When conservative radio talker Charlie Sykes announced in early October that he was quitting after 25 years on the air, he said he didn’t want to be part of a conservative movement that would fall in line behind a sexist, racist, xenophobic fascist. He warns that all of us alternative-media types have participated in undermining one of the greatest defenses against Trumpism, mainstream journalism:
One staple of every radio talk show was, of course, the bias of the mainstream media. This was, indeed, a target-rich environment. But as we learned this year, we had succeeded in persuading our audiences to ignore and discount any information from the mainstream media. Over time, we’d succeeded in delegitimizing the media altogether — all the normal guideposts were down, the referees discredited.
That left a void that we conservatives failed to fill. For years, we ignored the birthers, the racists, the truthers and other conspiracy theorists who indulged fantasies of Mr. Obama’s secret Muslim plot to subvert Christendom, or who peddled baseless tales of Mrs. Clinton’s murder victims. Rather than confront the purveyors of such disinformation, we changed the channel because, after all, they were our allies, whose quirks could be allowed or at least ignored.
We destroyed our own immunity to fake news, while empowering the worst and most reckless voices on the right [Charles J. Sykes, “Charlie Sykes on Where the Right Went Wrong,” New York Times, 2016.12.15].
I take plenty of my own shots at South Dakota’s mainstream media, which sometimes huffs and puffs about minor issues, under-covers important issues, giving lunkhead Republicans more ink that Democratic rebuttals of that lunkheadery, and choosing profits over quality writing. But I also recognize that South Dakota’s mainstream media does many things right, like rejecting paid propaganda polls and supporting Bob Mercer’s knowledgeable and unparalleled reporting on state government. (Bob! We ache at your absence! Get well before Session!)
I have never tried to make the media out to be bigger liars than Donald Trump or Ben Carson. I don’t want people to take an either-or approach to mainstream and alternative media; I want them to go both-and. In my ideal modern media model, we all still get news from the networks and the big newspapers, but we read critically, and we augment our reading with the independent commentary we can find in a blogosphere and podcastosphere that provide factual information from good-faith neighbors. I want mainstream and alternative media that work together, that are transparent with the backgrounds and biases, and that say to readers with sources and hyperlinks, “Here, see for yourself.”
By recognizing the media gap that his industry opened for liars and schemers, Sykes helps us recognize that our mantra in alternative media must not be, “Trust no one but me.” That’s Donald Trump’s line, and that’s totalitarianism. Our mantra must be, “Trust no one. Check, cross-check, and trust many.”