On 19 February Hillsdale College hosted a talk by Sharyl Attkinson. The talk was entitled Slanted Journalism and the 2020 Election. It is more than happenstance that in December she published a book called Slanted that currently boasts on Amazon a 5-star rating from nearly a thousand reviews. Five stars/ nearly a thousand/ three months: those, taken together, are three very sexy numbers. Let’s learn more.
They don’t give us the identity of the gentleman that introduces her. I have fished around and have a theory, but it’s not firm enough for me to commit to a name. Nevertheless I can say that it is a professionally delivered introduction. He reads it from a script, which is regrettable but understandable given the concentration of detail and not his subject. He has an attempt at humour via a dig at CNN, but in the absence of laughter (understandable so early in the proceedings) he adroitly throws the humour away. He’s good. He is also very tall, or Attkinson is very short, because while he towers above them the microphones almost hide Attkinson when she arrives to begin her speech at 1:30.
They later find her something to stand on, which is quite important given that she needs to see over the lectern to a slave-screen which displays to her the images being projected to the audience. She is too professional to crane around to look at the big screen herself: speakers who do that surrender a little of the audience’s focus each time.
So having established that he has many slides, let us also recognise that she has a script. These are both things that I generally deplore but I have to concede that her narrative route is a very tight one that would not easily forgive digression. (I sympathise, but her spontaneous answers during the Q&A are just as tight but now invigorated by the spontaneity.) Most importantly, her slides are not pretty pictures but hard evidence. Hard evidence is one of the prime thrusts of her message.
Hard journalism requires hard evidence. Without it, it ceases to be journalism but activism, cheap, sloppy propaganda. Attkinson’s case is that for several years evidence in U.S. political journalism has gone serially AWOL. The incidents she quotes, backed by hard evidence, are shaming; and she repeatedly points out that there are very many more in her book.
For my part I lay at the door of slanted journalism the blame for much of the stark political polarisation we see today. Readers or viewers who are uninterested or just too busy to probe further, will imbibe slanted or even mendacious reporting in the belief that it is true. Those who are less gullible, and take the trouble to drill to the raw data will be outraged by what the world is being fed, and will often over-react to compensate. Society then, rather than constructively reflecting and debating shades of grey, entrenches in black and white.
Journalists holding to the standards championed by Attkinson used to be the norm. They are now an endangered species.
Attkinson gives hard evidence.