Years before Donald Trump became president, legacy media was already moving in a woke direction. While no doubt some reporters are ideological, the trend was influenced by the growing prominence of the internet. Online, articles that generated an emotional response became income generators, because they led to readers spending a longer time interacting with the article.
In 2017, the New York Times launched a program called Project Feels to track how younger readers responded emotionally to certain articles. “What they found was the more emotional the reader was, the longer they stayed on the page, and the more likely they were to click on an ad,” says Batya Ungar-Sargon, the author of the new book “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.”
Ungar-Sargon shares why reporting on racism drives emotions, how black media differs from legacy media in its coverage, and the class issues the media ignores. Read a lightly edited transcript of our interview, posted below, or listen to the interview:
Kate Trinko: Joining me today is Batya Ungar-Sargon, the author of the new book “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.” Batya, thanks for joining us.
Batya Ungar-Sargon: Thank you so much for having me.
Trinko: All right. So let’s dive into this. So for decades, conservatives have fairly, in my view, complained that the legacy media is biased, it’s liberal, etc., but your book chronicles something really interesting, and that’s the rise of woke media coverage, of media coverage that is really obsessively covering issues of race, of identity. When did that start?
Ungar-Sargon: It’s such a great question. So, journalists have always or historically tended to be much more liberal than the American population at large, but there was always what I call a countervailing force to their own crusading tendencies that would pull them to the left. And that took the form of their bosses.
Their bosses would be either a Republican or the owner of a corporation, or both, or they would be working in a local newspaper in some town in America, where there were both Democrats and Republicans, and there was one newspaper. And so they could report the news to their heart’s content to the left and sacrifice 50% of readers, or they could do what their bosses told them to do, which is report the news straight and get 100% of the town’s readership.
So there was a balancing factor for a long time to journalists’ own internal desire to be outside of power demanding justice on behalf of the little guy.
Another factor that I think is really important is journalists themselves were the little guy for a long time. Journalism used to be a working-class trade for much of the 20th century. And that really is no longer the case. Our industry underwent a status revolution to where we are now one of the most highly educated industries in America and one of the more affluent ones. Journalists are in the top 10% by and large.
And what I argue in the book is that as journalists went from being working class to being part of the elite, they really abandoned the working class that they used to belong to, and really started to write for and about each other and other highly educated liberal elites and for other highly educated liberal elites.
To me, the kind of woke revolution, what sociologists call the “Great Awokening,” is the last stage of this abandonment of the working class, and it was enabled by what I began with, which is the fact that we’ve lost that countervailing force.
And the reason we did that is because digital media is built on a business model that rewards journalists leaning into their most extreme and radical and far-left ideas around race and identity, because in digital journalism, you measure success not based on the extent of your bipartisan readership, but the extent of the most extreme readers feeling like you are a home for them. And that’s because we measure success based on engagement. And the most extreme readers are always going to be the most engaged.
So long story short, everything now is pulling toward rewarding financially, as well as for highly educated elites, emotionally, really leaning into this great awokening and this obsession and moral panic even over race at a time when Americans have really never been less racist.
Trinko: And there’s so much to unpack here, which is great. I love it. But first off, let’s go into this: So when you talk about woke media coverage, what does that mean specifically? What kind of stories would you include under that umbrella?
Ungar-Sargon: I’m so glad you asked that because I’m really curious what you’re going to make of my answer. So please tell me.
Ungar-Sargon: So, the word woke started as black slang in the ’70s to refer to ways in which the state still sponsors racism. And I think that that is extremely important to point out.
I think journalists should spend a lot of time talking about things like police brutality, for example, mass incarceration, intergenerational poverty, among 30% percent of Americans descended from slavery, and racial segregation in public schools.
I think it’s not, to me, even though I use the word “woke,” which used to refer to that, when I use “woke” I’m not talking about that stuff. I think that’s really important to talk about and this is what I’m curious what you think about, I think there’s very little partisan divide left over those issues.
Republicans have been at the forefront of prisoner releases for the last decade, Georgia and Idaho and Iowa, the First Step Act, we’ve seen just mass prisoner releases, of course, not because of “social justice,” but because of a combination of fiscal and Christian values, but at the same time it does seem to me like there’s no longer partisan issue divide over that. There’s no longer a partisan divide over the importance of combating police brutality. And there’s no longer a partisan divide over wanting every American child to get the best education possible.
