It’s the only way to keep this moment–and this momentum–going.
When the nationwide youth demonstrations against gun violence in the wake of the February 14 massacre in Parkland, Florida, began, I must admit that I actually had a cynical reaction: how many of these teenagers, I wondered, would abandon their social conscience twenty-five years from now, move to gated communities and vote Republican? After all, I figured, there were plenty of Americans who worked for social change in the 1960s and 1970s, only to turn around and vote for the reactionary Ronald Reagan in the 1980s–to say nothing of the wingnuts they presumably voted for after that point.
My cynicism has declined dramatically in the weeks since these demonstrations began. I no longer believe these young men and women will abandon progressive principles and their commitment to, and passion for, repairing a broken political system. I think they’ll stick it out. I know they will.
However, I also know that in order to make lasting change in this country, Generation Z must focus not only on acquiring political power, but also on acquiring media power.
This coming weekend’s March for Our Lives will generate significant media attention; however, that media attention will dissipate shortly thereafter, thanks to a press corps still fearful of offending the snowflake sensibilities of the NRA and other right-wingers. The only way this dynamic will change is if Generation Z commits itself to destroying false balance in the Fourth Estate.
Here’s hoping that many of the teenagers marching for justice will continue marching into journalism schools, and into careers at our newspapers and broadcast and cable news stations. This is a fearless generation, and that fearlessness–the fearlessness that dismisses nonsensical claims of “liberal bias” and “Democratic cheerleading”–is needed in the American press, now more than ever.
This country desperately needs a new generation of reporters willing to confront and challenge disinformation–and yes, inherent in that effort will be a willingness to confront and challenge the political right, the lords and masters of disinformation. This new generation of reporters won’t be doing so to help Democrats. They’ll be doing so to help democracy.
It was the unwillingness on the part of the Fourth Estate to challenge right-wing disinformation that allowed the NRA to acquire so much political power. It was the unwillingness on the part of the Fourth Estate to challenge right-wing disinformation that effectively gave President George W. Bush license to invade Iraq fifteen years ago this month. It was the unwillingness on the part of the Fourth Estate to challenge right-wing disinformation that led to three decades of federal inaction on the climate crisis.
Right-wingers like Roger Ailes understood that influencing the media narrative in the United States was crucial to influencing the political narrative in Washington. That’s a lesson right-wingers have never forgotten, and one that too many progressives still need to learn. Generation Z understands this crucial lesson. They understand how media shapes and controls our politics. That’s why Generation Z’s entry into journalism could restore much-needed balance to our political discourse, which has been tilted so far to the right over the past few decades that it paved the way for the likes of Donald Trump to become President.
A new generation of reporters willing to confront and challenge disinformation could well prevent the rise of another would-be authoritarian. A new generation of reporters unafraid of offending the promoters of prejudice could cut off some of the supply lines for extremism. A new generation of reporters willing to stand up to, and report critically on, powerful special interests could reinvigorate this country’s long-battered civic spirit.
That’s the promise of Generation Z–which could well be the next “Greatest Generation.” This generation is fighting a lengthy war of its own–a war against the amorality and agitprop of Donald Trump and his political and media allies. Some members of Generation Z will be soldiers in this war. Others will be war correspondents. All will be crucial to victory.