The left-wing bias of the mainstream media has long been noticed, and objectionable to many Americans, but there seems to have been a dramatic move to the left in recent years, and a marked loss of journalistic objectivity, and for many Americans, credibility. This has been most noticeable to Christians in the last decade of culture war between homosexual and transgender liberation and religious freedom. Typically, mainstream media will put the term religious freedom in quotes in any particular battle, or assume the normalcy LGBT inclination and behavior without pointing out obvious deficiencies (such as the desire to adopt children naturally resulting from the inability to procreate). On the abortion issue, “anti-abortion” will be used in place of “pro-life,” but rarely if ever will mainstream media speak of a “pro-abortion” side to the conflict.
Amber Athey, a journalist currently working for The Daily Caller discussed her new book, Snowflakes Revolt: How Woke Millennials Hijacked the American Media, at the Center for Conservative Women in Herdon, Virginia, and presented by the Clare Booth Luce Conservative Women’s Network on September 14. As the title makes clear, she believes that millennials who have embraced the various liberationist ideologies of the far left are now a major and sometimes controlling influence on the mainstream American media.
It is an unexpected and shocking discovery for many Americans, but as Athey explained “for a long time, people on the Left, and even some people on the Right, really believed that what was happening on campus would stay there. That what the crazy kids were doing was just a phase or a symptom of being on a liberal college campus, and it really wouldn’t have any broader effect on society, and we see now that that is obviously not the case.”
Woke Ideology in the Mass Media
She said that a “perfect” example of the spread of the woke, social justice ideology from college campuses into the American mainstream is the conflict over Anheuser-Busch’s transgender themed marketing of Bud Light, and the hostile public response. Despite engaging in what the cultural left might consider stereotypical female behavior, Dylan Mulvaney, a biological man identifying as a woman who acted as a social media influencer for Bud Light, is celebrated by the mainstream media and by corporate America. Historically, Bud Light advertised to “blue collar workers, sports fans, patriotic Americans, and dads,” so the change in marketing strategy was radical.
Behind the transgender marketing campaign was Anheuser Busch’s young Vice President for Marketing, Alissa Heinerscheid, a graduate of Harvard University in English language and literature and the Wharton School. Athey related that Heinerscheid justified her marketing ploy by saying “I’m a businesswoman, I had a really clear job to do when I took over Bud Light, and it was, this brand was in decline, and it’s been decline for a really long time, and if we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand, there will be no future for Bud Light.” Previously, she said that Bud Light was “fratty,” and “it was really important that we had another approach.” Athey however maintained that Heinerscheid “was participating in some pretty fratty behavior when she was a Harvard.” But she said that woke millennials like Heinerscheid are in the HR departments, middle management, or the diversity office of many organizations. “They like to create problems where they don’t exist, levy false accusations, and then rush in as the savior who’s going to fix everything.” Athey further said that “they are excellent at putting pressure on those who do not comply with their demands.”
People such as Heinerscheid don’t only exist in corporate America, but “in Hollywood, academia, politics, and … they’re of course in the media.” They are the woke left. They show “that what happens on campus, what young adults are taught, how they behave, and perhaps even more importantly, what they’re allowed to get away with, really, really matters.” Although the mainstream media has been markedly liberal for decades, in the past ten years it has not uncommonly reported news from the standpoint of the hard left. Athey asked how this happened.
The Background of Journalistic Objectivity
While an uninformed American might see left-wing bias as a departure from perennial standards of journalistic objectivity, the truth is that in the late nineteenth century, as newspapers assumed national importance, they were more of an “extension” of partisan politics. Working class people handled the news, and it “was very much a trade function,” not a profession, as it is currently understood to be. The idea of journalistic objectivity comes from the early twentieth century. In line with positivism and the emerging modern world, it was held that journalists should avoid bias and “report the news accurately.” College degrees were developed for journalism, which made it into a profession.
News organizations hired the graduates of journalism programs, and newsrooms “became echo chambers filled with the liberal elite, who were stunningly out of touch with the average American.” She said that a 2014 Indiana University survey showed that at that time 92% of journalists had a college degree, compared with only about 30% of the country at large. This was one of the highest percentages for any profession at that time. Nearly half of journalists at The New York Times attended elite (top 25) universities. Also, the socioeconomic background of these journalists was “white collar, wealthy, and well-connected families.” Additionally, journalists have been “more likely to live in cities, and [are] less religious than the average American.”