… When I’m saying “woke media,” I’m not talking about that stuff that I think we’re really united over. What I’m talking about is what sociologists talk about when they talk about the Great Awokening, specifically something that happened in 2015, which is that white liberal opinion on issues of race became much more extreme than public opinion in minority communities that they’re ostensibly advocating on behalf of.
So that shift took place in 2015, the first year white liberals outpaced black and Latino Americans in terms of how extreme and radical their views on race [are].
And that comes directly from the media, that comes directly from something that happened in the mainstream liberal press starting in 2011, 2012, when The New York Times went all-in on digital and erected its digital paywall, which is when you started to see The New York Times, Washington Post, NPR, The Atlantic, CNN, MSNBC, all the liberal outlets just suddenly using woke terminology with just skyrocketing frequency.
So you saw suddenly words like “oppression,” “marginalization,” the word “oppression” next to the words “people of color,” “white privilege,” ideas that are very academic and very foreign to communities of color that are based in a woke binary that ascribes all power to white people and powerlessness to people of color.
So, that’s what I’m talking about when I say “woke.” I’m talking about this moral panic around race that’s based on a very academic binary that’s very alien to the communities that need our help the most, and that I now believe there’s little partisan divide over the need to assist these communities.
Trinko: Yeah, I absolutely think you make a great point there. The Heritage Foundation, which is The Daily Signal’s parent organization, our legal center for years has been working on criminal justice reform. And as you say, sensible reforms, it’s not to defend the police or anything, but it’s also, does someone need to spend decades or most of their life in jail for something they did when they were younger that wasn’t violent? And those are good questions to wrestle with, and we definitely cover them at The Daily Signal. So couldn’t agree with you more there on, I don’t think there’s a partisan divide uncovering that stuff.
So there’s a narrative out there that because [former President] Donald Trump was such a polarizing figure, which I don’t think anyone disagrees with, that he really changed the media landscape. But your book, if I’m understanding it correctly, is making the case that, actually, a lot of these changes in media coverage and the obsessive focus on race, they actually began years before Trump was elected. So what is the correct way to understand Trump’s impact on the media?
Ungar-Sargon: It’s such a great question. Yeah. I would even argue that the media is very responsible for the Trump phenomenon because the pressures that led to the appearance of polarization had begun long before that. Woke media started around 2011, 2012, like I said, and then the Great Awokening in 2015.
And I would say even further back, the media, as journalists underwent this status revolution and abandoned the working class, they signaled to politicians that it was OK to abandon the economic concerns of the working class. And that’s really what led, I think, very directly to the Trump phenomenon, because this was the No. 1 predictor for whether a county would go for Trump, was the number of deaths of despair in that county.
And those deaths of despair—suicide, death by alcoholism, death by opioid overdose—is primarily a phenomenon among working-class Americans who no longer see a future for themselves in America. And so to me, those were the people that the media abandoned on both sides, and we can get into that in a moment.
So I completely agree with you, the causality is reversed. It’s not that Trump led to the Great Awokening or that Trump polarized the media, but that a media that was polarized along class divides, along the great American class divide, is what essentially enabled Trump’s rise. Now, of course, he took advantage of the loathing for the media among his base. And the media—
Ungar-Sargon: … took advantage of the loathing of Trump in their base, highly educated, affluent, liberal elites. And so it was a match made in hell, if you will, this kind of Kabuki theater, as Matt Taibbi so aptly called it, where both sides are making bank off of pretending to fight, when actually they’re both benefiting from this. And, of course, the 90% of Americans who are in middle class and working class are the ones who ended up losing out on that.
Trinko: Another thing that you get into in your book, in “Bad News,” is you chronicle how the legacy media is really focusing on these race issues, but, and something that surprised me, you cited data that showed that blacks in the U.S. actually are largely ignoring the legacy media, especially at least the woke parts of it.
So you cited a 2019 Pew Research Center poll that found only 12% of black Democrats read The New York Times, but over a third of black Democrats, 36%, check out Fox News. Now, I will say to our listeners, don’t get too excited, because 56% of black Democrats are still watching CNN. So it’s not like they’re all glued to Fox, but I found this statistic really surprising.
