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Wanted: some serious conservatism in the media

Headlines of New York newspapers over several weeks. Richard B. Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images

Headlines of New York newspapers over several weeks. Richard B. Levine/SIPA USA/PA Images

August 16, 2017   3 mins

Jeff Jarvis describes himself as “an entrenched member of the Eastern liberal media establishment” (for non-American readers, “Eastern” is a reference to the east coast of the United States, in particular the big metropolitan centres like New York and Washington).

Nevertheless, he dedicates a blogpost to the following vision:

“America needs a new, fact-based, journalistic, and intelligent conservative news outlet to report (and not merely comment upon) the nation and the world from the worldview of the right. This is a solid business opportunity. And the timing is right.”

But if he’s such a liberal, why does he want a stronger voice for conservatism? It comes down to two things – balance and trust:

“Establishment mainstream media are liberal. The vast majority of journalists are liberal. Journalism schools are liberal. Our failure to be honest and open about that is a key cause of the distrust that has overtaken news media, particularly from the right.”

But hang-on, isn’t America already (in)famous for the vigour of its rightwing media outlets? Yes, but Jarvis sees these as more of an anti-media, created by the collapse of balance and trust in the establishment:

“We in liberal media left a vacuum that was eagerly filled first on radio by Rush Limbaugh et al, then on cable TV by Fox News, and then on the net by Breitbart, Infowars and worse… They gave a hearing and a voice to the frustration of much of America that mainstream media could not hear, would not empathize with, and did not reflect. They also skewed the news and degraded the public conversation, fueling polarization and exploiting hostility.”

Jarvis omits to mention a number of serious conservative publications including the American Conservative, First Things, the New Criterion and the New Atlantis – perhaps because they don’t fit his definition of mainstream conservatism:

“For the purposes of this venture, what does it mean to be conservative? I would return to basics: a belief in fiscal conservatism, smaller government, support for business, support for trade, and a strong military. Leave the culture wars aside as an invention of the divisive edge.”

This is the weakest point in Jarvis’s argument. There’s a lot more to the basics of conservatism than economic liberalism with aircraft carriers. Serious conservative arguments on social policy need to be heard every bit as much as they do on economic or defence policy. To characterise conservative views on the family, immigration or education as “an invention of the divisive edge” is to forget how the divisions opened up in the first place. If liberals want an end to culture wars then they should be willing to enter into a respectful dialogue instead of demanding the silent surrender of the other side.

The importance of the social dimension is, in fact, implicit in Jarvis’s blueprint for a seriously conservative media venture:

“I would hire a smart and responsible editor with assured independence. As for the journalists…  I would not impose an impossible ideological litmus test. Instead, I would insist that candidates go listen deeply to the people this venture aims to serve — the unemployed factory worker who is not touched by the good news of today’s low unemployment rates; the families who worry about the quality of their children’s education… the victims of America’s opioid epidemic— bringing back evidence of their needs, a cogent expression of their goals, and a sense of the journalism that will help them.”

Sounds good to me — as does the conclusion of his argument:

“…the aim is to inform the nation and be informed by it, to gain the trust of those who lost trust so as to have intellectually honest conversations based on sometimes uncomfortable truths. The aim is to help reclaim democracy.

“Who’s game?”

Well, UnHerd may not be on the scale that Jarvis envisages – yet. Nor are we focused on America alone. But, yes, we’re up for the challenge.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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