MLK vs Call-Out Culture: Liner Notes

I have a new column posted at The Federalist today, “In Ignoring Nasty FBI Info, Are The Media Protecting MLK Or ‘Call-Out Culture’?” And it was the second possibility that motivated me to write.

When I was part of the old school blogosphere, I wrote about media bias with some frequency, but these days I tend to avoid it unless there is something more to be said than pointing out the media leans left. Such was the case in my prior column about the strange reviews of HBO’s “Chernobyl” mini-series.

In this case, recent salacious allegations about Martin Luther King Jr. in recently released FBI files find the establishment media both abandoning basic journalistic instincts (esp. in the world of clickbait journalism) and shooting the messenger. The latter in particular is a sort of tell about the particular form of groupthink at work. When Big Journalism decides a respected biographer must be personally attacked for reporting material in FBI files — even while noting the material may be inaccurate — it is worth asking why. The media has reported on MLK’s shortcomings in the past, so what interested me was the possibility that “call-out culture” affected the American media’s approach to the story — and if so, whether the media was reluctant to defend MLK in a way that would argue against call-out culture.

What got left out for space? Probably a closer examination of how the media reported on MLK’s flaws in the past, which would have underscored how strange the response was here. Also, even the Politico piece which did the best job on this story includes a “conservatives pounce!” critique worthy of comment. In the first place, even the conservative media did not cover this story much. In the second place, lurid allegations will attract a certain amount of tabloid-style coverage, particularly in the internet’s attention economy. In the third place, the “pounce” frame is a terribly lazy construction of left-leaning journalism which presupposes that it is somehow illegitimate for the right to be political.

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