Monday, April 1, 2024

The Fourth Estate and the "Deep State"

Watching the NBC News saga last week when Ronna McDaniel, the former Republican National Committee Chairman, was hired and quickly fired, made me think of all the years that I had studied journalism and taught debate to high school students.  

Fresh in my mind was the importance I learned of identifying fallacies in reasoning and of making sure that both sides of an argument were presented. Who would have thought that anybody would disagree with these standards as being the norm? Of course, we have always had tabloids that have sought to discredit the norms. Think of Hearst’s empire and his ability to grab the attention of the public with sensational but not necessarily truthful stories. There are myriad other examples. Hitler’s propaganda guru Joseph Geobbels was a master at luring the crowd and getting them to believe that Jews were “vermin.”


The question is when to intervene. And that’s the basis for what happened last week when NBC News hired Ms. McDaniel, a supporter of Donald Trump who inferred a belief that the 2020 election was stolen.


Though the leadership all agreed to hire Ms. McDaniel, many among the ranks of the news show hosts protested hiring a person that they considered to be against the normal standards, that they thought were American and adhered to the concept of true democracy. How could they dialog with someone who didn’t agree with them that the election had been stolen?


My first reaction was to take Ms. McDaniel’s side. I wanted to hear why she believed the election was stolen. But then I realized that she probably was never going to be swayed to think differently. I think of her and her acolytes as what we used to say in debate class when we talked about reasoning fallacies as getting on the “Bandwagon,” i.e. following the crowd without facts to back up the theory.


We are lucky in the US that we still have a relatively free press that allows different networks and news media to have different opinions. The alternative is to live in an authoritarian world where only the government’s beliefs can be aired in the media.


NBC by hiring Ms. McDaniel was allowing their journalistic standards to be lowered, yet on the other hand, they were refusing to face the fact that many citizens are election deniers.   


On the money side, I can see why the president of NBC would want to hire Ms. McDaniel. She has name recognition and would attract viewers other than the network’s loyal liberal leaning followers, maybe even woo some away from their competitors such as the right leaning Fox News. 


And then there’s the problem of the Social Network where anyone can sling their venom and totally ignore the journalistic standards I learned in school and that I accepted without reservation.


As a student of the media, I am sad more than anything. I am sad that human nature is rearing its ugly head and embracing conspiracy theories such as that the election was stolen. I am sad that our constituency has not relied more on the importance of the credible press and the need to educate themselves. I am sad that our government seems to be having their own problems convincing the populace that they are not a “deep state” and that our government does work.


The fact that the staff at NBC spoke up against Ms. McDaniel is their right. The fact that NBC News tried to mirror the country’s climate by hiring a spokesman who sided with the election deniers was a good thought that didn’t work. 


It’s up to the citizens of our country to sort it out. Do we want a country where informed citizens have a right to participate or do we want a country where we put our trust in a person who speaks the loudest and is the cleverest at wooing people no matter how sound his or her ideas are?


Stay tuned.