Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

America’s Racialist Liberal Media

Zach Goldberg's stunning research on media propagandizing suggests a bleak future
Racial Relations Challenge

A couple of years ago, Prof. Michael Vlahos, who teaches strategy and war at Johns Hopkins, published an essay here in TAC talking about how America has often been a place of cold civil war, despite the official story of national unity (minus the Late Unpleasantness of 1861-65). He wrote in the piece that we were headed for a new civil war, and explained his thinking. In talking about the stages of a country headed to civil war, he mentioned this:

Othering. Here, the barren and inhospitable new civic space is dominated along looming, fortified lines. Warring identities have concluded that the only solution is the complete submission of the enemy party, and both sides are beginning to prepare for an ultimate showdown. Othering is a transforming process, through which former kin are reimagined as evil, an American inner-enemy, who once defeated must be punished. The most familiar metaphor of American othering was the 1770s practice of tarring and feathering. This less-than-lethal mob punishment corresponds—in shaming power and severity—to mob vengeance pervasive today on social media outlets such as Twitter.

Hence, to work fully as othering, the process must be public, result in the shame of the transgressor, and show that true virtue is in command. More than anything, othering is a ceremonial act designed to bring shame not just on the single person being tarred and feathered, but the entire community to which he belongs. The political object of #MeToo is not the numerically bounded set of guilty men, but rather the entire population set of all men. The political object of Black Lives Matter is not racists, but rather all whitepeople. The political object of the LGBT movement is not homophobes, but rather the whole of straight cisgender society whose reality compass they seek to transform.

The targeted other, equally seized by virtue, operates today from an angry defensive crouch. Thus do corporate elites support marquee Blue “social justice” agendas on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube while censoring counterarguments and comment by Red. This is exactly the goal in this struggle: namely, to condition moderates to widespread acquiescence of a loud and insistent Blue agenda, while subtly coercing them to choose sides. They do this by arraigning Red as social losers, the future minority tribe, on their eventual way to the dustbin of history.

Red and Blue already represent an irreparable religious schism, deeper in doctrinal terms even than the 16th-century Catholic-Protestant schism. The war here is over which faction successfully captures the (social media) flag as true inheritor of American virtue.

Think about this in light of political scientist Zach Goldberg’s new piece in Tablet about how the media prepared us for this moment of tense racial conflict. Excerpts:

Countless articles have been published in recent weeks, often under the guise of straight news reporting, in which journalists take for granted the legitimacy of novel theories about race and identity. Such articles illustrate a prevailing new political morality on questions of race and justice that has taken power at the [New York] Times and [Washington] Post—a worldview sometimes abbreviated as “wokeness” that combines the sensibilities of highly educated and hyperliberal white professionals with elements of Black nationalism and academic critical race theory. But the media’s embrace of “wokeness” did not begin in response to the death of George Floyd. This racial ideology first began to take hold at leading liberal media institutions years before the arrival of Donald Trump and, in fact, heavily influenced the journalistic response to the protest movements of recent years and their critique of American society.

Starting well before Donald Trump’s rise to power, while President Obama was still in office, terms like “microaggression” and “white privilege” were picked up by liberal journalists. These terms went from being obscure fragments of academic jargon to commonplace journalistic language in only a few years—a process that I document here in detail. During this same period, while exotic new phrases were entering the discourse, universally recognizable words like “racism” were being radically redefined. Along with the new language came ideas and beliefs animating a new moral-political framework to apply to public life and American society.

Goldberg republishes the graphs he made after doing a deep dive into the Lexis/Nexis archive of news stories. They show the frequency with which certain words and phrases showed up in the media each year. For example:

This is how the media pushed America to get racially woke:

This occurs by a process of concept creep—a stretching of the terminological and normative boundaries of what constitutes racism and racist behavior. In other words: The racialization of things that weren’t previously viewed or understood through the lens of race. The upshot is that the more aspects of social life the media racializes, the more “racism” there is for the media to report on.

In 2011, just 35% of white liberals thought racism in the United States was “a big problem,” according to national polling. By 2015, this figure had ballooned to 61% and further still to 77% in 2017.

You think racism got that much worse in six years, so that double the number of white liberals thought it was a “big problem” in America? Goldberg goes on to say that the percentage of black and Latino Democrats who say they know someone who is racist did not really increase over that time — but it shot way up among white Democrats. In other words, white liberals — who totally dominate our media class — came to believe that America is a more racist place than do blacks and Latinos who share their politics.


