lamestream mainstream media
Reading Time: 2 minutes Blackboard writings "Out of sight, out of mind"
Reading Time: 2 minutes

The so-called “mainstream media,” also sometimes derided in conservative circles as “lamestream,” began a process of self-reflection after the Donald Trump’s bewildering presidential win in 2016.

Wednesday’s daily “Opinion Today” column from The New York Times manifests this unique mea culpa moment for traditionally respected national news purveyors. Like various other news media, the Times is trying to suss out what they completely misunderstood about the American electorate in 2018 and, perhaps more importantly, why.

“Opinion Today” columnist David Leonard’s article this week also revealed one reason religiously unaffiliated Americans — so-called “nones” (What religion are you? None.) — are a widely unknown demographic. This despite their rapidly growing numbers and the fact they comprise a quarter of the U.S. population.

So growing religious apathy and the political rage of the mostly white, male and rural American underclass have something in common. During the last election, they were both flying well under the radar of the liberal wing of the so-named “chattering class,” which includes professional opinion leaders and politicians. However, Trump and his alt-Right Republican campaign strategists had the rural red-staters, if not the religious naysayers, dead center on their radars.

Leonard noted in his column that his newspaper recently surveyed 1,000 Times readers via email and social media to try and find out which opinions Americans believe are being underrepresented in national media — and perhaps which deserve to remain underplayed because they are deep outliers in public discourse.

Readers replied that the overall boundaries of debate in media should be enlarged, on both the Left and Right, and that hitherto mostly ignored topics be allowed on the field. Even some seemingly extreme positions should get some oxygen, readers advised, such as far-Left socialists and perhaps even authoritarian monarchists, just to broaden the discussion.

Times respondents believe media should give voice to the “views of people whose politics are more than one standard deviation from the national mean,” Leonard said, quoting Joshua Benton, director of the Neiman Journalism Lab.

“While I am pro-choice, science continues to push the boundaries of fetal viability to earlier and earlier stages,” wrote survey respondent Jeremy Leonard (no relation to the columnist). “As that happens, when does an abortion constitute the taking of a viable life?”

Jeet Heer, who writes for The New Republic, offered another plea for broader discussion: “According to the polls, a third of Americans like socialism,” he wrote. “You never see that view in mainstream press.”

Several of the other key deficiencies Times readers thought needed media correction were:

  • More conservative views should be presented, particularly “nonelite” ones, which energetically fueled Trump’s success.
  • More “unabashedly left-wing voices” should be heard.
  • More female, nonwhite and underprivileged arguments should be put forth.

Of particular relevance to this blog is that Leonard said nothing in his column about religious opinion, even though some people surveyed did.

“Currently underrepresented: Atheism,” survey respondent David Galiel tersely wrote.

This is a problem. What people don’t regularly read about in their newspapers and magazines, and view discussions of in general-interest broadcast media they don’t think much about or significantly understand. Out of sight, out of mind, as it were.

I’m all for expanding the list of topics illuminated in national (and, lest we continue to forget, local) media, as long as it includes issues like religious slippage that are of direct importance to large swaths of the population.

Image: Vepar5, standard license

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...