I am not the target audience for the television show "The View." The format, style, and what the show represents in terms of "soft news" and the long decline in the quality of America's public discourse does not appeal to me. However, many millions of other people feel differently. The show is beloved by its viewers who find the personalities and their banter comforting and informative. Alternatively, many of the show's viewers likely watch it because they love to get angry and upset at the hosts. In that role, "The View" is channeling large swaths of the public's thoughts, intuitions and moods – however vague and ill-formed those thoughts and feelings may be.
During a recent episode, the hosts debated how much attention the news media — and by extension the public as a whole — should pay to "extreme"," partisan" and "divisive" politicians and other public figures such as Marjorie Taylor Greene. Should they be ignored? Do they actually merit the large amount of news media attention they receive?
In discussing Greene, the Republican Party, and this "polarized" political environment host Whoopi Goldberg observed:
The people really want the truth, for a long time they thought that the media was very biased -- they thought that….So when somebody comes along and says the media is very biased, doesn't tell you the truth and then you sit with that person and you hear what they say and they are not telling the truth, you go wait a minute. People started going what is wrong here? I just think, you know, as a nation, we have an ability to make decisions and make the right people -- put the right people where they're supposed to be."
"Ratings are king," co-host Joy Behar explained. "That's the problem."
Alyssa Farah Griffin, the show's token conservative, shared how Greene is discussed during the show's planning meetings:
By the way, we talk a lot in our 'hot topics' meeting when we get the craziest thing Marjorie Taylor Greene said. We debate, "is there an actual value to talk about this?' The 'national divorce,'" we agreed it was dangerous and we need to take it on. We don't take it on if she's just being crazy.
The struggle against neofascism and illiberalism is fundamentally a moral one; to retreat from using moral language is to surrender to such civic evil.
In their discussion of Greene and how to cover such "extreme" and "controversial" figures, "The View" hosts cited a new study about news media coverage and political polarization that found "[h]yper-partisan politicians received more than 4x the coverage their bipartisan colleagues did around the 2022 midterm elections across the most-viewed online news sites and cable news programs as well as the nation's four morning shows."
I would add the following concerns about the role of the news media and Fourth Estate in the Age of Trump and beyond.
The American mainstream news media is limited in their capacity for sustained and effective pro-democracy work. Blinded by a commitment to obsolete norms such as "bothsidesism" "fairness" and "neutrality," the media often opts for horserace coverage that focuses in on the contest, personalities, and "winners and losers."
The news media and pundit class continue to avoid using moral language to describe the Republican fascists, Trumpists, and the larger "conservative" movement and the empirically documented harm they've caused to American society and the American people. The struggle against neofascism and illiberalism is fundamentally a moral one; to retreat from using moral language is to surrender to such civic evil. But as an institution, the American news media continues to be driven by profits, access and careerism. In total, the media is doing the work of elites in terms of agenda setting and policing the norms of "acceptable" public discourse instead of being committed to speaking truth to power.
The news media is a supply and demand business: the public has much more power than they realize to shape it.
Leading media outlets continue to give a platform to former Trump regime members and other neofascists, which in turn does the work of mainstreaming and normalizing such illiberal voices and perspectives.
Beyond improving the mainstream news media, what is ultimately needed is a commitment to renewing American's democratic culture. Citizens have a central role to play in that project. They need to become active and not passive, and to view democracy as a verb and not just a noun. Part of this project of democratic renewal involves understanding politics as something meaningful that is happening all the time and not just during a high-profile election or crisis. In addition, rank and file Americans need to learn the skills of democracy by participating in local civil society groups and other organizations and associations. The relationships and skills formed and learned in those spaces will make successful collective action in service to social democracy and other positive social change much more likely.
The American people also have an important role to play in being watchdogs and advocates in how they monitor and pressure the country's news media to go beyond 24/7 cycle of controversy and "hot takes" and conflict-driven stories and to instead focus on in-depth and sustained coverage that empowers and educates the public. The news media is a supply and demand business: the public has much more power than they realize to shape it.
But in this time of democracy crisis and need for democratic renewal and reckoning, it is imperative that the news media, the pundits, the political class, and everyday people all resist the siren calls and temptations of normalcy bias and other forms of wish-casting that are amplified by false equivalence and the uncritical use of language such as "hyper-partisan" and "polarization".
To wit, in explaining their new research on the news media and polarization, even the researchers cited by "The View" signal to this perilous dynamic with how they do "not make value judgments of the politicians nor does it evaluate positions, ideology, or other policy conditions." But alas, the defenders of American and global democracy must in fact do exactly the opposite in what will be a very long struggle to defeat the Republican fascists and their allies.
These are not normal times where such technical language as "partisanship" and "polarization" assumed that the country's mainstream political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, liberals and conservatives, simply occupied different positions along a political continuum where there was mostly agreement and consensus about the inherent value of the country's democratic norms, values, and institutions. By comparison, today's Republican Party have full-on embraced neofascism, authoritarianism, racism, white supremacy, misogyny, bigotry, anti-intellectualism, anti-rationality and political cultism.
Contrary to what "The View" would suggest, now is the time to be hyper vigilant and hyper focused on the likes of Greene, Boebert, Trump and the like. They win through exhaustion and normalization, which is facilitated by how the public and the news media and other opinion-leaders too often decide it is better to ignore such loud and obnoxious and threatening voices instead of treating them as the existential dangers they truly are.