The Media Has Become the Story

During his interviews with the President immediately before and after the election, David Remnick chatted with David Simas, Obama’s political director, about a fundamental change.

“Until recently, religious institutions, academia, and media set out the parameters of acceptable discourse, and it ranged from the unthinkable to the radical to the acceptable to policy,” Simas said. “The continuum has changed. Had Donald Trump said the things he said during the campaign eight years ago—about banning Muslims, about Mexicans, about the disabled, about women—his Republican opponents, faith leaders, academia would have denounced him and there would be no way around those voices. Now, through Facebook and Twitter, you can get around them. There is social permission for this kind of discourse. Plus, through the same social media, you can find people who agree with you, who validate these thoughts and opinions. This creates a whole new permission structure, a sense of social affirmation for what was once thought unthinkable. This is a foundational change.”

Later, President Obama added his thoughts.

The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

The latest iteration of what they’re talking about is the whole phenomenon of “fake news.” But as we see with the example of climate change, there is also the media’s addiction to both-sider-ism that contributes to the problem. When a climate change expert and a climate denialist are given equal footing, the American people are not being given the truth and it becomes impossible to have an informed conversation.

Add to that a president-elect who seems to think that he can twist the truth to comply with what he wants to hear, and you have a recipe for a very interesting four years.

From what we’ve seen so far, the result is that the media itself has been elevated to one of the most important stories we’re all talking about. That makes this is a good time to remind everyone about where the Washington Monthly stands.

In our cluttered little downtown DC office, we’re still doing what we have done for more than 45 years, and what fewer and fewer publications do today: telling fascinating, deeply reported stories about the ideas and characters that animate America’s government.

We don’t chase news cycles, or obsess over the endless political horse race. We care about how the government can be improved, and why it hasn’t; who’s a fraud and who isn’t; which ideas ought to be banished from the nation’s capital and which ones deserve to be championed.

We’re not a subsidiary of some giant media company or a mouthpiece for ideologues. We’re an independent voice, listened to by insiders and willing to take on sacred cows—liberal and conservative.

We’re actually not all “in our cluttered little downtown DC office,” anymore. But that’s just geography. Individual people have come and gone, but ever since Richard Nixon was president, this publication has been providing readers with an independent voice that is willing to take on sacred cows – liberal and conservative.

If you agree with me that this is something we need now more than ever, I hope you’ll take a moment to make a tax deductible contribution to the Washington Monthly. It is because of people like you that we are able to maintain that independence. Thank you!

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.