Monday, May 27, 2019

Reporting or no-platforming? Some thoughts on that controversial NYT graphic

On Sunday Karen Yourish and Rebecca Lai from The New York Times published a thorough analysis of all the insults Donald Trump has “hurled at 2020 Democrats”. Many reactions on social media have been rather negative, ranging from the tepid to the angry, with one of the hosts of Pod Save America calling the article “deeply stupid”.

The most reasonable critical responses wondered why it is necessary to give more visibility to the musings of someone who has repeatedly proved himself to be a divisive and infantile vulgarian.

I'm torn on this one. On one hand, I'm sympathetic to voices who explain that depriving the worst extremists of platforms is an effective strategy to improve the public sphere. Just read what happened to this nutcase and this grifter. Journalists need to think about their responsibility when giving voice to certain characters. On the other hand, silencing can easily go too far. If you cast a wide net and don't consider every case on its merits, you'll catch legitimate voices on the hard left and the hard right that deserve to be heard.

Moreover, we aren't talking about any attention-seeking extremist in this case, but about someone who happens to occupy the highest office in the United States. His words matter, they reveal his character, and journalists have an obligation to report them —albeit critically, as journalism shouldn't be stenography. I think that Karen and Rebecca did a good job at adding some value. Their main graphic —which resembles a bar graph— suggests who Trump is more worried about, and the timeline may reveal some intriguing patterns; for instance, I'd like to see someone taking these data and comparing insult days and times to appearances on cable TV, particularly Fox News.