People you hate will get their hooks into you… Responding to @mjrowland68 on the criticism of journalists

Michael Rowland is a co-host of ABC News Breakfast.  To its credit, the show provides an alternative for audiences who watch the sort of breakfast television that’s dominated by mediocre white Baby Boomers and not (as is the inspired choice) by cartoons.  If you really must have the television on in the morning (and you hate cartoons), then you can avoid the commercial offerings of explicit hatred towards minorities by flicking over to the ABC with its implicit erasure of them.

Like many of the old white people haunting the ‘legacy’ media, Rowland thinks there’s a problem with social media: not enough respect for journalists.  In a weirdly written article on the ABC’s website, Rowland uses his national platform to say that journalists don’t think people on Twitter are being nice enough:

Twitter is a double-edged sword for political journalists.

It’s an invaluable source of breaking news and allows us to keep track of campaign developments in real time.

For good and bad, it’s a forum for politicians to make unfiltered announcements or respond to criticism from the other side, all of which provides fodder for news stories and commentary.

Importantly, it allows voters to have their say — and this is where things are getting particularly willing.

“Twitter is a peanut gallery of hyper-partisan tools,” Uhlmann laments.

That is unintelligible nonsense.  Rowland then asks the views of Chris ‘Jewish intellectuals are an intellectual virus’ Uhlmann, Patricia Karvelas, Dennis Atkins, Katharine Murphy, and Leigh Sales.  All of them complain that people on Twitter are too mean and don’t give them enough respect.

At no point does Rowland ask the vital question: do the critics have a point?

Representing the ‘other side’ of the discussion are four tweets, exhibited to demonstrate the hostility of the critics.  The four tweets are from @DavidSo24895212 (87 followers), @kim66690354 (334 followers), @BillFle99636474 (183 followers), and — just to buck the trend — @borgc (1,142 followers).

As most people know, a huge string of numbers in a username is a safe bet that it’s not a serious account.  So, out of the four, only the tweet from @borgc is relevant.  We could ask why the ABC is running an argument about social media from a person who apparently can’t understand social media, but that gets us away from the main course.

It is not difficult to think of scandals that rocked the media.  Perhaps the most internationally famous was News Corp’s hacking of a dead child’s phone, disrupting a police investigation (the police thought she was accessing her messages, and therefore thought she was alive).  But we don’t even need to be that dramatic.  The Geoffrey Rush defamation case found that the paper had been ‘reckless as to the truth or falsity of the defamatory imputations conveyed by the articles and had failed to make adequate inquiries before publication’.  We could even go over to the very difficult questions about media responsibility for extremism, such as the refusal of the media to consider the possibility it had contributed to the Christchurch massacre.

It would have been very easy for Rowland to engage with any of these, but he didn’t.  He could only see criticism of the media through the lens of trolls and people blowing off steam — not from the perspective that people might have legitimate criticisms of how journalists were doing their job.

The most damning aspect of Rowland’s ‘analysis’ is that it focuses only on journos from European backgrounds.  I disagree a lot with just about everything that Osman Faruqi says, but he’s both working at the ABC and sustains more abuse on Twitter than nearly anybody I’ve ever seen.

And a lot of that abuse has come from people working in the media.

Rowland complaining that somebody called him an arsehole really shows how easy he’s got it in comparison to his colleagues from less privileged backgrounds.  And yet those perspectives don’t even show up peripherally in his ‘analysis’ of the problem of social media.

What would a reasonable analysis of the issue look like?  There really is a problem with social media, but the established media is one of the causes of this problem rather than a victim.  There is an ongoing toxicity in the way that issues are selected and presented to the audience.  That, inevitably, flows through to the way that ordinary people (not those with strings of numbers in their username) discuss these issues.  We know empirically that people intuit serious issues incorrectly because of the way that they are presented in the media (for example, concerns about immigration levels).  We also know that the ‘tribalism’ about which Rowland complained begins in the choice of news materials: white nationalists tend not to read the Guardian; fluff-bunny greens tend not to read the Daily Telegraph.  And we know that there is a massive information gap between those who consume a lot of media and those who do not.

At its core, what are we seeing in social media?  If you take people’s concerns  about the problems with the media seriously, what is fuelling these concerns and what can we do to respond?  And, further, if people’s serious concerns are misguided, what do we do to correct their views?

Whatever we’re doing now isn’t working; and simply dismissing every criticism as unreasonable means that we let people like Chris Uhlmann claim that the ‘Post Christian Left’ is destroying politics…

Author: Mark Fletcher

Mark Fletcher is a Canberra-based PhD student, writer, and policy wonk who writes about law, conservatism, atheism, and popular culture. Read his blog at OnlyTheSangfroid. He tweets at @ClothedVillainy

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