What is a liberal? What is the liberal media?
I noticed on Twitter that Dave Rubin, an online personality known for criticism of what he calls the “regressive left” and political correctness, is expressing outrage over an article in Mother Jones that appeared to refer to his show as “far right.” The article didn’t focus on Rubin, but referred to him in passing as one of a number of right-wing personalities that has used the crowdfunding site Patreon.
Rubin ridiculed the notion of being grouped on the right, noting that he is happily married to a man, opposes the death penalty, supports marijuana legalization, legal euthanasia and single-payer health care.
I’ll take Rubin at his word and assume that he indeed holds all of those positions and even that he regards himself as a liberal. The thing is, he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about those positions. The main issue he talks about is what he perceives as liberal intolerance of competing ideas. The great majority of the guests on his show are conservatives who come to share their agreement with his point of view on that matter. So it’s understandable that somebody familiar with his online content would conclude he is a conservative.
After being accused of libel by Rubin and his fans, the Mother Jones reporter updated his article to include Rubin’s objection and later made a small correction so that Rubin was no longer referred to as a right-winger. Rubin is not satisfied, however, and has continued to call for a retraction and apology.
Rubin has predictably highlighted the incident as more evidence that the left has become exclusionary and intolerant.
But what is more interesting is that he has simultaneously held it up as evidence that “journalism is dead” because of such supposedly intolerant and unethical conduct by hack liberal reporters.
In fact, the frustration of being labeled as something you’re not is one that most journalists are familiar with. Reporters at mainstream news organizations are regularly dismissed by a large portion of the country and body politic as lying liberals. It’s not because they are openly expressing political opinions, but because their coverage –– the issues, events and people they choose to report on–– is perceived as reflecting a liberal bias.
The truth is that most reporters are probably more liberal than the average American. However, contrary to the right-wing narrative of the mainstream media, most reporters did not get into journalism with the goal of advancing their political preferences. They like the idea of informing the community and holding the powerful (whoever that may be) accountable. To put it this way, I can’t imagine there were too many (if any) New York Times reporters who voted for Trump, but that certainly didn’t stop the paper from sinking Hillary Clinton’s candidacy before it even began by breaking the email story in the spring of 2015.
If anything, what is killing journalism is intolerance from the right, not the left. By regularly portraying journalists of enemies of the people, the right has convinced millions of Americans that they should discard the messy, complex world that real reporting conveys in favor of the simplistic, “alternative facts” reality created by talk radio personalities and partisan bloggers.