Should the media care about "normalizing"?

So the word of the now seems to be “normalizing”. As I understand it a call to abandon what is being perceived as false balance in the media. This NPR piece caught a lot of flak recently, as well as many media outlets that have been covering Trump and the “alt-right”, for giving a voice to radical ideas. What are your opinions on this?

NPR’s editor gave a strong response here and I’m inclined to agree. It’s not the media’s job to start calling people bigots or suggesting that their ideas are terrible. The readers need to be able to infer that for themselves with as little editorializing as possible. For example, the media using the term “alt-right” rather than “white nationalist” or “nazis” is fine. As long as they report on what the group believes and advocates for the term alt-right will soon carry the same weight as nazi without the needless conflation.

Disclaimer: I’m aware of that heil Trump video, so yes that group might actually be trying to be nazis. This post is more concerned with other groups which are calling themselves the alt-right or other names.

I’m not sure the media could avoid normalizing even if it wanted to. By covering something repeatedly, that thing moves more and more into the Overton Window of normalization. If Russia encroaches on its neighbors’ territory every day, that becomes no biggie, if China suppresses 10 protests a week that becomes standard, and if the alt-right says something racist and it’s covered by the media every day, that becomes the new normal.
It’s a bad-if-you-do and bad-if-you-don’t situation. Cover the alt-right and you normalize them. Don’t cover them and you allow their behavior to go unaddressed.

Except it doesn’t work out like that. In the real world it amounts to the media advocating for the neo-Nazis and other fanatics.

When the media pretends that false and true viewpoints are equal valid, it pushes public perception toward the dishonest side, and requires that the media knowingly cooperate in pushing the lies and suppressing the truth.

Plus even from a purely self interested viewpoint it’s ultimately self-destructive, as it aids in the agenda of people who want to eliminate free speech and the free press.

This all presupposes that you can give a generally satisfactory explanation of what viewpoints are valid, which you can’t. I know you think your side is always and obviously right, but so do most other people.

But I have a solution. Let’s stop pretending that “balanced reporting” is actually a thing. It’s not. Every reporter and every media organization has a slant. Better to be honest about your orientation and let people decide where they get their news.

Balanced reporting is an ideal. We should not abandon ideals because they are hard to live up to but we should try harder to live up to them. Every journalist should be aware of their orientation and then systematically try to eliminate it from their work.

But if a reporter is convinced that his or her orientation is in fact correct, they’d actually be doing a disservice to their readers/viewers/listeners by trying to be more “balanced.”

On a separate but related note, I think the odds of a savvy news consumer making sense of the news is greater than the odds of an entire news organization figuring out what is meant by “balanced” reporting, figuring out guidelines to reach said balance, then systematically and consistently following those guidelines.

OTOH there is no ethical or moral obligation to give folly or outright evil a “balanced treatment.” Being balanced and fair means identifying and treating Richard Spencer at all times like the racist lunatic fringe he is and giving him no more time or respect than that deserves.

Right. “Balanced” reporting about things like climate change give undue weight to anti-science and delusional nuts by trying to “balance” the coverage between the two sides, as if there’s a legitimate opposing viewpoint to be had.

There’s NOT a legitimate opposing viewpoint- there’s climate change, and then there are dangerous lunatics, ignorant fools, and evil bastards who seriously question it.

And treating it as an issue that’s not settled, and where both sides are equally valued normalizes the idea that there’s a debate to be had, which is entirely horrible.

So good journalists should strive, IMO, to reveal the truth, not necessarily to try and provide a “balanced” view.

If there is to be any sort of balance, it has to be balance that is based on the actual numbers, not just some idea that you should always represent both sides. If one side is better believed or has more evidence, then it gets more time. That is balance. And if we’re beyond 95% confidence, leave out the opposing view altogether.

Though, frankly, I think there is too much focus on balance and opinions and not on facts and reporting what we know to be true.

Still, I thought normalization was more about “don’t pretend that what Trump does is normal. Don’t pretend that the alt-right is normal. Report racism as racism. Report what Trump does the way you would about any other president.”

Think about the tax return issue. A candidate not releasing his tax returns was considered a non starter ten years ago. You’d be dead in the water if you refused.

Romney tried to get away with it, and finally relented, releasing a single year (the year when he knew he was running for president, and likely knew he would have to release it, so he likely paid way higher taxes than the years we didn’t see). This normalized not releasing tax returns and allowed Trump to not release a damn thing, and he only took a minimum of flack for it.

In 2020, releasing one’s tax returns is probably not expected anymore because the last two election cycles normalized the process.

The American electorate elected Trump. How do you normalize his movement more than that? The media can’t pretend this didn’t happen.