Athey said that this problem of a disconnect between journalists and the general American public “only got worse in 2015, with the rise of Donald Trump, when all pretenses of objectivity were dropped in favor of stopping the bad orange man.” It was decided that objectivity was “no longer useful” in the pursuit of journalism. To achieve their goals, news organizations hired more woke activists from elite universities. The news media then mocked concerns about the loss of objectivity as “unfounded hysteria.” But the snowflakes did not melt, and the news increasingly became leftist propaganda.
Athey referred to an incident at Georgetown University, which she attended at the time. The leading candidates for president and vice-president of the high profile student government association were defeated by a “satirical” ticket, which made fun of their unrealistic objectives. An otherwise liberal student was then shamed by activists at Georgetown for publishing in a student newspaper a cartoon mocking the losing candidates (a black and a woman). This was criticized as racist and sexist. The newspaper apologized and removed the cartoon, and the cartoonist then appeared at a town hall called so students could express their hurts and concerns. The cartoonist abjectly apologized. Seeing this public shaming, the university administration yielded to demands to mandate two courses on diversity for all students. Georgetown’s largest student newspaper published an editorial maintaining that “a plurality of views” was good, but certain conversations were “harmful,” and should not be had. Essentially, any difference of opinion must be within what the woke left considers acceptable. Graduates of institutions which have surrendered to these activists can be expected to impact American society.
The woke journalistic elite are “easily offended, they are often offended on other people’s behalf, they are hypocritical, reflexively antagonistic to tradition, they are against a culture of free expression, and they’re arrogant enough to think that not only do they hold a monopoly on truth, but that they get to lecture everybody else about what is acceptable in society. They use their perceived victimhood as a means of obtaining and wielding power against others … They also claim that major American institutions, academia, Hollywood, corporations, politics and the media, and America itself even is sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic … they insist that they be put in charge to fix what’s wrong, and to make up for past transgressions. Then they run them into the ground.”
Woke Activism and Control of News Organizations
Athey offered Politico as a case study of the takeover of a news organization by the woke left. Politico, founded in the 2000s, was once considered one of the less biased sources of news. But Athey said that according to her sources at Politico, the news organization began “hiring staffers who had no experience in reporting, and instead had spent their college years engaging in left-wing activism … they wanted to use the media as a megaphone for their preferred policies.” They pushed for “hiring of diversity equity, and inclusion officers … began efforts to unionize,” and called for a new style guide, which incorporated leftist assumptions. Managers decided at one point that they were “outgunned,” and acquiesced in the leftist takeover, just as university administrators have done.
As an example of how things proceeded after the takeover, an article reviewing Republican support for protecting women and girls sports ahead of the 2022 mid-term elections was censored by a “Director of Editorial Diversity Initiatives.” Support for protecting women’s sports was supposed to be characterized as “transphobic.” Its author was called into a struggle session with those among the staff who had complained, interrogated about her article, in particular about its failure to assume transgender ideology.
After this controversy, three transgender activists were given a podium to lecture all Politico employees about how transgender issues should be addressed. They said that what society has heretofore considered objective reporting was really a construct of white, “cisgender” men, and thus “cannot be trusted to be accurate.” They also said that “gender words are rooted in exclusion and can actually cause trauma for transgender and nongender conforming individuals.” It was reported that a claim was made that “even the term ‘mother’ could be offensive to transgender people.” Journalists were also informed that they should not cover “both sides of the transgender issue … because doing so would involve elevating transphobic voices.” This of course assumes that one side of a controversy is right, a complete loss of journalistic objectivity. A new style guide then “banned reporters from using ‘gendered language.’” Such terms as “man,” “woman,” “biological sex,” and “biological male,” and “biological female” were prohibited. Such terms as “people who seek abortions,” were to be used rather than “women who seek abortions.” This writer would add that one could just as accurately speak of “mothers who seek abortions,” but that has long been politically incorrect. Athey said that the style guide mandates the rejection of “basic biology and truth.” What the general public might receive as news from a source close to events in Washington has thus been decisively colored by radical activists.
