Discover more from Oliver Willis Explains
The Media Wants Bread & Circuses, And Liberals Should Give It To Them
The Higher Cause Behind Calling Out Mitch McConnell's Racism
In an ideal world, the mainstream media would independently find and cover important stories on their own, led only by the journalistic impulse to shed light and attention on topics of import. This is not the world we live in nor has this been the case forever.
The notion of "if it bleeds, it leads" has been a feature of journalism ever since the practice was invented, and we are long past the time where we should be living in a fantasy world believing otherwise.
Thanks for reading Oliver Willis Explains! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Probably the biggest difference between how things are covered now versus how they used to be reported on is that the press requires even more handholding. It's not just a matter of being attracted to what "bleeds," the press has to simultaneously be sold a package of information to deliver to their audience encapsulating the players and reasons behind the bleeding.
Otherwise what happens, as it so often does, is that spectacular things occur and the left is left asking "why isn't this being covered?" To many on the left, the importance of stories are self-evident. They believe the media intuitively gets this and so the coverage will naturally follow.
But we're long past this as well. Everything has to be put together with a neat bow, and that bow is conflict.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans." On paper, one of the highest-ranking Republican officials in America distancing Black voters from the population at large should have been enough of a story. But it wasn't.
The comment attracted criticism, from figures like Rep. Bobby Rush, DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, Kentucky Senate candidate Charles Booker, the NAACP, along with thousands on Twitter using the hashtag #MitchPlease.
The criticism generated coverage, to the point where a clearly exasperated McConnell was forced to publicly respond to the hue and cry over his racial demagoguery. "I have had African American speech writers, schedulers, office managers over the years," said McConnell, all but telling the country that some of his best friends are Black.
The episode was a microcosm of how the media truly works, attracted to coverage of an important issue – race and voting rights – through controversy and conflict. Traditionally liberals have tried to get coverage of those topics by soberly providing the media and the public with reports and well-intentioned research designed to tell a story and prompt discussion over solutions.
But none of that works as well as a bloody media fight.
The right understands this feature of the media well and is in a constant search for a fight with the left. They have so absorbed this lesson that most of the right has devolved into generating fake fights and phony controversies based on bad faith interpretations and selectively edited audio and video. They've built an entire media machine with Fox News at its center to provide the mainstream press with a constant stream of conflict to cover.
Long term, we should probably seek to undermine this entire perverted system, though I believe human beings will innately always be driven to conflict-centered coverage. In the short term, this is the battlefield and we've been in a war for over 60 years with a much more prepared opposition.
Noisemaking is a weapon. Generating conflict is a necessary tool to advance progressive ideas and solutions into national debate. Shying away from that, hoping for high-minded conversation and the press to independently focus on what matters, is a fool's errand that will hurt in the long run.
The press is already feasting on bread and circuses, but right now only one side of the political divide is giving them a steady diet. It's time for liberals to step up to the plate or good causes are doomed.