The latest media fail Skip to content

The latest media fail

The mistake here? Focusing on the initial, easy story, and missing the larger, more important point.

2 min read

If I were to tally all of the faults of the modern-day media, be they print, broadcast, or streaming, I would have to be the late, great A.J. Liebling and have my own column in The New Yorker. Not that I am worthy to shine the man’s shoes even. But still.

So I’m confining myself to the latest media bonehead move with regard to Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen’s racist reaction to a newspaper’s exposé that alleges that Pillen’s hog farms were disgorging huge amounts of pollutants into the environment, possibly contaminating groundwater with cancer-causing agents.

Instead of commenting on the article’s content, Pillen stated in an interview on right-wing radio:

Number one, I didn’t read it, and I won’t. Number two, all you’ve got to do is look at the author. The author’s from Communist China. What more do you need to know?

Now, you wouldn’t expect pushback from a friendly MAGA outlet; however, the Omaha-based nonprofit newsroom Flatwater Free Press, which published the exposé, concentrated on rebuking Pillen’s racism, and the national media followed suit. Good for them, right?

But here’s the problem: they missed the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.

Look, for Pillen’s fans, racism is a greatly desired feature, not a bug. So he’s got a win-win here: Doesn’t have to address the story and shores up his racist bona fides with the base.

And instead of pointing out the larger story, they let him get away with it.

Here’s what Matt Wynn, the executive director of the Nebraska Journalism Trust, which launched and finances the Flatwater Free Press, should have said instead:

"I wonder what excuse Governor Pillen is going to give to deflect from the fact that American-born lab techs who discovered that the governor’s factory hog farms are releasing nitrates at a whopping rate that’s five times the safe level. Nitrates have been linked to cancer. Sure, Governor Pillen knows that playing the racism card plays well with his MAGA base; however, maybe they’ll be a little less enamored of him when they realize he’s willing to poison their children with a possible carcinogen to make a buck.

And what should the corporate media have done? The second-day story should have focused on how Pillen is counting on racism to keep from having to comment on whether his hog farms are poisoning the Nebraskans he’s supposed to care about. Then Pillen’s fans would have to choose between racism and their own children.

It’s not a foregone conclusion, by any stretch (see Mississippi, State of and Alabama, State of), but it’s worth letting Kansans know that they’re making that choice.


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Ivonne Rovira

Ivonne is the research director for Save Our Schools Kentucky. She previously worked for The Miami Herald, the Miami News, and The Associated Press. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)