David Remnick: The Biggest Role the Press Can Play Is Pressure on Power

From the New York Times DealBook with Andrew Ross Sorkin:

DealBook: In a tweet last month, Elon Musk said he had acquired Twitter because a common digital town square was important to the future of civilization. He said the media was losing the opportunity for dialogue by catering to polarized extremes in the relentless pursuit of clicks.

Remnick: We have a severe problem in American life today called the assault on truth. I do not romanticize in any way the perfection of The New York Times or The New Yorker or any number of other outlets. But we have seen for all the reasons we know — political, cultural, technological — an acceleration, an explosion of lying in the public sphere, and it’s been exploited in all the political ways we know. And so I think there’s a difference between healthy and rigorous and constant self-criticism, but when it edges over into both-siderisms or self-flagellation and saying things that we don’t really mean about ourselves, then I think that’s not terribly useful, and it’s unhelpful.

What can news organizations do to get back to a time of trust in the media? Is it even possible?

The dilemma here is that in the Trump era, there was great journalism — a lot of great journalism. And the bewilderment, the frustration, I think among so many people is why it didn’t have even greater effect.

The biggest role the press can play is pressure on power. The scrutiny of power. And so when local papers either disappear or they’re weakened immeasurably, as has happened across the country, and it’s not replaced simply by a digital version of its earlier self with equal rigor or even better, but is replaced by either nothing or bad or destructive digital replacements, the Republic suffers. Who’s going to send the crooked mayor or crooked judge to jail if the local newspaper is gone?

David Remnick is the longtime editor of The New Yorker and the recipient of both a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award for his reporting on the fall of the Soviet Union.

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