US media’s cancel culture over Trump does not serve truth - Businesslive

16 November 2020 - US media outlets might have counted on applause for their unprecedented decision to “cut away” — stop reporting — from the live post-election statements of an aggrieved and mendacious Donald Trump, but their gestures represent the worst of media sins: imagining they know better than their audience.

Michael Morris
US media outlets might have counted on applause for their unprecedented decision to “cut away” — stop reporting — from the live post-election statements of an aggrieved and mendacious Donald Trump, but their gestures represent the worst of media sins: imagining they know better than their audience.

Trump has tested everyone’s patience and credulity, but can any objection to an occupant of the Oval Office justify ignoring what he says, especially if anyone thinks he is lying? In apparently succumbing to a desire to advertise their own bid for probity, news outlets betrayed the chronic confusion of principle that appears, nowadays, to beset much of the public conversation in the US.

Thus we had USA Today editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll tweeting “on pulling the livestream of President Donald Trump’s remarks”, in which she declared: “President Trump, without evidence, claimed the presidential election was corrupt and fraudulent. We stopped the livestream of his remarks early and have removed the video from all of our platforms. Our job is to spread truth — not unfounded conspiracies.”

This was surely the equivalent of slapping a health warning over the USA Today masthead that reads: “Censored news is a proven cause of ignorance and error. Do not consume this product if you cherish your right to make informed choices.”

White House watchers evidently felt Trump’s frequent rambles into the terrain of absurdity invited them to do the same. This is an invitation they should have declined. Cancel culture does not serve truth.

Carroll was not alone in her gesture of misplaced do-goodism. A few days later Fox News cut away from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany when she was telling reporters that, “This election is not over, far from it.” Presenter Neil Cavuto unctuously confessed that, as the allegations were so poorly substantiated, “I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.”

It obviously didn’t occur to him that, far from sparing his audience the anguish of having to grapple with McEnany’s claims, he was content not just to underrate and abuse their intelligence but, worse, pretend that doing so was a moral kindness.

The paradox was borne out by BBC Chinese media analyst Kerry Allen, who said of the media attention given in China to the conduct of US broadcasters: “This is sort of ironic given that China, more than any other country, has a track record of repeatedly cutting TV interviews mid-broadcast.”

China “repeatedly ranks near the bottom in media press freedom indexes ... while the US often appears nearer the top”, and it was “common for TV channels like BBC World News to suddenly be replaced with a black screen when content that contradicts China’s Communist Party rhetoric is aired”.

Allen cited testing posts from the popular social media site Sina Weibo: “This is the free and democratic American media,” one said. “Long live democracy,” another said sarcastically.

Rightly, journalism research fellow at the University of Melbourne Denis Muller, felt that “[at] this time ... the public needs ... the fourth estate to keep its nerve and a clear head”, and remember that a “primary norm ... is to publish and then call out the lying”.

Trump, conceivably the US’s most misestimated president, is often cast as a threat to democracy, but the real threat might be the faltering convictions of avowed democrats themselves.

I am reminded of the line in Salman Rushdie’s novel Fury, that hints at the vulnerability of ideals. “Rome did not fall because her armies weakened,” he writes, “but because Romans forgot what being a Roman meant.”

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2020-11-15-michael-morris-us-medias-cancel-culture-over-trump-does-not-serve-truth/

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