Mrs. Whatsit will be back next week. Meanwhile, Atrios posted this excellent discussion of how the press creates the impression that liberalism is dangerous and/or not supported by most Americans. It begins by focusing on the story we all know that just ain’t so: the McDonald’s hot coffee case and “frivolous law suits.” It’s not very long and is well worth a read.
The author notes, for example, that many such stories : “display the superficial features of investigative journalism, a deep dive reveals the same motivated reasoning, nonexistent evidence and indefensible editorial standards that misinformed the public about frivolous lawsuits.” These features include: (1) really low stakes, (2) irrelevant examples, (3) misleading statistics, and (4) false equivalence.
“Moral panics entrench misinformation and foment reactionary backlash. The parents storming town halls and taking over school boards to ban critical race theory have been explicit that their efforts are in response to the alleged “wokeness” of K-12 teaching. This is precisely, word for word, the narrative that the Economist and Atlantic articles, and dozens like them, have promoted.
The “frivolous lawsuits” panic should be seen as a foundational embarrassment for the national media. Rather than educating the citizens of a functioning democracy — the role we journalists love to tell ourselves we’re playing — prestigious publications were de-educating them by presenting evidence of a national trend that didn’t exist.
They are doing the same thing now, playing with the same fire that has pulled the United States rightward and backward over and over again for the last 40 years.
The media has tremendous power to shape public opinion. Reporters and editors should not just be aware of their ability to spread moral panics. They should be terrified of it. “