My new essay at DAME Magazine on the topic of opinion journalism
I have a new essay published today in DAME Magazine titled “Opinion journalism is broken.”
It’s probably not as surprising that a large segment of news consumers in the United States cannot tell the difference between what constitutes “news” and “opinion”– but it’s not entirely their fault. Between the media that struggle to label accurately and consistently opinion content as “opinion”, the challenges and limitations that come with a disaggregated telephone consumption model, and a general lack of media literacy around what constitutes a statement of fact versus a statement of opinion, there is a lot of blame to be had.
We live in a confusing world where fact and fiction intertwine, and what should be sources of clarity – i.e. newspapers – can actually function as sources of confusion, making them ripe for bad actors seeking to exploit the aforementioned vulnerabilities in the system to push questionable information in the service of a political agenda. This is, of course, a problem in itself. If the purpose of newspapers is to inform the public, but they publish material that misleads it, aren’t they undermining themselves?
For example, on August 12, 2020, Newsweek published an opinion piece by attorney John Eastman titled “A few questions for Kamala Harris about eligibility.” In this document, Eastman, who has since become synonymous with former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overthrow 2020 election results, argued that Vice President Kamala Harris may not qualify for election under the U.S. Constitution, and therefore be ineligible to run for President or Vice President. Eastman’s article claimed that despite being born in Oakland, Calif., Harris was not a “born” citizen because neither of her parents were US citizens at the time of her birth.
This statement, of course, was nonsense. Just a day before Newsweek published Eastman’s opinion, FactCheck.org had demystified the takingwhich at the time mainly existed on the fringes, racist Facebook memes and a blog post on the right American thinker website designed to subject her to the same kind of “birth” arguments that Trump used against former President Barack Obama for years. The purpose of Eastman’s op-ed was not to seriously discuss Harris’s VP eligibility, but rather to spread the word and give the smear a sliver of credibility by publishing it in a once famous newspaper. exit.
Tom Fitton of the right-wing group Judicial Watch tweeted Eastman’s article the next day, writing, “Is Kamala Harris ineligible to be vice president under the ‘citizenship clause’ of the US Constitution? Shortly after, Trump’s campaign adviser Jenna Ellis retweeted Fitton’s post. When ABC News’ Will Steakin asked Ellis for a commentshe called Harris’ eligibility an “open question.”
Again, she was born in Oakland.
Within days, the right-wing media had grafted themselves onto whatever credibility remained. Newsweek was gone, with The daily threadby Michael Knowles spreading the claim on his show and favorably referencing Eastman’s article. Meanwhile, local and main stream national the media was forced to devote time and energy to debunking the allegation, leaving behind a trail of more than 1.2 million Google search results for the words “Kamala”, “Harris” and “eligibility “. All because a once deemed medium that has since been transformed into a place where right-wing extremists can express their opinions.
For another example, look no further than The New York Times. In 2017, the Time hired Bret Stephens away from Murdoch’s property the wall street journal to “bring a fresh perspective to the news”. In his first column, Stephens argued that science is not “settled” when it comes to climate change. His proof? Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 was also quite confident, and look how that turned out. In fact, that is his argument. Now, of course, Stephens has framed his argument…
Keep reading this essay on Lady Magazine.