The divergent moral reactions toward perceived inequities have not emerged in a vacuum. Rather, the informational or media environment interacts with underlying orientations to elicit them. Members of society can be encouraged to see themselves and others as belonging to homogenous in-groups and out-groups. They can, further, be made aware, through frequent reminders and exposure, of the outcome disparities between them and the pervasiveness of discrimination. Finally, these inequalities must be framed as illegitimate and resulting from the past and/or present injustices perpetrated by the advantaged against the disadvantaged. Taken together, and in the context of the “Great Awokening,” white people need to see themselves as belonging to a collective that enjoys illegitimate privileges at the expense of racial others. Similarly, nonwhites need to be frequently reminded of their victimhood and unjust social position. They see themselves as belonging to a collective that is bound by their experience of racial oppression. The effect overall in terms of the coverage at publications like the Times and Post is that quite often, articles about racism are not reports about events occurring in a particular time and place—they are part of a totalizing theory of the world.

Having seen how powerfully the media’s ideology-driven writing has changed attitudes over the last decade, it is important to note this from Goldberg. Emphases are mine:

For decades, the term “racial equality” was the ubiquitous framework for understanding and evaluating racial justice. This is now changing as “equality” gives way to newer concepts such as “racial equity,” which refers to the redistribution of resources from the supposedly privileged to the supposedly disadvantaged as a means to redress claimed discrimination. As Ibram Kendi puts it: “If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist … The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” Thus the goal is no longer ‘racial equality’ or equal treatment under the law. It is, rather, the attainment of a state of the world in which all groups have equal outcomes—even if some are deliberately disadvantaged in the process. Until very recently, “racial equity” was a largely unfamiliar phrase only rarely featured in the pages of the major newspapers. But this has changed dramatically in the last few years. In 2013 “racial equity” constituted 0.000003% of all words in The New York Times. One year later, it was being used six times more frequently (0.00019%). And, by 2019, nearly 32 times more frequently (0.000096%). Remarkably, in The Washington Post, “racial equity” was not only being used 27 times more frequently in 2019 (0.00032%) than in 2013 (0.00012%), but its rate of usage actually surpassed that of “racial equality.”

I bet most people think that “equity” is a synonym for “equality.” That’s not how these woke journalists and academics see it. What Goldberg’s analysis predicts is that the mainstream media are propagandizing the country to prepare it for racial oppression and the seizure of property for redistribution. Or, to put a fine point on it, they are providing the ideological framework for elites to justify redistribution.

You think elections don’t matter? You think judges don’t matter?

One more excerpt:

What the data presented here suggests is that editorial decisions made over the past decade at some of the most powerful media outlets in the world about what kind of language to use and what kind of stories merited coverage when it came to race—whatever the intention and level of forethought behind such decisions—has stoked a revival of racial consciousness among their readers. Intentionally or not, by introducing and then constantly repeating a set of key words and concepts, publications like The New York Times have helped normalize among their readership the belief that “color” is the defining attribute of other human beings. For those who adopt this singular focus on race, a racialized view of the world becomes baseline test of political loyalty.

Read it all. It’s wonky and full of data, but very, very important.

What Goldberg has documented in great detail is a successful propaganda effort that has set Americans against each other along racial and ethnic lines. I sometimes joke that I read The New York Times for the same reason analysts of the Soviet Union read Pravda: to know how the Soviet elites thought, and what mattered to them. Well, for the past decade, this is what not just the Times, but all the elite media have been thinking. They have been preparing us for something terrible.

How can we fight it? Almost every single day I receive an e-mail or a message from somebody who says, “I agree with you, but I can’t say so, or I would risk losing my job.” I understand. But we are not powerless. In Live Not By Lies, I cite Solzhenitsyn:

“We are not called upon to step out onto the square and shout out the truth, to say out loud what we think— this is scary, we are not ready,” he writes. “But let us at least refuse to say what we do not think!”

For example, says Solzhenitsyn, a man who refuses to live by lies:

• Will not say, write, affirm, or distribute anything that distorts the truth

• Will not go to a demonstration or participate in a collective action unless he truly believes in the cause

• Will not take part in a meeting in which the discussion is forced and no one can speak the truth

• Will not vote for a candidate or proposal he considers to be “dubious or unworthy”

• Will walk out of an event “as soon as he hears the speaker utter a lie, ideological drivel, or shameless propaganda”

• Will not support journalism that “distorts or hides the underlying facts”

“This is by no means an exhaustive list of the possible and necessary ways of evading lies,” Solzhenitsyn writes. “But he who begins to cleanse himself will, with a cleansed eye, easily discern yet other opportunities.”

We can do at least this. We can stop believing what these propagandists are telling us. We can refuse to hate ourselves, our neighbors, and our country, just because they want us to. And we can prepare ourselves for strife to come. Read Michael Vlahos. What our media have been doing is Othering. It’s not going to stop there. The history of the 20th century shows very well how effective mass media propaganda can be at stoking racial and ethnic hatred to serve the goals of those in power.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now