11 Apr 2022

Fears "woke" media is undermining democracy

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 3:10 pm on 11 April 2022

Journalism is now dominated by highly educated elites who crusade about racial matters in order to generate outrage while protecting their own economic interests, says a US writer.

Newsweek magazine deputy opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon has a new book; Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.

America is not as divided or as polarised as the media would have you believe, she told Jesse Mulligan.

Batya Ungar-Sargon

Batya Ungar-Sargon Photo: Screenshot

“I spent a lot of time in the south during the Trump years and was shocked, shocked I tell you, by what I found there.

“I expected to find it just teeming with polarisation and racism. And what I found was exactly what the polling shows, which is that so many of the cultural battles of the left, of generations past, the left had simply won; and nobody had noticed.”

Over the most important matters of race equality, marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, the US is no longer divided, she says.

“And yet, at exactly the time that our great divisions around the most important questions about equality had resolved, the media wants us to believe that we've never been more divided.

“And that's really the question that I sought to answer with my book, why that contradiction? Why was the media amping up a culture war around race and gender at a time when Americans have never been less divided over those issues?”

The problem media is not “hyper focused” on finding solutions to the remaining areas in which systemic racism still exists, she says.

“What they have done is redefined what counts as racism to encompass an ever growing, metastasizing set of behaviours and things that you can't really solve.

“I mean, they've convinced themselves that America's DNA is racist, which means that it can never be fixed, right? Because you can't change your DNA.”

This is a cop out, Ungar-Sargon says.

“Sociologists in America have tracked a shift in white liberal public opinion, to where white liberals are now more extreme in their views on race, and what counts as racism, than black and Latino Americans.”

White liberals are presuming to know best, she says.

“White liberals have taken the lead and shifted the discourse from dealing with the actual problems that the black community will tell you they have, to dealing with a set of things that are really very ephemeral, very academic in nature, and actually perpetuate the economic interests of those white liberal elites.”

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Photo: supplied

Ungar-Sargon, who is a Marxist, says the book is a battle cry on behalf of the working class.

“I feel that white liberal elites have gotten very rich, and they've abandoned the working class.”

Journalists used to be working class and they saw their job as being outside of power looking in but are now part of the system, she says.

“They're part of the elites, they go to the same colleges as billionaires, their children go to the same schools as politicians, they are now within the elites writing for other elites, creating content for other elites.”

She is a frequent guest on conservative television because of her “anti-woke” views, she says.

“I'm a Marxist and so when I get invited to go on conservative shows, which I do often because they don't like wokeness, I always talk about being a Marxist and I talk about how their criticism the Democrats have abandoned the black community mean nothing if you're not showing up for them.

“So, I'm happy to go to these right-wing spaces and spread Marxism and class consciousness and speak up for the working class who have very socially conservative opinions, but have very economically liberal opinions, as opposed to liberal elites who have very socially liberal opinions and very economically conservative opinions.”

The book is full of data, she says, that might make for some uncomfortable reading by liberals – something she experienced herself a few years back.

“It was a Yale study that found that there was a difference between how white liberals and how white conservatives talk to black and Latino Americans.

“And the difference was white liberals dumbed down their vocabulary, when they meet a black person and white conservatives don't do this.

“I read this in 2018 and I thought, this is an indictment of my entire worldview. Because I immediately recognised myself and everyone I knew in that, and that impulse to dumb down your speech that comes from that generous place of like, we must help these people.”

She offers more data which shows wealthy Americans are now the Democrat base.

“The book is really chock full of data, backing up every single claim about the ways in which journalists got rich, and as they got rich, they got woke, so they could avoid talking about the ways in which they had benefited from economic inequality.

“In America, the Liberals live in the richest, most expensive cities and the nicest neighbourhoods, in the whitest neighbourhoods.”

This political shift happened in the last 20 years, she says.

“We don't talk about it because it's embarrassing to us on the left that we tend to be the ones benefiting from economic inequality, while we think that we're on the side of the little guy, but if we don't talk about it, we're not going to fix it.”

In 2020, Wall Street gave more money to the Democrats than Republicans for the first time, she says.

“The Democrats, they've got Wall Street, they've got Silicon Valley, they've got all of the professors, all the lawyers voting for them.

“The majority of people who work in finance, the majority of people who are financial planners, bankers, this is now the Democratic base, people who have a graduate degree and this is true across the western world.”

Ungar-Sargon believes if we engage more broadly these tribal cliques would be less likely to form.

“Find voices that you can trust, people from across the spectrum, remembering what it feels like to respect somebody that you disagree with.

“I personally believe that going to church, going to synagogue, going to volunteer, joining social groups, where you're going to meet people that you disagree with is crucial to the fabric of a healthy democracy, not allowing the smugness that so many people with elite education have.”

White liberals should have the humility to recognise how they are beneficiaries of an unequal system.

“My book really is about contempt and it's a plea that we try to have less of it.”

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