Journalists generally assess our politics through the same lens as Democratic operatives, which assumes Democrats are the good guys and Republicans are not. For some in the corporate media, that’s not so much a conscious partisan calculation as it is the consequence of their shared cultural leftism.
This is a key driving force behind our national discord. A better lens generally assumes politicians are the bad guys, whether they’re friendly to the press, progressive, Christian, rich, poor, or whatever. That’s not only more accurate, it’s more fair and more constructive for the so-called fourth estate, which exists to hold powerful people accountable on a nonpartisan basis. When journalists share the cultural values of Democratic partisans, they lose their ability to apply that lens.
This could preface any number of media critiques but it’s relevant currently in light of stories about Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. I don’t want to make this a meta story about the media’s failure when the primary issue at hand is Greene’s total disqualification from elected office and the GOP’s mishandling of her ascent. That said, two points are true—the media is creating more and more Greenes every single day and the media treats the left’s versions of Greene very differently.
Let’s focus in on the second point. Rep. Ilhan “All-About-The-Benjamins” Omar, D-Minn., is corrupt and nearly as conspiratorial as Greene. She also seems to be antisemitic. But the media doesn’t make Omar the subject of breathless coverage about her party’s moral bankruptcy. They put her on magazine covers.
The same goes for the likes of Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory. Hillary Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are currently trafficking in bizarre conspiratorial theories that Donald Trump talked to and took direction from Vladimir Putin on the day of the Capitol riot without being treated as menacing representations of rot in their party. Clinton never accepted the results of her 2016 loss, and continues to recklessly advance baseless notions of “hacking.”
That brings us to the Russia collusion hoax, which for years consumed the entire Democratic Party (even Sen. Bernie Sanders!) in a silly conspiracy replete with prostitutes and urine. Because this comported with the media’s basic political narrative, they failed to approach it with appropriate skepticism.
Instead, the press legitimized the theory, which gave Democrats cover to spend years falling deeper into the rabbit hole without being criticized for engaging in conspiracy-mongering. This is also true of the baseless theories that Justice Brett Kavanaugh was a gang rapist, which ended up in the pages of purportedly serious corporate media outlets. These are cases in which the media and Democrats’ shared lens served neither party especially well.
That brings me to my first point about Greene. Inevitably, the House of Representatives is always going to include some kooks. I suppose that makes it “representative” of the broader public. Official Washington has a bad habit of treating members whose temperaments don’t neatly fit the elite mold as dangers to democracy. This flavor of snobbery was on full display during the Tea Party years.
I’ve talked about this before, but the media’s coverage of conspiracies is a fantastic illustration of their elitism. When you don’t work in politics, false conspiracy theories make a whole lot of sense. From the financial crisis to Jeffrey Epstein to Russian collusion to foreign entanglements to Hollywood to capital-s Science to Big Tech to media corruption, institutions are lying to us, getting away with it, and often getting richer.
That’s what powerful people do. But the media’s disinterest in holding one entire side of the spectrum to account is making this much worse by allowing them to get away with it, circulating false information, and sowing immense distrust. That’s how you get people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, and that’s how people like Marjorie Taylor Greene get elected to Congress.
The media’s corruption is arguably the most important problem in our culture and politics. Greene made this clear in attempting to explain her former support for QAnon.
“I was just one of those people, just like millions of other Americans, that just started looking at other information,” she said. “And so, yeah, there was a time there for a while that I had read about Q, posted about it, talked about it, which is some of these videos you’ve seen come out. But once I started finding misinformation, I decided that I would choose another path.”
On her public flirtation with 9/11 conspiracy theories, Greene once explained, “Some people claimed a missile hit the Pentagon. I now know that is not correct. The problem is our government lies to us so much to protect the Deep State, it’s hard sometimes to know what is real and what is not.”
It’s hard sometimes to know what is real and what is not.
Greene is right that she’s among “millions of other Americans” in embracing these theories. If the corporate media really cares about the conspiracies they’re condescending to so many normal people for exploring, they should clean up their act so that people can actually trust their debunking. Instead of sneering at the people attracted to Q or Trump voters who buy his claim that he indisputably won the election in a “landslide,” they should stop assuming Democrats are necessarily the good guys and start assuming there really aren’t many good guys in Washington at all.
While I think it’s reasonable to be attracted to certain conspiracy theories, it’s not at all reasonable to buy into the theories about QAnon or school shootings or election fraud linked to computers in Venezuela after sitting down and doing a fair-minded investigations into the facts, which our members of Congress should be capable of conducting. Greene seems to have failed this test, and Republicans should act accordingly.
Difficult as it may be, they should, however, find a way to do that without sneering at the people who support her, many of whom aren’t even conspiracy theorists but likely just saw her as a better alternative to the radicalized left, people who don’t have a front row seat to Washington’s incompetence because their lives revolve around family and work and matters much more important than whatever CNN is talking about at any given moment. People will always believe in conspiracy theories, but more people are buying into them now largely because, like Greene, they’re right that “It’s hard sometimes to know what is real and what is not.”
Greene’s conspiracies are wrong and dangerous, and if you work in politics as she does, you should know better. At this point, the blame rests squarely on her shoulders. The unsexy truth is that our bureaucrats are mostly too incompetent to orchestrate grand conspiracies, although they may at times try. (See: Peter Strzok.)
Nevertheless, the political establishment revels in opportunities to flex its condemnation muscle. It’s an easy way to claim the moral and intellectual high ground, which is what drives a lot of people to careers in politics anyway. But it’s also lazy and typically one-sided.
What exacerbates this is that the ruling class spent the Trump years learning exactly the wrong lesson, emerging with the notion that it should dispense with “bothsidesism” that assumes a moral equivalence between Democrats and Republicans because Republicans are clearly, the theory goes, so much worse. Elites’ shared cultural leftism gives that argument a lot of traction in the Acela Corridor where, if anything, there’s an immoral equivalence.
Our political class needs fewer leaders like Greene and Omar. They’re out of touch with reality. But increasingly all of us are, Democrats and Republicans, because the primary window into reality is distorted by the press’s complete embrace of an elitist, partisan worldview.
Greene is bad news. There’s no need for hedging or qualifying or adding a galaxy-brain “but ackchyually.” She does, however, perfectly exemplify an enormous problem greatly worsened by media corruption. In turn, the media’s coverage of her perfect exemplifies the problems created by that corruption.