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E-Pluribus | November 17, 2022
The roots of distrust in journalism; updating the Civil Rights Act for a woke age; and the wrong and right reasons for skepticism of the elites.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
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Daniel Allott: Why Trust In Journalism Has Collapsed
Long before Donald Trump beat his own “Fake News” mantra to death, the media faced growing mistrust. Daniel Allott writes at Persuasion about the reasons for this and what the media could do to improve the situation.
There are many reasons for the decline. I’d like to address two of them. The first has to do with the difficulty many news consumers have in distinguishing between straight news and opinion content.
It’s a relatively easy problem to address, by separating and clearly labeling which content is opinion and which is straight news, and never allowing the two to mingle. But even within the opinion sections of many publications, there are important distinctions. Most newspapers publish editorials written by members of the paper’s editorial board that act as the publication’s institutional voice. They also publish numerous op-eds (which in print newspapers used to appear opposite the editorial page, hence the label “op-ed”), written by outside contributors. That distinction can be lost on many readers. An op-ed written by an outside contributor can easily be mistaken for the newspaper’s position on that issue.
[ . . . ]
This brings me to the second reason for the loss of trust in the media, which is that most conservatives and many independents believe that a liberal bias infects much of the media’s news coverage.
That bias is revealed when outlets decide which topics and events are worth covering and which are not; how much attention stories receive, where they appear and how they’re discussed; which stories get promoted on social media and which are banned; and much more.
At the root of that bias is the fact that a disproportionate share of political journalists who work for mainstream media outlets are liberal, and very few are conservative. Mainstream outlets can be hostile to conservatives, and the few who do work at such outlets tend to keep their heads down and their views to themselves, lest they contradict the prevailing progressive wisdom, possibly endangering their jobs.
Read the whole thing.
Vivek Ramaswamy and Jed Rubenfeld: The New Woke Discrimination Demands a New Law
Coming almost a century after the end of the Civil War, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally codified what forms of discrimination would no longer be tolerated. Vivek Ramaswamy and Jed Rubenfeld argue at The Wall Street Journal that what that legislation did regarding race, sex, and religious discrimination now needs to be extended to protections for political beliefs as well.
On signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared that it would “end divisions” and told Americans to “lay aside irrelevant differences and make our nation whole.” But while the act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and religion, it doesn’t protect political beliefs, and today corporations across America fire employees who express the wrong political opinions.
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You can’t be fired for expressing your religious beliefs or gender identity. Why can you be fired for your political beliefs?
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Free-marketeers argue that businesses should be free to set workplace conditions and to hire and fire as they please. But for many companies, a prohibition on viewpoint discrimination would come as a liberation, not a restraint. Numerous CEOs of major corporations have told us in private that they don’t want to be part of “cancel culture”—or participate in culture wars at all. They don’t want to force an ideology into their workplace; they feel compelled to act because of pressure from activists and employees, backed by the threat of hostile-workplace litigation.
Lawmakers can adopt a framework that builds on the legal test for civil servants, who are already protected by the First Amendment from discrimination on the basis of political opinion. Employers couldn’t penalize an employee for off-duty political expression but could set rules for on-the-clock political speech in a viewpoint-neutral manner. A company could say “no political hats” but couldn’t favor BLM over MAGA. These rules have not led to unworkable challenges or neo-Nazi explosions in government workplaces.
Read it all.
Tyler Cowen: The Problem with the New Right’s Skepticism of Elites
The elites of any society are usually the targets of skepticism about their motives, their commitment to the common man, and their willingness to permit others to join their ranks. At Discourse Magazine, Tyler Cowen writes of the New Right’s version of anti-elitism and says the New Right misses the mark, essentially seeking to replace the current corrupt and powerful elites by emulating the same corrupt methods.
In the classical liberal view, elites usually fall short of what we would like. They end up captured by some mix of special interest groups and poorly informed voters. There is thus a certain disillusionment with democratic government, while recognizing it is the best of available alternatives and far superior to autocracy for basic civil liberties.
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In the classical liberal view, the great failing of elites is that they do not keep society as free as it ought to be.
The New Right thinkers are far more skeptical of elites. They are more likely to see elites as evil and pernicious, and sometimes they (implicitly) see these evil elites as competent enough to actually wreck society. The classical liberals see checks and balances as strong enough to limit the worst outcomes, whereas the New Right sees ideological conformity and indeed collusion within the Establishment. Checks and balances are a paper tiger.
Once you start seeing elites as so bad and also so collusive, many other changes in your views might follow. You might become more skeptical about free speech, because you view it as a recipe for putting a lot of power in the hands of (often Democratic-led) major tech companies. And is there de facto free speech if a conservative sociologist cannot get hired at Yale? You also might become more skeptical about immigration, not because you are racist (though of course there are racists), but because you see it as a plot of the Democratic Party to remake America in a new image and with a new set of voters (“you will not replace us!”). Free trade becomes seen as a line peddled by the elite, and that is an elite unconcerned with the social and national security costs of a deindustrialized America. Globalization more generally becomes a failed project of the previous elite.
Read it all here.
Via the Foundation for Individual Rights & Expression, the Stop Woke Act has been stopped in the act by a federal court:
Via Heterodox Academy, some quotes from a conversation between Eugene Volokh and University of Chicago Law School professor Anup Malani at Reason on academic freedom:
And finally, a thought from Wesley Yang on keeping problems in perspective:
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