By Sigurd Neubauer
A recent Gallup poll reveals that Americans are losing confidence in the news media by record numbers. Gallup has tracked Americans’ confidence in newspapers since 1973 and television news since 1993, but the latest data show that as of July 2020, only 16 percent of U.S. adults have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers. When it comes to television news, the numbers are even worse, with only 11 percent expressing confidence in the medium.
With the ever-increasing polarization over culture, Americans – as well as international observers – are naturally wondering what’s happening to the country. The Zeitgeist of today dictates that America is not the same country that it was only a decade ago, something has changed and not for the better.
Among the plethora of journalists providing commentary on contemporary America, Newsweek’s Batya Ungar-Sargon stands out for her crisp and succinct analysis. In her book, “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy,” Ungar-Sargon provides a compelling account of how modern journalism has been transformed from a blue collar profession into an elite one.
Being a journalist in America today is not only a high-status job, but news organizations are increasingly staffed by the wealthy and almost exclusively recruit from the Ivy League universities, she writes.
The American media, the author argues, “speaks power to truth” – as opposed to “truth to power.” The media also “insists on an orthodoxy that protects the interests of the elites in the language of culture war whose burden is given to the working class to bear,” she argues while adding that today’s “American journalism comforts the comfortable.”
But it wasn’t always like this.
From working class to elite
The book masterly depicts the transformation of American media from the time of Benjamin Day (1810 –1889) and his “penny press,” which targeted New York City’s poor and working classes to Joseph Pulitzer (1847-1911) whose journalism exposed “the abuse of the powerful against the powerless.”
Ungar-Sargon, is not a conservative-leaning polemicist but rather an independent minded journalist whose compassion for the working class as well as for people of color is never in doubt throughout her book. She provides a scathing critique of what she calls the “woke media.”
Her narrative is straight forward: the liberal national media has not only abandoned America’s working class but become the vanguard of a small but wealthy elite primarily dedicated to preserving its own interests; whether they are economic or cultural.
By citing “The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class,” a book by Joel Kotkin, Ungar-Sargon writes that the tech oligarchy relies on the “expert class to justify its rule…this explain why you see liberals and the liberal news media urging massive tech conglomerates to assume more power, demanding increasing levels of censorship when it comes to views they disagree with or despise.”
These dynamics are, of course, bad for America’s democracy, a central theme in Ungar-Sargon’s book.
The author also provides a comprehensive account of how the liberal media got to this point, including about its ability to appeal to the highly educated and wealthy white liberal through algorithms targeting his raw emotions. The New York Times is singled out in particular by Ungar-Sargon whose negative view about the paper is never in doubt. She does concede, however, that New York Times publisher Arthur Gregg Sulzberger rejected her request for an interview.
Being a journalist in America today is not only a high-status job, but news organizations are increasingly staffed by the wealthy and almost exclusively recruit from the Ivy League universities
She writes: “If you want to know what makes America’s educated liberal elites emotional, you only have to open The York Times to find out.”
At this point in time, it can be assumed that most informed Americans have encountered the Woke ideology in some form or another.
For those of us who are attempting to better understand what the Woke cultural phenomenon is, Ungar-Sargon dedicates an entire chapter to its origins. She masterly explains how The New York Times became a catalyst for this newfound ideology, which puts race [and sexual orientation] above everything else, and how it all started in academia.
But what started on the margins of academia are now – thanks to much of the news media – front and center in American life. As Ungar-Sargon ably points out, this became evident during the 2020 presidential election when Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent, Vermont) abandoned some of his traditional socialist policies centering on economics that he ran on four years earlier to embracing much of the Woke ideology.
If you want to know what makes America’s educated liberal elites emotional, you only have to open the New York Times to find out: Ungar-Sargon
‘Americans are less divided than you’d think’
In a wide-ranging interview with Ungar-Sargon, we discuss her book – the media and American life – as well as how it has been received.
On whether there is a sinister reason behind the liberal media’s almost exclusive focus on issues that divide Americans, Ungar-Sargon says that she doesn’t think that they are intentionally poising the debate but that that the intellectual left – or commonly referred to as the elite – truly believe that they are on the right side of history.
As case in point, she cites Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ recent decision to fly illegal immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, a culturally liberal bastion in Massachusetts where many wealthy Americans have their vacation homes. “The first thing they did was to send them off from there to Cape Cod,” a clear reference to their hypocrisy.
“They are blinded by their own virtue and economic interests, but demand that the working class subside their virtues,” she says. Ungar-Sargon goes on to argue that illegal immigration is depressing wages for working class Americans, which is another key theme in her book.
The affluent white liberals genuinely “believe that this is what good people think,” but quips that “their views on race do not represent what African Americans and Hispanic believe.
While white liberals believe that it is “racist to police the [U.S.-Mexico] border,” it is the American working class that is subsidizing illegal immigration and it is African Americans in particular who pay the actual cost of the lowering of their wages.
Despite African Americans being an integral part of the Democratic coalition, Ungar-Sargon argues that affluent white liberals are making an intellectual error when it comes to on one hand supporting their African American and Hispanic coalition partners, while at the same time undercutting their economic interests.
“Why are they making this error,” Ungar-Sargon posits rhetorically? “Because they benefit from free trade, open borders, and the lowering of wages for service jobs. They wouldn’t make this error if it impacted their own economic interests,” she says.
When it comes to how corporate America has embraced Wokism, Ungar-Sargon sees it as a cynical attempt to keep an affluent and vocal customer base happy. “Hiring a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) officer is not how one widens the path for those aspiring to join the ranks of Goldman Sachs and alike, but it requires harder efforts such as education reform.”
On why some of these apparent contradictions are taking place among the affluent and highly educated, the author says that there’s a lot of “class resentment” among the elites. “They don’t like the billionaires, which is why they keep on insisting that they pay their fair share of taxes.”
“It used that the nobility gave back to the community, but the top 10 percent are members of the professional class and they don’t know anyone from the working class,” she says.
The working class on the other hand, “admires the billionaires and aspire to join their ranks, but most importantly see them as job creators,” she adds.
Ungar-Sargon’s book has not been particularly well received among her woke friends. “A few of them liked it, but most of them did not. Most people don’t like to have hypocrisy pointed out.”
We’re concluding our interview by returning to The New York Times and whether its divisive editorial positions are sustainable as a business model.
“The NYT has decided to squander the legacy of the highest standards to only appeal to the six percent of Americans who are progressives. There are 10 million of them, but the newspaper cannot grow beyond that.”
Ungar-Sargon wasn’t surprised that the NYT publisher, A. G. Sulzberger, turned down her interview request. “What could he possible have said? He was the architect behind the 2014 ‘innovation plan,’ and he caved to the ‘woke mob’ during the ‘moral panic’ over race in 2020,” two issues that are covered in detail in the book.
Ungar-Sargon’s book is required reading for anyone seeking to better understand contemporary America and its trials and tribulations.
The NYT has decided to squander the legacy of the highest standards to only appeal to the six percent of Americans who are progressives. There are 10 million of them, but the newspaper cannot grow beyond that