Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy
“Liberal bias in the elite media has been prevalent for quite a while, but Ungar-Sargon’s book shows that it has gotten much worse.”
This book about contemporary journalism as practiced by our nation’s elite media was originally published in late 2021 and is now out in paperback. Bad News is a welcome critique of the liberal, woke media elite by Batya Ungar-Sargon, an editor at Newsweek who is admittedly on the Left side of the political spectrum. Ungar-Sargon attributes media bias more to economic class and cultural factors than to philosophical ones. But in the end, it doesn’t matter because the result is extreme liberal media bias for which Ungar-Sargon provides overwhelming evidence.
And the evidence is there for all to see—in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, on PBS, NPR, NBC, ABC, MSNBC, CNN, and on major social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Ungar-Sargon’s principal complaint against the elite media is that they have abandoned working-class Americans who do not share the media elite’s smug liberal culture and worldview.
Ungar-Sargon to be sure does not have a problem with crusading journalism—she longs for the days when major newspapers sought to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, “exposing the abuses of the powerful against the powerless.” Now, she laments, the elite media are the powerful and comfortable, and increasingly have as their primary goals maintaining that power and, like so many liberals, feeling good about themselves.
In many ways, this book is a sociological look at America’s elite media. They graduate from elite universities that inculcate in them liberal and increasingly woke worldviews and values which fundamentally differ from those of poor and working-class Americans—many of whom, to the elite media’s horror, voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020; people who, in the infamous words of President Obama, cling to their religion and guns.
Reporters and editors at the major media outlets make more money—a lot more money—than poor and working class Americans. The local concerns of most Americans are to them parochial, lowbrow, whereas they view themselves as enlightened, sophisticated, highbrow. And as Ungar-Sargon shows, the Trump phenomenon exposed the elite media’s condescending attitude toward those whom Hillary Clinton termed “deplorables.”
And yet, Trump was a boon to media companies like the New York Times who wrote about him endlessly, often unfairly, but always profitably. “Hating Trump,” the author notes, “was just good business.” Times’ readers hated him, too. And, as Ungar-Sargon notes, Times’ readers pretty much share the cultural and political worldview of Times’ writers and editors. The “deplorables” read the New York Post.
Ungar-Sargon also explores the impact of the digital age on journalism, especially the growing influence of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter on the news business. “There is immense pressure,” she explains, “to write stories in a way that will make them most likely to be shared on social media and retweeted by bigger names across industries, meaning there is immense pressure to confirm the biases of a publication’s readership.” And the biases of elite media readers, listeners, and viewers are usually liberal.
And those liberal biases have been exaggerated even more by what the author calls the “great awokening,” which she claims started in academia and spread to newsrooms and television networks. That great awokening has metastasized throughout our culture to include elementary, middle, and high schools, all levels of government, and even the military. The most insidious paradigm of elite media wokeness is the charge that “racism” infects all of our institutions and that it is supported by “white supremacy” and “white privilege.”
The Left, including the elite media, have waged a “culture war around race” to bludgeon those who disagree with critical race theory and other woke race theories. Ungar-Sargon calls this the “re-racialization of American life through a woke culture war” even as racism has declined in American life. But even saying that racism has declined can get you “canceled” today--another phenomenon that Ungar-Sargon sees as a threat to the First Amendment and ultimately to our democracy.
Ungar-Sargon sees all of this as a relatively recent development, but in truth it goes back at least to the 1960s when the Left began to infiltrate America’s educational and media institutions in a big way. She notes that reporters and editors in the elite media knew and associated with very few people who voted for Donald Trump. But that was no different from 1972 when New Yorker writer Pauline Kael remarked that she only knew one person who voted for Richard Nixon, despite the fact that Nixon achieved one of the greatest electoral landslides in American history.
Liberal bias in the elite media has been prevalent for quite a while, but Ungar-Sargon’s book shows that it has gotten much worse. The elite media today do not even attempt to hide their biases. The “news” stories and editorials in elite media platforms are increasingly indistinguishable. Ungar-Sargon thinks that the liberal media can change. “Liberals must return,” she urges, “to the belief that other people’s opinions are crucial to the safety of our democracy and thus crucial to their own well-being.” But since the original hardcover publication of this book, things have only gotten worse.