With the congressional elections almost here, it seems like most of the media has elevated inflation to the number one issue in news coverage.
Turn on your TV. Open your newspaper. Stories abound about how John and Jane Q Citizen are having to dig deeper in their wallets at the gas pump, in the grocery store, and everywhere else.
Inflation is big news. But most stories downplay what’s causing inflation (inflation and gas prices are both actually ticking down, if slowly). They include lingering effects of the global COVID pandemic, supply chain problems, Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and OPEC cutbacks in oil drilling.
The media’s job isn’t to boost one party or the other in news coverage. But by not giving news consumers the full story, the media is, however unwittingly, reinforcing Republican claims that inflation is the fault of President Biden and the Democrats. (The Republican plan to beat inflation includes taking a gander at gutting Social Security and Medicare.)
Writing in Salon, Heather Digby Parton says that by concentrating on the economy, the media is dangerously missing the mark. The survival of American democracy is the most critical issue, she argues.
The Trump-led Republican party is sponsoring “a full-fledged racist and antisemitic festival of hate … as the primary motivator to get their base out to vote,” she wrote, adding, “Republicans have gone back to the deep well of racism once again, obviously believing that’s what motivates their base. They aren’t wrong.”
All the while, Parton argued, the media is trying to treat the midterms as “a standard issues-based election.” She challenged, “This is an election like no other and it’s got nothing to do with ‘issues’ in the normal sense. The Republicans are intent upon electing hundreds of election deniers to office, and are bent on destroying our election system as we’ve known it for the last half-century or more.”
Biden has called Trumpism “semi-fascism.” Writing in Salon, Amanda Marcotte said: “There is no need to dance around the subject: Trump is a fascist, as evidenced by his Mussolini-style effort to overthrow the U.S. government and install himself illegally in power. ... Even with all the heavy caveating, it’s smart for Biden to get that word ‘fascist’ out there. It’s crucial for getting Americans to truly understand the threat we’re facing from Trump and his fascist goons.”
Parton didn’t pull punches either: “The MAGA movement is openly assaulting democracy. Yet as we head into the final days of this campaign, mainstream media keeps trying to portray this as just another election.
“Gas prices are going up and down and Republicans are running scary ads with Black and brown people and threatening to cut Social Security, all of which is important and must be addressed. But none of that will matter if these authoritarian, anti-democratic election deniers win their races. There is nothing ordinary about any of this. I don’t know whether the voters understand the true implication of this election, and I’m not sure the media does either.”
Parton is hardly alone in sounding the alarm that American democracy hangs in the balance on November 8. “For the most part, news organizations are not making democracy-under-siege a central focus of the work they present to the public,” Margaret Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post in January. “That American democracy is teetering is unquestionable.”
She praised The Atlantic, a centrist magazine, for devoting a whole December, 2019 issue, “to the topic of democracy under threat.” Yet she wrote that “in general, this pro-democracy coverage is not being ‘centered’ by the media writ large. It’s occasional, not regular; it doesn’t appear to be part of an overall editorial plan that fully recognizes just how much trouble we’re in. That must change.”
The media’s focus on inflation and gas prices at the expense of democracy’s fate suggests not much has changed.
Sullivan urged news outlets to be unafraid “to stand for something as basic to our mission as voting rights, governmental checks and balances, and democratic standards.
“In other words, shout it from the rooftops. Before it’s too late.”
It may be too late, with polls showing many key races tossups or leaning MAGAward.
“There is no backstop to democracy,” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Ruben wrote. “Inflation will pass. Budget deficits will rise and fall. And border problems will persist. Once democracy is lost, it is very hard to retrieve.”
“There is no backstop to democracy. Inflation will pass. Budget deficits will rise and fall. And border problems will persist. But once democracy is lost, it is very hard to retrieve.” – Jennifer Ruben, about this year’s election
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