On December 9, Idaho Statesman editor Christina Lords tweeted a screenshot of what she unironically called, “fan mail”. The “fan mail” was a long, angry complaint and threat towards Ms. Lords and others in the media regarding the coverage of the pandemic.
First, we should reject threats of any kind, they aren’t helpful and they are wrong. And while the threat was wrong, the writer could not have done a better job illustrating a point I’ve been making for more than a month; the mainstream media is not the right messenger for public health. In fact, I’d argue that not only is the mainstream media the wrong messenger, it is actually harmful to the dissemination of public health’s message.
For more than the past decade, and likely longer, the mainstream media has tried (poorly) to profit off the practice of bashing conservatives and conservative thought. While some would argue that the media has always had a liberal bias, a vast majority of media members today (most can’t honestly be called journalists), don’t even try to hide their disdain for conservatives. They list their pronouns in their profiles, they socialize with one another and liberal politicians and activists, and they use their platform to attack conservatives at every possible turn.
This level of conservative opposition reached a fever pitch with President Trump. This fact was the feature on a recent Full Measure with Sharyl Attiksson. Ms. Attiksson is not just another “right-wing nut job”; rather she is an accomplished writer with many mainstream journalism awards to her name. And while the media has bashed conservatives and conservatism relentlessly, the trust in the media has continued to erode, especially by members of the public who feel attacked. A September 30, 2020 Gallup poll reports that nearly ninety percent of self-identified Republicans do not trust the media very much or do not trust the media at all.
So does it come as a surprise to anyone that in “red states” there has been widespread rejection of public health messages pushed by the media? And yet, the media has doubled down and many have
even turned to name-calling such as a December 8 editorial board opinion in the Idaho Statesman. In that opinion, they claim that those who are rejecting the message or promoting something different are
being dangerous. Wrong. In fact, it is the media that is being dangerous. It is the media that is to blame for the needless deaths of many of our fellow Idahoans. These deaths are on your hands, media. Rather than contrition and accepting responsibility for their role, the media blames others. This is unsurprising because the media is classically thin-skinned and incapable of accepting responsibility.
The only way this gets any better is if the media changes its attitudes towards conservatives and purges from within those who insist on being activists rather than follow the Cronkite standards of journalism.
You don’t get to ninety percent distrust of the media overnight and you won’t reverse that trend overnight, either.
As for what public health can do, they can disavow the mainstream media and seek alternative media streams to help them disseminate their important message. Public health can also demonstrate that it is not just listening, but also hearing the sincere concerns of the public, even (especially) those who have not bought-in to their messaging. That would be in the public’s interest and might save some lives.
Branden Durst, MPA, LPast
Former Idaho State Senator