Les Sillars – The failure of journalistic conviction


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Tuesday, July 14th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Liberal journalist Matt Taibbi recently wrote an essay charging that mainstream newsrooms are sacrificing truth for ideology. 

Here he is talking to the newspaper The Hill.

TAIBBI: It’s when you disagree with certain theoretical ideas that colleagues get upset, and that’s what I worry about because it bleeds into the factual coverage, right…

BROWN: WORLD commentator Les Sillars says this is more than just a failure of journalistic principle. He teaches journalism and he ought to know.

LES SILLARS, COMMENTATOR: Like a lawyer who collects lawyer jokes, I enjoy snarky quotes about journalists. My favorite is from Mark Twain. He once said—quote—“That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoemaking and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse.” 

Ouch. 

A recent line from Rolling Stone contributor Matt Taibbi ranks right up there. His essay described how leftist journalists in eight mainstream newsrooms bullied liberal but insufficiently woke colleagues into submission or out of their jobs.

Quote: “It feels liberating to say after years of tiptoeing around the fact, but the American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness.” End quote. 

And now, he continued, “this madness is coming for journalism.” Afraid of their colleagues and social media-enabled ideologues, he wrote, journalists are abandoning truth-telling in self-defense.

Taibbi sees this as a failure of journalistic conviction. Yes, but there’s something else.

The internet, especially social media, democratized the public sphere. That is, everybody with a computer now has a voice.

There are real benefits. We can now hear deserving but previously neglected voices. It’s also much harder for powerful institutions to police the bounds of public discussion. Then again, Twitter mobs would be impossible without smartphones and Twitter. 

This all reminds me of the Tower of Babel. When God came down to look at the tower, He said, basically, if they can do this as one people, they can do anything. Given the human heart, they weren’t likely to do much good. So He dispersed humanity and constrained communication, and so limited their ability to do evil. It was mercy, not punishment.

The internet, in a shallow, counterfeit way, reconnects our scattered human race. You can use those connections for good, and many do.

But reconnection also gives people more power to do the evil in their hearts. And social media rewards our most destructive impulses. Let people feed their own status by chomping off a little piece of someone else’s reputation, and you get digital hyenas. Soon nothing’s left of the prey but a couple of pictures and a Facebook data profile.

Matt Taibbi is right about the threat to truth-telling in journalism. Journalists have too often given in to the temptation to attack others publicly for personal gain. Now that power has been democratized and journalists themselves are feeling the bite. Cancel culture comes primarily from the left, but conservatives aren’t innocent in all this. It’s not pretty.

We can’t go back. But as Christians we can at least recognize what’s going on and refuse to be part of it.

I’m Les Sillars.


(Photo/iStock)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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