Fourth Estate

Legacy Media Tilts Two Ways: Center Right and Far Right

Which is why we need independent news outlets who serve their readers and not conservative billionaire investors—to continue to bring unbiased, top-notch reporting. And we need them now more than ever.

This article was made possible because of the generous support of DAME members.  We urgently need your help to keep publishing. Will you contribute just $5 a month to support our journalism?

Last week, I signed an open letter with hundreds of other current and former New York Times writers that asked the paper to think about its coverage of transgender issues.

The next day, court documents in the Dominion Voting Systems v. Fox News defamation suit were released, showing that Fox’s leadership and on-air talent knowingly helped spread the lie that Dominion’s voting machines were defective and had somehow swung the election from then–President Donald Trump to Joe Biden in 2020.

The so-called paper of record known as the New York Times, for its part, responded to the open letter by conflating it with a separate letter that was sent to the paper by GLAAD, accusing the journalists who signed onto it of “advocacy,” telling staff that it “will not tolerate” Times journalists’ criticism of the paper’s work. Then they published a dishonest “defense” of the transphobic billionaire novelist J.K. Rowling the following day. Message received!

As for Fox, most people know the outlet—along with other big name pieces of the Murdoch media empire—operates from a biased, dishonest position. Now there’s proof that Fox executives spread lies and amplified conspiracy theories about the 2020 election despite knowing these were baseless claims.

This is the mainstream American press in a nutshell. Competing sets of billionaires use the power afforded to them by their wealth to advance their profit-driven and political agendas that may or may not be good for the country or society. Executives at these companies tamp down on internal dissent and ignore outside criticism. Truth is not a priority. This is not optimal.

What’s worse: Little seems to actually affect change at these media behemoths.

If I had to guess, little will change at the Times or Fox after the past week of moments laying bare the cynicism at the heart of legacy media. The Times will likely try to soften its image by printing the occasional pro-trans piece, but will save the front-page stories and the push notifications for articles about trans athletes or pieces skeptical of the legitimacy of trans people’s existence that not-so-subtly suggest that there are just too many trans people and maybe something should be done about that.

After all, this is the same newspaper that has a long history of downplaying threats posed by authoritarians, flubbing its coverage of climate change, and downplaying public health emergencies. The Times produces a lot of truly excellent journalism, but it’s hard not to notice the conservative status quo bias that runs throughout its history. Just last year, the paper’s Editorial Board published a piece that bizarrely asserted that people have the “right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed and shunned.” Such a world is a world without dissent; a world without dissent is a world where ordinary people don’t have a voice.

And as for Fox News, this is just what Fox has been since its inception. Both Fox and the Times present themselves as less conservative than they are in reality. Fox News is an extreme right-wing and overtly partisan propaganda mill that bills itself as a “right-leaning” news outlet; the Times is a news organization with a history of ticking rightward at major social inflection points that presents itself as the victim of “woke mobs” and the like.

There’s a joke in The Blues Brothers (1980) where Dan Aykroyd’s Elwood asks a bartender, “What kinds of music do you usually have here?” to which the woman behind the bar excitedly responds, “We got both kinds. We got country and Western!” As companies merge, corporate interests come before those of the consumer, and bad actors rush to fill information vacuums for personal and political gain. As “local” newspapers, radio stations, and television outlets get bought up by massive media conglomerates like Alden Capital, Hearst, Sinclair, Advance, Gannett, Tegna, Nexstar, and others, once-trusted news sources are often whittled down to skeleton crews with little “local” involvement at all.

It all leaves me feeling a bit like a barfly at a media-centric version of that saloon. What kind of media do we usually have within the corporate media world? Both kinds: center-right and far-right! Whether it’s the Times stoking a panic aimed at trans people, Fox News executives trying to get Republicans elected by any means necessary, the Washington Post’s billionaire owner making surprise visits to the paper’s editorial meetings, or start-ups with sketchy sources of funding, our media is dominated by a lack of ethics. All the while, independent media outlets have struggled and shuttered, leaving us all worse off.

This is why I’m lending my voice to DAME’s membership drive.

I’ve only been contributing to DAME since April 2022, but it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. DAME is a place where journalists can write about things like mental health without having to worry whether our content is going to be paired alongside an ad for a controversial telehealth app, and it is where projects like the American Values Report can get a green light without having to worry that it’ll upset a billionaire benefactor if it doesn’t advance his conservative causes. 

DAME’s work stands on its own. You don’t need me to tell you that Allison Hantschel, Andrea Grimes, and Kaitlin Byrd are all brilliant writers whose work informs and challenges readers on a range of topics. Their articles, and those of other DAME writers like myself, make clear the value of outlets like DAME that exist to serve readers, free from the institutional conservative biases of corporate-funded outlets. If you agree, the best thing you can do is to become a member.

Before you go, we hope you’ll consider supporting DAME’s journalism.

Today, just tiny number of corporations and billionaire owners are in control the news we watch and read. That influence shapes our culture and our understanding of the world. But at DAME, we serve as a counterbalance by doing things differently. We’re reader funded, which means our only agenda is to serve our readers. No both sides, no false equivalencies, no billionaire interests. Just our mission to publish the information and reporting that help you navigate the most complex issues we face.

But to keep publishing, stay independent and paywall free for all, we urgently need more support. During our Spring Membership drive, we hope you’ll join the community helping to build a more equitable media landscape with a monthly membership of just $5.00 per month or one-time gift in any amount.

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