase as the Mainstream Media became much more racially woke, but minority Democrats’ views of this subject actually decreased during the December, 2006-June, 2015 period. That’s compelling evidence that these news organizations became woke racially even though the racism-in-America situation might actually have improved.
Although I clearly disagree with most of what I see as the fundamentals of woke thinking, like Voltaire, I would resolutely defend anyone’s right to express them. And that includes Mainstream Media reporters and pundits and editorial writers alike. All I (and others like me) would insist upon is that news writing clearly be labeled newswriting, and opinion clearly be labeled opinion. Goldberg’s research makes a powerful case that way too much of what Americans have always regarded as reporting of the facts that at least tries to be objective has turned into propagandizing, and that the nation is a much more polarized and angrier place as a result.
P.S. Thanks to Fred Bauer, whose FredBauerBlog always makes excellent, important reading, for calling my attention to Goldberg’s work.
Fascinating post, AT! I think I get it. Goldberg’s content analysis pretty much confirms a correlation (causal inference?) between liberal MSM coverage of racism, particularly systemic racism, and attitudes/perceptions of racism. Furthermore, the MSM wokeiness is unduly influencing folks, especially those liberal no brainers. And, what we need is these MSM spewers to be more up front to clearly distinguish between “news” and “opinion.” I am so with you on this last point.
Now, all that said, here’s where I get lost. Specifically, I don’t understand how Goldberg’s work helps us address persistent systemic bias (let me eschew the term rascism for the moment)? Unless, his point is to diminish or dismiss the notion of systemic bias – perhaps seeing it more as a MSM-fed frenzy than something quite real – I don’t quite get how this helps.
As you know, in my work world I spend a lot of time reviewing all sorts of data sets and studies involving child abuse, juvenile justice, school discipline, and other related stuff. One thing I can tell you, with darn near certainty, is that people with darker skin and who are also poor, well, they get treated differently than similar folks with lighter skin in all sorts of settings. And dagnabbit, this phenomenon has been going on for a long time and it has life-long repercussions. Anddd, just to be clear, this ain’t just liberal schmiberal spouting. I’ve included two links below that reflect two examples of these complex realities, but there are many more sources.
Admittedly, most folks don’t delve into this stuff like I do, heck it’s my job. And, most MSM outlets, particularly broadcast, don’t have the time or notions to do in depth analyses and reporting on complicated issues like child abuse and school discipline (they generally prefer the more sensational stuff, right?).
Which brings me back to what, in my mind, are really the issues here:
1. Do you believe that systemic bias exists?
2. If the answer to 1. is yes, what can and should we do about it?
Focusing on how the WOKE media sways public perceptions, unduly Goldberg might say, diminishes and distracts, IMHO, from these larger questions. You may say, wait a minute, but that’s the point, it’s the MSM that is misinforming folks with their wokeiness, how can we hope to get anything accomplished if the MSM keeps feeding everyone their crap? But that’s not what I’m getting from Goldberg’s findings. Instead, what I get is this exhausting redundant slamming of the liberal MSM which, for me, doesn’t help.
So, I guess what I don’t quite gather is why so much effort on illustrating how the liberal MSM influences public opinion on racism rather than, wait a minute, what are we going to do about persistent systemic bias? Again, if one’s core belief is that systemic bias or racism does not exist and/or that it is overblown by the liberal MSM, I don’t know what to say. In my world, I see systemic bias all too clearly in all its complexities and messiness. What I don’t see is how Goldberg’s work helps us address an issue that does indeed matter to me and many others.
Click to access racial_disproportionality.pdf
Click to access 252059.pdf
Alan Tonelson said:
Thanks of course for the thoughtful comment. And I’m especially glad to see that you agree on the terrible job done by the Mainstream Media lately on this issue. Regarding the value of Goldberg’s work, it doesn’t offer any policy recommendations, but that was not its purpose. The purpose, instead, was presenting evidence that these news organizations have played a role in inflaming national racial attitudes, especially among white liberals, despite few if any signs that racism has gotten worse in recent years and indications (mentioned in the study) that African Americans have been experiencing somewhat less racism during this period. Given the volatility of the times, those findings in my view are undeniably important in and of themselves. And as with the material focusing on Chinese rather than Russian election interference, they were an especially appealing topic to post on because they have attracted so little attention (as opposed to the substantive issues of inequality, which have of course received exhaustive attention lately). Regarding my own views on the substance, my own work in the area convinces me that the case for systemic racism has to be taken seriously, though I’m not yet convinced that it deserves victory. I am, however, convinced that there’s still too much racism and racial inequality in America today. That’s more than enough reason to justify major corrective efforts. What should they be? A few thoughts off the top of my head – economic steps would include policies that reduce the generations-old wealth gap (I’ve posted in favor of limited reparations as one possibility) and measures to increase the numbers of job opportunities for Americans with relatively modest education and skill levels (Trump-ian trade and immigration policies that tighten these labor markets are important here). But I agree with Obama during his White House years, and with Jesse Jackson for many decades, that the dramatic decrease in the number of black two-parent families is not only an effect of economic inequality, it’s an important cause. And that means that black America is going to have to take ownership of some of its problems, especially since government’s potential here is very limited. Unfortunately, for the time being, it’s clear to me that the racial victimhood perspective is going to be dominant, which makes me very skeptical that we’ll see much real progress (as opposed to identity politics gimmickry) for quite some time.