It was encouraging to see the media adopt a more confrontational stance towards the Trump administration than it had ever before in the Bush or Reagan years. Journalistic organizations from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN have become almost explicitly anti-government, especially in the last year. Conservatives complain about this as a form of bias, but it really isn’t. Journalists are required to serve the truth to their readers. When a president abuses his power, constantly lies and openly threatens democracy and freedom of the press, the press has a moral and professional obligation to respond accordingly. And even if their concerns were justified, the Conservatives have only themselves to blame: By working on referees for decades and building fact-free propaganda networks that have kept conservative viewers away from traditional news sources, both of them have encouraged the left to do so Referees alike are working hard while increasing the incentives of traditional news sources to pay more attention to the left-wing readers and viewers who have stayed.
With Biden’s rise to the presidency, journalists in the big mainstream will feel implicitly obliged to take a controversial approach towards the Biden administration as well. Every little molehill of possible inappropriateness is treated with the same concern as the mountains of Trump corruption. Worse, because the avalanche of Trumpian misconduct resulted in a desensitization to scandals, while the comparative rarity of Obama scandals made even wearing a tan suit a week long news. It will be the same with the Biden administration. Meanwhile, the majority of the public will still fail to understand that the legislative deadlock and inability to resolve problems are not the fault of “Congress” or “polarization”, but the utter intransigence of Mitch McConnell and the Republicans of the Senate. And as conservative media get into their own civil war, big news organizations will do their utmost to bow back to conservatives in order to appear impartial, both in an attempt to win the audience back and “bring the country together”.
Here, medium-sized left-wing organizations can and must carry the torch of democracy for two important reasons. First, people with credibility must be able to intervene and continue to shed light on conservative grievances, and do their best to let the American public know why their democracy is broken and what can be done to fix them. Second, the Biden government will feel excessive pressure from the law to narrow its vision of what is possible. The other side must also exert pressure to remind the powerful actors of the only responsible political party of their obligations to the public, regardless of party political pressure from the environment.
Washington Monthly is one of the organizations best placed in this role. But the organizational skills and funding of a New York Times, Washington Post or CNN are missing. Our readership is more selective and concerned less with passively consuming general news than with sophisticated insights to better serve their communities and educate their friends and families.
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We’re going to need your help as much or more during the Biden administration as we did during the Trump era. And the country too.