It has been heartening to see the media take a more confrontational stance with the Trump Administration than it ever did during the Bush or Reagan years. Journalistic organizations from the New York Times to the Washington Post to CNN all became almost explicitly hostile to the administration, especially over the last year. Conservatives decry this as a form of bias, but it really isn’t. Journalists have an obligation to serve truth to their readers. When a president is abusing his power, constantly lying and overtly threatening democracy and freedom of the press, the press has a moral and professional obligation to respond accordingly. And even if their concerns were valid, conservatives have only themselves to blame: by spending decades working the refs and building fact-free propaganda networks that drew conservative-leaning viewers away from traditional news sources, they both incentivized the left to work the refs equally strongly while increasing the incentives of traditional news sources to cater more to the left-leaning readers and viewers who remained.
But with Biden ascending to the presidency, journalists in the Big Mainstream will feel an implicit responsibility to take an adversarial approach to the Biden Administration as well. Every little molehill of possible impropriety will be treated with the same concern as the mountains of Trump corruption. Worse, even, because the avalanche of Trumpian malfeasance led to a desensitization to scandal, while the comparative rarity of Obama scandals turned even wearing a tan suit into a week-long news story. So will it be with the Biden administration. Meanwhile, most of the public still won’t understand that legislative gridlock and an inability to solve problems won’t be the fault of “Congress” or “polarization,” but the utter intransigence of Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans. And as conservative media splinters into its own civil war, major news organizations will be doing their utmost to bend over backwards to conservatives to seem impartial, both as an attempt to regain audience and “bring the country together.”
This is where medium-sized left-leaning organizations can and must step in to carry the torch of democracy–for two important reasons. First, people with credibility must be able to step in and continue to shed light on conservative malfeasance, and do their best to inform the American public about why their democracy is broken and what can be done to fix it. Secondly, the Biden Administration will be feeling outsize pressure from the Right to constrain its vision of the possible. There must be equal pressure from the other side to remind powerful players in the only remaining responsible political party of its obligations to the public regardless of the partisan pressures of the environment.
The Washington Monthly is one of the organizations best able to serve in this role. But it lacks the organizational prowess and funding of a New York Times, Washington Post or CNN. Our readership is more selective, and less about passive consumption of generic news than using sophisticated insights to better serve their communities and inform their friends and families.
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