In a clip from her new podcast, Sarah Silverman argues conservative media outlets are less trustworthy than “news outlets that are beholden to truth.” This is deeply false but helpful as an example of a well-intentioned worldview that legitimizes legacy outlets despite their constant failures.
As much as she rankles the right, Silverman, it should be noted, is a genuine, Bernie-backing leftist and a thoughtful opponent of cancel culture’s excesses. (She’s also the only comedian I ever successfully snuck out of the house to see as a teenager.)
In the clip from her podcast, which snagged 185,000 views on Instagram and a like from Jennifer Aniston, Silverman says, “I would give more merit to news outlets that are beholden to the truth, that must have sources, that must have proof that what they’re saying is true, otherwise they suffer consequences. They can be sued.”
Silverman contrasts those outlets with outlets that “are not beholden to tell the truth.”
“They don’t have to have proven sources. If it’s proven wrong, it’s proven wrong. But they have very bold opinions and they have very bold pieces of news,” Silverman adds, specifically naming Breitbart and The Blaze.
“You’ve gotta just consider your sources and not just go with the people that are enforcing and fortifying a narrative that’s comfortable for you,” she concludes. “For me, I just want the truth, no matter how inconvenient.”
There’s a lot wrong with this argument. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that legacy media outlets are not “beholden to the truth.” They regularly report incorrect information without accountability.
They win Pulitzers for this demonstrably false journalism. They may issue basic corrections when they get easy details wrong, but when they recklessly use anonymous sources to push incorrect information for years, skew facts to fit an ideological framework, give platforms to irresponsible actors, and blur the distinction between news and opinion, there is zero accountability—outside conservative media, funnily enough.
Still, this is no longer merely a conservative issue. Many of Silverman’s fellow Bernie Sanders backers, including journalists like Glenn Greenwald and Michael Tracey, are increasingly focused on exposing the utter corruption of the corporate media.
That makes a lot of sense. If, like Silverman and Greenwald, you despise crony capitalism and outsized corporate influence in politics, you should be wary of corporate media, which pushes corporate interests. This is one of the many causes on which leftists and conservatives are increasingly aligned, even though the left’s social interests largely overlap with the media’s. (Who could forget The New York Times’s complete blindspot for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary surge?)
I don’t blame Silverman for misunderstanding the internal mechanics of conservative journalism at all, but her contention that conservative outlets are not “beholden to the truth” and don’t “have to have proven sources” or a fear of lawsuits is also deeply false. If anything, we’re more beholden to the truth because the entire corporate media has resources dedicated to tracking our every word in order to discredit us as individuals and as publications.
On top of that, conservative outlets are constantly subject to campaigns pressuring ideologically hostile corporations to deplatform us. That means we’re extremely serious about our sourcing and reporting.
The Russia collusion narrative is proof positive of this. As the corporate media smugly mocked and dismissed reporting in outlets like The Federalist for years, it turned out the legacy outlets were the ones misinforming the public. Our reporting was vindicated.
This is also true of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation circus. For all its blather about apples and bananas and facts versus fiction, the corporate media has not meaningfully reckoned with its abject failures in either case.
It’s true, of course, that conservative media lacks the resources of legacy corporate outlets. There are also bad actors on both sides of the ideological divide that traffic in poorly sourced reporting and narrative-driven hyperbole. But today’s corporate media is not “beholden to the truth” so much as they are beholden to the narrative.
The splintered media landscape means they’re increasingly beholden to an ideologically monolithic subscriber base and the ideologically monolithic corporate class. (Including Jeff Bezos!) Mass media is no longer designed to serve a mass audience. Alienating non-liberals is not a business problem, so corporate outlets we once thought of as neutral are now silos, and that affects their news sides too.
It’s very much worth responding to Silverman’s argument because I think her perspective represents what a lot of well-intentioned voters think about the press. We’re all exhausted by the constant swirl of bad information, amplified intolerably by social media, and don’t know who to trust. It’s easy to assume the outlets we all grew up with are still more credible.
In reality, however, they’ve collapsed into mouthpieces for the Democratic Party and its corporate allies, capable of some great work occasionally, but not aligned with the interests of the public overall and not capable of upholding the standards of objectivity they purport to revere.
This is an essential lesson of Russia collusion saga. Indeed, one of the corporate press’s great lies is that its conservative competitors are untrustworthy. But that’s exactly how they’re clinging to control — by poisoning well-intentioned news consumers against everyone else.