What’s going on here? Why are they not interested in places like the Times that are really looking at issues of race all the time?
Ungar-Sargon: Because the real divide in America is about class, it’s not about race. And the difference between CNN and Fox News, and I say this as someone who part of my job as Newsweek’s deputy opinion editor is to watch Fox News and CNN all day long—
Ungar-Sargon: … the difference between them—yeah, I know. Pray for me, right?
Trinko: Your brain is flipping a lot. Yeah.
Ungar-Sargon: Right. But I would say the difference between them is not race, and it’s not politics, it’s class. Fox News is picturing a working-class viewer, a person without a college degree, and CNN and The New York Times are picturing a viewer reader who has a college degree and who is increasingly affluent, especially if it’s The New York Times.
I will say this though, so while Fox News doesn’t insult the working class in the same way that CNN does and The New York Times, it does not advocate for their economic agenda. And especially when you have a third of black Americans tuning in—and this is something maybe you can help me understand.
What I don’t understand is, it’s so clear that the liberal side of things, and I say this is a lefty, but it pains me to say this, that they’ve really abandoned the black community in the name of this woke revolution that furthers the economic agenda of highly educated, liberal elites, most of them white. Things like “defund the police,” they’ve taken real black pain over real issues like police brutality and they have taken that and appropriated it to further their economic goals.
Fine, I’m sure you would agree with that, and that’s what my book chronicles, but what I don’t understand is why aren’t Republicans and conservatives—it’s such a slam dunk for them. You show up in a community of color and offer school choice and protect them from crime. You would clean up in there. And it seems to me like it’s such a missed opportunity that I just don’t understand.
I’m often saying that the left thinks everyone on the right is racist, and the right thinks everyone on the left has contempt for them. And one of those things is true, and it’s not that everyone on the right is racist, it’s that the left has inculcated a contempt for people who don’t have that college education, two-thirds of Americans. But the same time, maybe you can help me understand then why are Republicans not seizing this opportunity? Why aren’t conservatives showing up?
Republicans are now, they like to talk a big game about class and about how they’re the party of the working class. And that’s true at the cultural level, but I don’t understand why there isn’t more appetite to really show up and show communities of color, show the black community why they share their values and why they have something to offer.
Trinko: Yeah … I wish I had a good answer for you. I think there’s been some progress. I think the recent president of The Heritage Foundation who just stepped down, Kay C. James, she was actually in the second class in a Virginia high school that desegregated the school.
Trinko: She’s African American herself. And during her four years at Heritage, we talked a lot about this issue and discussed a lot of engagement with the black community, and she talked about how a lot of their values aligned with conservative values, they just, no one ever made the connection. So I think it’s something, yeah. I wish I knew the answer.
I know we’ve, at The Daily Signal, we’ve done profiles on some of the minority school kids who’ve really benefited from school choice. And I think we continue to do coverage like that, but yeah, there’s always room for more engagement, that is for sure true.
Speaking of which, this is an area that I am not as familiar with as I’d like to be, but you dug into black media in the United States, and you found that it was maybe not what a white liberal would expect. What did you learn about black media and what it’s covering these days?
Ungar-Sargon: Yeah, it’s just not woke at the end of the day. And that’s not to say that they’re not advocating against mass incarceration or police brutality, but they’re definitely not advocating for defunding the police.
And it’s so funny, any person who has any relationships in the black community would know instantly that this defund the police [movement] was just a losing proposition. You didn’t need Gallup to show up and tell you 81% of black Americans opposed defunding the police, that what they want is, what they deserve is a non-abusive police force that shows up and protects their children, which is something that they do not have and that every good American should be advocating for.
And if you look at the black press, of course … there are woke outlets, but overall, you just don’t see this view that people of color are across the board oppressed, that they are powerless, that they have no agency, that they have no decisions, and that their decisions don’t matter.
The view that Black Lives Matter promulgated after Jussie Smollett’s trial, while waiting for the verdict where he said we still stand with him because he’s a black man and we’re not going to stand with the police against him, there’s something about that that was dehumanizing because what it said was nothing he could do would merit their judgment because of the color of his skin.
