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E-Pluribus | March 8, 2023
Fox News and truth; defund the word police; and the temptations of journalism.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Andrew Sullivan: Rupert Murdoch's Post-Truth Nihilism
Details from Fox News chairman Rupert Murdoch’s deposition in the Dominion Voting Systems lawsuit have been raising eyebrows and hackles on the Left and Right. At the Weekly Dish, Andrew Sullivan explains why “the other side does it too!” is a lame defense for the conduct of many at the network in recent years.
The usual counter to what seems to me an open-and-shut case of grotesque corruption is as follows: well, they all do it. Fox’s lies are no different than MSNBC’s or the NYT’s or NPR’s lies — and because most media are now captured by a faction of the far left, some response from the right on the same lines is appropriate.
To which I’d make three responses. First, of course two wrongs don’t make a right. You will never get ethical journalism by practicing unethical journalism, just as you will never get rid of racism by discriminating on the basis of race. Second, if this is your view, please be consistent and condemn Fox as well as the others (and you usually won’t). But third, I do honestly think that the corruption at Fox is different.
The left media lie by omission and framing and abuse of language. The framing, especially since 2019-2020, is rooted in neo-Marxist race, gender and queer theory: there is no such thing as objective reality outside a permanent system of identity-based oppression which is the core meaning of America. So the news begins with this core reality and prints facts only when they support the narrative, and uses new words with new meanings to keep the English language from letting reality seep in at the edges (e.g. “enhanced interrogation” not “torture”; “gender-affirming care for minors” not “sex changes for kids”; “equity” not equality; “queer” not gay).
[ . . . ]
What Fox did is different. They haven’t abandoned the tradition of objective fact in favor of moral narrative. They still privately believe in empirical reality; they will just happily trash it in public if they think it will lose them viewers and thereby money. The core principle is money. Not truth, money. Not ethics, money. Not even obeying the law. Money. Murdoch’s News Corp. knew full well that hacking people’s phones was a crime and the opposite of journalism — but they did it anyway for the money and lied, lied, lied their way through the fallout. Similarly, they knew the 2020 election was no more fraudulent than any other, but lied about it anyway — for the exact same reason: “green.”
Read it all here.
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George Packer: The Moral Case Against Equity Language
As the first item in Around Twitter below notes, conservatives aren’t the only ones who think language policing is getting out of hand. At The Atlantic, George Packer does a deep dive into various “language guides” and finds the water uninviting to say the least.
Mastering equity language is a discipline that requires effort and reflection, like learning a sacred foreign tongue—ancient Hebrew or Sanskrit. The Sierra Club urges its staff “to take the space and time you need to implement these recommendations in your own work thoughtfully.” “Sometimes, you will get it wrong or forget and that’s OK,” the National Recreation and Park Association guide tells readers. “Take a moment, acknowledge it, and commit to doing better next time.”
The liturgy changes without public discussion, and with a suddenness and frequency that keep the novitiate off-balance, forever trying to catch up, and feeling vaguely impious. A ban that seemed ludicrous yesterday will be unquestionable by tomorrow. The guides themselves can’t always stay current. People of color becomes standard usage until the day it is demoted, by the American Heart Association and others, for being too general. The American Cancer Society prefers marginalized to the more “victimizing” underresourced or underserved—but in the National Recreation and Park Association’s guide, marginalized now acquires “negative connotations when used in a broad way. However, it may be necessary and appropriate in context. If you do use it, avoid ‘the marginalized,’ and don’t use marginalized as an adjective.” Historically marginalized is sometimes okay; marginalized people is not. The most devoted student of the National Recreation and Park Association guide can’t possibly know when and when not to say marginalized; the instructions seem designed to make users so anxious that they can barely speak. But this confused guidance is inevitable, because with repeated use, the taint of negative meaning rubs off on even the most anodyne language, until it has to be scrubbed clean. The erasures will continue indefinitely, because the thing itself—injustice—will always exist.
Read the whole thing.
Kevin D. Williamson: When the Truth Takes a Back Seat
While “just the facts, ma'am” are words a famous TV police detective is known for (ironically, falsely, as it turns out), plenty in the media could benefit from the admonition all the same. Kevin Williamson at The Dispatch explores the pressures journalists face in the present media environment to abandon the truth for apparently greener pastures.
The trouble with journalism isn’t a dilemma—the tension between doing good journalism vs. the need to make money—but a trilemma, the constituents of which are: 1) the desire to do good journalism; 2) the individual and organizational needs to make money; and 3) the individual and organizational desires to use journalism as a platform for non-journalistic endeavors, especially fighting the culture wars.
[T]hese three factors interact with each other in complex ways, and different considerations carry different weight in different organizations at different times. For example, the New York Times’ smearing of Sarah Palin (who did not win her libel suit against the newspaper but should have) did not serve any obvious short-term financial interest of the newspaper. But it did serve the newspaper’s Kulturkampf interests, i.e., doing what it can to injure the reputation of a hate-totem such as Palin, who had nothing to do with the episode in question in the editorial until the Times went out of its way to drag her into it, falsely claiming (the Times itself concedes that this is a falsehood) that there was a direct link between Palin’s campaign rhetoric and the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabby Giffords, that “the link to political incitement was clear,” when it has been documented (in the Times and elsewhere) that there is no link at all, much less a clear one.
[ . . . ]
One might argue that the Times ultimately stands to benefit from the cheap and shallow partisanship of its opinion pages (Good luck, David!) because emotionally incontinent fan-service is good for subscriptions. I myself doubt that that is a very sound long-term business position, and I suspect that the senior leadership of the Times knows as much, too: The kind of politically supercharged stunts that resulted in the exits of Bari Weiss and James Bennett tends to come from callow young people, mostly junior staffers, though not exclusively so.
Fox News, to take the juiciest current example, seems to have been more directly motivated by financial concerns. We know that from texts from such figures as Tucker Carlson, who complained that the company’s share price was declining . . . and Rupert Murdoch is on the record testifying that the decision to keep conspiracy kook Mike Lindell’s advertisements was purely financial: “It is not red or blue—it is green,” he said.
Read it all.
It’s no longer just the right getting a little tired of words being twisted into pretzels. Liberal feminist and Cosmopolitan contributor Jill Filipovic takes on “diverse”:
Ramesh Ponnuru’s essay on restoring intellectual diversity on college campuses (featured yesterday in Pluribus) is getting good reviews, and not just from the Right:
And finally, while Albert Einstein may be slightly better known for his other accomplishments, he was no slouch on free expression either: