Bad Good Media, Good Bad Media

This week I’ll be doing something a little different. I’ll be looking at an example of bad media from an outlet I consider to be typically good, and a good example of media from an outlet I typically consider bad. In this case, I’ll be looking at a bad article from The Atlantic, and a good article from Buzzfeed.

I’ll start with The Atlantic. I usually find The Atlantic to be pretty good. Their articles tend to be well researched, their journalists are by and large diligent and ethical, everything is typically all well and good. But this article, about the tv series “The Romanoffs” is, well, bad. The article title purports that the show “Defends the Men of #MeToo”, which is a claim that is certain to excite controversy. What does this statement mean? The men of #MeToo, at least as far as this tv show is concerned, are men who claim to be victims of false accusations of misconduct, particularly sexual misconduct. Not, I would like to point out, male victims of sexual misconduct. As the article points out, the show’s producer Matthew Weiner is accused of sexual misconduct, telling a woman under him that she “owed it to him to let him see her naked”. Whether or not the accusation is false is unclear, but Weiner’s denial of “I don’t remember saying that, it’s not impossible that I said it” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. (https://www.vulture.com/2018/09/matthew-weiner-discusses-sexual-harassment-allegation.html) So what does The Atlantic have to say? Is it defending these men who may have been falsely accused, or is it critical of Weiner’s portrayal? It’s pretty clear in the article that Weiner is being criticized, calling the episode “self-indulgent”, and the arguments Weiner presents in the episode “clumsy and lacking in imagination”. So far, I have no complaints. Weiner is very obviously trying to make things about himself, trying to discredit the suffering of thousands of victims, and is looking for undeserved forgiveness, so we should absolutely call him out on this. So why is this a bad use of media? I have one big reason. The article says that Weiner brings up a good point, one asking “What are men who are actually falsely accused supposed to do? Where do they turn to avoid having their lives ruined unjustly?”. Now, men being falsely accused of sexual assault is incredibly rare, false accusations of even more serious sex crimes like rape are essentially unheard of. But this is a fair question. What are the solutions for people who are falsely accused, or for innocent people who are afraid that they might be falsely accused? The article raises these questions but provides no answers. To me, that is absolutely unacceptable. You don’t need to have a flawless, bulletproof answer, but you gotta have something. Not just a question followed by a shrug of the shoulders. It undermines your point to have nothing to add. I absolutely agree with the article’s point that Weiner is being a selfish jerk and that men looking for forgiveness from women who have been victims is ridiculous, but no discussion is created, no progress is made when you pose questions and leave them unanswered. I just read the article, nod in agreement, and move on. Someone who disagrees gets to say “Well, these people don’t have a solution, clearly they don’t care about people on the other side!” on moves on unconvinced of the article’s point. That makes this a bad piece of media. Now, in order to avoid being a hypocrite, let me briefly pose my own solution to this issue. Eliminate the defensive mentality. Men have no right to claim to be the victims of a movement that is empowering long oppressed and victimized women, and those who do are grifters at best, but more likely just total scum. So women and those of us who are not women, who support #MeToo should just push harder, out more abusers, be more disruptive, louder, and scarier. How will this help? If we manage to actually change society for the better, to make this kind of abuse something that is rare, the male victim mentality dies with the abuse. If that means that some men have to be scared, maybe even some have to be falsely accused, then so be it. That is an absolutely acceptable consequence because the time where such things are a risk will be finite.

Now, on to the Buzzfeed article. I tend to have a negative view of Buzzfeed. I call them “clickbait”, “filler”, “fluff news”, etc. Like cantrips in Magic, their articles are nothing but air, they do nothing. But digging with all that air (this metaphor is getting worse and worse) does sometimes get you to something with real impact. And this article is absolutely excellent. This is an article that memorializes the victims of the Thousands Oaks mass shooting. This article tells the stories of the confirmed victims of this senseless act, sharing the love and kindness that these people brought into the world, and how cruel it is that these people have been taken from us, from their families and friends. But this article does one thing in particular that I absolutely love, something that more news outlets need to do in the wake of tragedies like this. The name and face of the shooter are never given. The shooter is mentioned very briefly as having been a marine who had been looked at for mental health issues, (I would prefer that even this is not mentioned, as using mental health as a scapegoat for institutional causes of violence is a big problem, but one can’t have everything) but is not named or shown. That is very important, we should not give a platform to scum, they should not have their faces publicized, their ideas should not be spread, because that’s what they want. People like this want attention, in this case it seems likely to me that the shooter wanted to draw attention to some kind of fight they got into at the bar, but other events have more insidious motives. And those monsters deserve no podium, no stage. I’m honestly shocked to see Buzzfeed joining the charge on this, but very glad regardless. We should focus on the heroes that these events reveal, and how to prevent these events, not the monsters who perpetrate them.