, 23 tweets, 5 min read
Yesterday I did something I usually don't. I posted in response to a prominent politician's tweet. The responses it elicited from Trump defenders were notable in how similar they were. But these weren't bots. They were real humans who'd been catechized.
I use the term "catechism" advisedly, because it's often had an anti-Catholic inflection. That's not how I mean it. When I say these folks have been catechized by right wing media, what I mean is they've internalized an answer for everything.
The purpose of a catechism is not to ask open-ended questions with a range of possible answers, but rather to take the conclusion as assumed, and then equip the person being catechized with the proper way to respond to any potential counter-arguments or countervailing facts.
It's not only right wing media that functions as an inoculating catechism. There are plenty of media outlets across the spectrum that do this as well...but this is not a case of "both sides do it the same." Catechistic media is disproportionately a conservative phenomenon.
Indeed, I've found it nearly impossible to find a conservative media outlet that does not begin from a predetermined conclusion "Trump and GOP good" & then work backward to provide justifying information to support that conclusion. This is the Breitbart/InfoWars/Dailywire model.
Fox News (founded in the mid 90s) was always kind of like this, but it has become even more catechistic since 2016. One key pioneer of catechistic media, of course, was right wing talk radio. Rush, the voice that launched a million dittoheads, is just the most well-known.
Catechistic media works because it activates our identities. It provides a clear us vs. them narrative and cements our sense that we are in the right, fighting the good fight. It's always been with us and probably always will.
But catechistic media is manipulative and coercive. It intentionally hides complexity from us. It's usually in service of some agenda that is never stated in a forthright manner. It's goal is not to liberate us from our ignorance, but to cement our commitment to a cause.
What I encountered in many of the Trump-defenders I engaged with is that to them all media was the same. It was all catechistic, only some was conservative (and thus true) while the rest was liberal (and thus fake news).
I have no idea how to do this, but it strikes me that our political culture desperately needs to find ways to distinguish between perspectival, but evidence-based media on one hand, and deliberately biased, catechistic media on the other.
This project from @propublica strikes me as an excellent example of what perspectival, but not catechistic media looks like. Start with a question--What's up with Trump's business & how does it intersect with his presidency?--& seek evidence to answer it. propublica.org/series/trump-i…
@propublica Serious question. Can anyone point me to a conservative journalist who has broken legitimate news stories by uncovering facts through research and/or reporting? There are tons of hoaxters like James O'Keefe and Jacob Wohl and Laura Loomer, etc etc...and loads of dank meme makers.
@propublica But where are the conservative counterparts to the folks at Propublica or any number of other outlets where folks are doing tremendous research uncovering the corruption of this administration.
I don't think it's accidental that no conservative counterpart to evidence-based "liberal" media really exists, because the job of journalists is to hold power accountable, and in the age of Trump, the job of conservatives has been to shield power from accountability.
I read and listen to a lot of conservative media because I teach a course on the history of conservatism. The thing that most enrages me about almost all of it is that they almost never pause to say "if there was a liberal here, what would they say about this?"
And in the rare moments when they do that, they generally offer an intentionally dumb, laughable version of "what a liberal would say" that resembles what no actual person would ever think.
This, to me, is the hallmark of catechistic media. It doesn't seek to inform you or confront you with good, alternative arguments...rather, it seeks to cement you in your belief that your group is in the right, and everyone who's not in your group is a bonehead.
I also listen to a lot of media on the left end of the spectrum as well. Some of it is pretty catechistic as well, and I find that just as annoying and generally avoid it.
But there are many progressive media outlets out there that pause to ask "what would the conservative argument be?" They will also pause to ask "what do the scholars who write about this think?" And generally the answer is "it's much more complicated than the politicians say."
The only right wing media I've encountered in the past few years that seeks to leave the audience with a more nuanced, more ambivalent, less convicted understanding of the world is that produced by Never Trumpers.
Ultimately, the folks in the GOP who should know better have allowed their party, over a very long stretch of time but especially since 2016, to be taken over by cynical propagandists who make no pretense to enlighten their audience, but seek only to inflame & enrage for ratings.
As I said before, I don't know what the solution is other than to assume that our fellow humans have an interest in not being duped, and that if we help them distinguish between bad faith catechists and good faith journalists, then maybe we can slowly bend the curve.
Democracies require many things to flourish...but a healthy media ecosystem is definitely high on the list of necessary ingredients. Right now, conservative media feels like a cancer eating away at our political culture, with a huge assist from one of our two major parties.
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