The Need to Fight Back
Such stories, doubtless could be repeated with many organizations. The Associated Press’ new style guide with numerous changes of terminology assumes woke ideology, much as Politicos’ style manual did. But Athey does see signs of hope that the mainstream media may be returning to some better standard of objectivity. The New York Times was accused of transphobia for exploring in an article the negative results of what the Left calls “gender affirming treatment” (puberty blocking drugs and sexual mutilation) for minors. But the Times responded that its journalistic mission was different from an advocacy organization, saying “as a news organization, we pursue independent reporting on transgender issues.” A subsequent e-mail to New York Times employees informed them “that they would not tolerate employees siding with advocacy groups to try to sway the paper’s coverage of important issues and they also would not tolerate publicly attacking colleagues for publishing things that they disagree with.” The Times said “it is not unusual for outside groups to critique our coverage or to rally supporters to seek to influence our journalism. In this case, however, members of our staff and contributors to the Times joined the effort. Their protest letter included direct attacks on several of our colleagues, singling them out by name. We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by outside groups or attacks on colleagues on social media, or other platforms.”
Athey said that “this rare defense of journalistic integrity from mainstream media was followed up by an open letter signed by veteran New York Times reporters pushing back on their woke colleagues.” She also recounted that “the letter read in part, ‘factual, accurate journalism that is written, edited, and published in accordance with Times standards does not create a hostile workplace. We are journalists, not activists, that line should be clear.’” Athey was dubious about the Times’ general claim to objectivity but was gratified by the push-back against an exceptionally egregious attack on it.
These kinds of ideological attacks on truth and freedom by the Left will continue as long as the Left continues to dominate the educational system, she believes. Indoctrination in America’s educational system is no longer limited to liberal colleges and universities. Teachers are now being trained to bring gender ideology and Critical Theory into elementary schools. She said that younger children are more impressionable than college students. The objective of radical educators is to separate students from the beliefs and values of their parents.
A questioner asked if mainstream media would survive. Athey thought that the chances were about 50/50. She said that “there is a huge culture of independent, alternative media emerging, in large part due to the Internet. Websites are no longer dependent on advertisers being willing to purchase … full page ads in a newspaper.” Digital media now have other ways to generate revenue. Podcasts are also becoming an important source of information. Many alternative views can be found on podcasts, and “young people are interested in them.” She believes that the gatekeeping function of the mainstream media has been “obliterated” by these new news sources. Except for Fox prime time, ratings for mainstream media are collapsing. New York Times readership is down, as is true of “every print newspaper.” Many local newspapers are now owned by large corporations, and these are therefore part of the left-leaning mainstream media.
In response to another question, Athey said that woke educators are behaving as if young children are capable of the rational thought adults are capable of in deciding who they are and what their sex is. Instead, the children often give responses that they believe trusted adults will want, or simply want to be like adults. In reality, they are being brainwashed.
Athey said that struggle sessions are being used to “strip people of their identity, strip people of their ideas, and turn them into empty vessels that would just accept what was being fed into them.” This is done by woke organizations to their employees who disagree with the ideology the organization has adopted. Most people, she said, “have a general moral compass, that tells them to be kind to their fellow man, and to treat each other with respect. And the woke Left has no interest in that. They view people as tools for accumulating power.”
She again noted that journalists are far less religious than the average American. Consequently, activists among journalists “don’t see people as inherently valuable,” instead they see human relations as instrumental to power. This encourages them to “use people for their own ends.”
Another questioner who observed that the Biden Administration (“the White House counsel, not the White House press office”) had instructed the news media to deny that there is any evidence against Biden in the current investigations concerning him. Athey responded that news reporting the Administration or the political left do not like is now being deemed “misinformation,” and targeted for censorship, despite the irrationality of the identity politics that the Left actually holds. She added that the Administration’s action in trying to control the media on allegations against Biden came after a federal judge determined that the Administration had violated the First Amendment in trying to control social media.
But Athey said “courage is contagious.” Essentially, woke activists gain power by shaming and intimidation, based on claims of victim status, or speaking for victims. Their power is especially strong if their targets accept the shaming and apologize for criticism or offense. This then serves an as example to others, and especially to the managers of an organization, that there will be painful consequences of not giving the activists their demands, or for criticizing them. When one person, and then more and more people stand up for truth or honest opinion, the atmosphere changes, and what was unquestionable becomes discussable, and intimidation becomes less likely. “It makes a huge, huge difference,” she said.