Will the Activist Media Ever Stop Pretending to Be Objective?

(AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

Has the time finally arrived? Most of us who have been watching the world of news and politics might have seen it coming: The death of an objective press.

Now, some might believe it has already died, and there are valid reasons for believing so. However, many of the left-leaning activist media outlets still operate under the veneer of objectivity, pretending to speak truth to power. They may not be fooling people, but they insist on putting on that costume nonetheless.

I came across an article in The Washington Post reporting on multiple local publications that are eschewing nonpartisanship and instead publishing content that has a clear political bias. These newspapers thinly veil their apparent bent in favor of their political teams. From the report:

The Pennsylvania Independent is, in fact, a new sort of political-journalism hybrid becoming more popular on the left — just one part of a quiet four-state, $28 million election year effort by the liberal-leaning American Independent Foundation and partner groups aimed at swaying voters in the midterm elections.

Only the articles offer a clue of the underlying intent: A piece in the October issue described the opposition to “any gun safety measures” by “New Jersey resident” Mehmet Oz, the Republican candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania. Other stories detailed President Biden’s domestic manufacturing initiative, Republican denials of the 2020 election results and a proposal for a national abortion ban by Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).

Jessica McCreight, the executive director of the newspaper, claimed its reportage “is fact-checked and verified” and that “It just so happens that it is Republicans doing bad things and Democrats doing good things.”

The article notes that the newspaper “has quietly positioned itself on the edge of an emerging and controversial industry fueled by ideological donors who are looking to further political agendas with the trappings of old-fashioned journalism.”

“As local newspapers have collapsed amid a rise in online advertising competition, niche news products with private funding sources have sprouted to fill the void,” the report noted.

This phenomenon is not only happening on the left. Conservatives have also gotten into the game. A conservative network called Local Government Information Services is funding a network of local digital publications in Illinois, which also include 11 regional print editions mailed to people’s homes.

Metric Media, another right-leaning company, operates hundreds of websites that “embrace hyperlocal website news branding, often with content that is little more than repurposed and unfiltered content,” according to The Post.

The article detailed how The Grand Canyon Times, one of Metric Media’s properties, was sending papers to homes in Arizona containing positive stories about Republican Senate candidate Blake Masters. Some of those receiving the publication “posted images on Twitter of a disclaimer on the paper that reads ‘Paid for by Saving America PAC,’” which is an organization that is backing Masters’ campaign.

Not surprisingly, the advent of these outlets has caused concern among journalism educators, who point out that these new players are deceiving readers and undermining the “reputations of existing journalistic brand'” without meeting “the basic standards of the professions.”

I hate to tell these people, but the existing journalistic brands have already destroyed their own reputations. It is one of several reasons why polls continue to show that trust in the Fourth Estate has dropped precipitously.

Peter Adams, the senior vice president at the News Literacy Project, a group that has partnered with The Washington Post on educational programs, says products like the Independent need to be called out.

“It is one thing if you have a political purpose and you are being upfront about that. It’s another if you are trying on the trappings of standards-based institutional local media that aspires to serve the public interest,” Adams said. “It is unethical. And it is clearly designed to co-opt the credibility of what we have always known as the press.”

However, progressives participating in these endeavors insist they are necessary to counter the rise of conservative alternative media. Dmitri Mehlhorn, the co-founder of Investing in US, an investment fund supported by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, argued that these efforts are needed.

“You end up funding things like The American Independent and Courier and PushBlack at the end of a long decision tree, where you are looking for ways to fight disinformation,” he said. “We believe at this point that you have to have your news be objective, and that is not consistent with pretending to be nonpartisan.”

But are these outlets actually making a difference?

According to The Post, they might just have more influence than it appears. From the article:

During the 2021 Virginia gubernatorial election, the American Independent ran a test to see if the newspapers mailed to voter homes could change behavior. Surveys after the election by True Blue Media compared the behavior of people who had been mailed the paper and a similar group of voters who had not. The test found that newspaper recipients were 2.2 percent more likely than the control group to support Biden and 6.3 percent more likely to vote for Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor, McCreight said.

These publications might still be pretending to be objective news outlets. But based on the descriptions given in the article, they don’t really try to hide their political affiliations. They are blatantly right- or left-wing. In essence, it appears they go even further than news media organizations like CNN or Fox News.

But is it possible this could be the final step before media outlets finally start being honest about their biases? After all, the issue most conservatives have had with left-wing activist media was the fact that they were biased, it was that they lied about it. If a news organization is open about where they are coming from politically, there is no issue.

In this way, the American press might resemble that of Europe, whose countries do not have much in the way of objective media. When people know the political slant a particular news organization is coming from, it might make it easier not to be quite as deceived as many are today. They won’t falsely believe they are getting straight news from people who are just calling balls and strikes. Instead, people will understand they are consuming content coming from people with a clear agenda. Perhaps a more honest media might be what America needs.


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