I like Slate Magazine’s podcasts.
Unfortunately, they are not immune from the ideologue phenomena that is attacking principled journalism on all fronts. Individuals who comprise the media – writers, producers, anchors, etc. – are increasingly succumbing to a single philosophy and world view.
Like all bullies, ideological bullies are intolerant. Anyone who does not share the view of the ideologue is made to feel intimated, fearful that disagreeing with the media will cause them to be publicly labeled a bigot, or worse. It’s called the Spiral of Silence.
Groupthink is always dangerous. It goes hand-in-hand with silencing dissent.
I’m going to explain four manipulation tactics ideological bullies use to silence people. This is happening everywhere, but I’m going to pick on Slate since they’ve managed to employ at least two people who do it extraordinarily well.
Manipulation tactic # 1: Opinions, disguised as journalism
Appearances mean a lot, and a neutral voice can make a story appear objective. Unfortunately, an ideological bully who wishes to appear as a journalist will select only the facts and evidence that support their agenda, and present it as news.
Dahlia Lithwick, host of Slate’s Amicus with Dahlia Lithwick podcast, covers cases before the Supreme Court. Lithwick appears credible: she’s a contributor to Newsweek, The New Republic, Washington Post, and the New York Times, but you don’t have to dig very long to uncover a deep bias. She once called for “a bomb-throwing, passionate, visionary, liberal Scalia for a seat on the Supreme Court” who is a “a cross between Rachel Maddow and Emma Goldman“.
Everybody’s got their politics. But Lithwick’s demand heavy censorship of opposing views. If her listeners rely solely on her representation of court cases, they’ll have a completely unrealistic idea of both sides’ arguments.
It’s sad because Lithwick makes a quality argument for the side she supports, which tells me her show has the potential to be excellent. Rather than letting listeners hear opposing views, however, Dahlia summarizes some of the points with a built-in rebuttal, then explains why the claims are absurd or baseless.
How do such weak arguments reach the Supreme Court, I wondered. I decided to listen to the oral arguments, which are available online. I expected to hear a longer, more technical version of Dahlia’s podcasts on gay marriage and ACA subsidies, and found something quite different.
Lithwick had censored arguments to an incredible degree. Every favorable circumstance for the opposing counsel was removed. Any favorable remark to them by the justices was removed. Audio of the justices skeptically challenging her favored side is omitted just as surely as it is included when the opposing counsel is on the receiving end of skepticism. Talk about selective “reporting”!
A devotion to specific outcomes would be fine if Lithwick represented her podcast as her opinion. But attempting to represent it as factual is manipulative.
Manipulation tactic # 2: Shifting Goalposts
Socrates said, “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.” That’s why ideological bullies dislike committing to facts or definitions. The goalposts often need to be moved if their narrative is to work.
Shifting goalposts are often used in partnership with other tactics. But Emily Bazelon, of Slate’s Political Gabfest, comes to the rescue with a minor, standalone example.
Recently, Bazelon spoke disapprovingly of people using the “wrong pronoun” for Caitlyn Jenner. She protested that “pronoun confusion” is unacceptable, and explained transgender issues are the great civil rights issue of our time. This led to an incoherent rant, culminating with the dreadful conclusion: “People have a binary gender construct!” Two inferences can be made: Bazelon definitely has a degree in Women’s Studies and her co-hosts have terrible karma.
David Plotz – co-host #2 – asked Bazelon (who is apparently the expert on all things Jenner) whether Caitlyn’s children refer to her as their father.
Bazelon said she thought they did then hurriedly added, “We can all handle some ambiguity… in our brains.” But what about civil rights? Binary constructs? PRONOUNS! There was no room for ambiguity a few minutes earlier, so the goalpost had to change.
See Part II for the conclusion of the ideological bullying tactics.
Separately, I have to recognize the awesome Slate contributor John Dickerson, who is co-host #3 on Political Gabfest, and not at all an ideological bully. Thanks to his insight, the show is well-worth listening to, despite Bazelon’s presence and the often dour Plotz.
Dickerson has an excellent podcast of his own called Whistlestop. He is also the new host of Face the Nation.