The worst people to ever walk planet Earth, that’s what they thought. And I think that that view is extremely foreign in the black community. You won’t see that in mainstream black publications where there’s a lot of focus on black achievement, on black businesses, on black millionaires, and on the ways in which black culture is so deeply woven into the fabric of American society and what makes us excellent, what makes us great.
Trinko: So you’ve mentioned a few times how it’s actually profitable for these legacy media outlets to go woke. And in the introduction to “Bad News” you write, “This perfect alignment of journalistic and corporate interests is one of the great ironies of the woke culture war. It makes individual journalists feel like heroes while making their bosses and shareholders and themselves even richer.”
So could you unpack, how does this work? … And you talked about how back in the day, you wanted to get the most readers possible, so you went for the middle, but now it seems like being extreme actually helps you financially. Why is that?
Ungar-Sargon: I’m going to answer with a very concrete example, because it really helps, I think, lay the groundwork for what happens overall.
So The New York Times, their Data Science team has a program called Project Feels. And Project Feels started in 2017 where the Data Science team sat down and they started to ask highly educated, affluent millennial readers to do them a favor after they had read an article and to rate how the article made them feel and how much it made them feel. They gave them a choice of, I think, it was 18 emotions to rate which emotion they were feeling and how much on a scale of—I don’t remember what the numbers were.
Trinko: Oh, wow. OK.
Ungar-Sargon: Yeah. Now unsurprisingly, what they found was the more emotional the reader was, the longer they stayed on the page, because in digital media, we know exactly, you know this, we know exactly how long a person has stayed on each page in addition to knowing where they live, how much money they make, what their interests are, what words make them click, what words make them close the browser.
So, what they found was the more emotional the reader was, the longer they stayed on the page, and the more likely they were to click on an ad.
They took this information, they created a machine learning algorithm that could then predict how an article was going to make their target audience—which are highly educated, affluent liberals—feel and how much it was going to make them feel. And they now offer that insight to advertisers who come to The New York Times to advertise.
So say you’re Armani and you’re coming to The New York Times and you want an ad in their Sunday Style section, the Data Science team can say to you, to the Armani representative, “Great, how would you like the reader to be feeling when they encounter your ad and how much?”
They’ve monetized our emotions, and the reason they did this is because that crucial metric of engagement is how we measure success as journalists, it’s how you make your money as journalists. You sell data, you sell ads based on how long the reader’s going to be there and how likely they’re going to be to click on that ad.
And so, unsurprisingly, The New York Times is now essentially sensationalism for the rich, because that is what they are selling to their advertisers.
Now, the Data Science team was very clear. They do not tell individual journalists, “Hey, Armani wants an ad that will make readers enraged with a little soup song of hope for the future.” But here’s the crucial point, they don’t have to, because just like I said, that countervailing force disappeared and everyone’s pulling in the same direction.
The same thing that makes the Armani ad want to be next to an article that makes the reader feel something very deeply, that same impulse is what’s animating the journalist to want to write an article that’s going to go to the top of the board, that’s going to be the most clicked on article, that’s going to be the most shared, the most retweeted. Journalists also want their articles to get a lot of engagement.
And so, essentially what you have now is everyone pulling in the same direction, and that direction is a very, very emotional one.
Now, what are the two things that make white liberals feel their emotions the most deeply? Well, the first is Donald Trump’s name, which appeared 97,000 times in The New York Times in 2017—97,000 times. And the second is white supremacy, and this explains the Great Awokening.
The New York Times figured this out, they figured out what words were making their readers the most engaged, and then they just hit them with that over and over and over again. And they are literally monetizing those emotions, monetizing our outrage, and creating an extremely, extremely woke media that does not reflect the views or the desires of the people that they’re advocating on behalf of.
Trinko: Which, this is so fascinating, and I’m sure you encounter this in your job as an opinion editor at Newsweek too, is I often struggle when we’re coming up with headlines … what’s the responsible way to target emotion?
Ungar-Sargon: Completely, completely.
Trinko: Because it’s like emotion matters, obviously it matters for engagement. It’s part of who we are as humans. But I also know, I have so many friends who aren’t in news, but are just so burned out by how depressing the news is, and they just can’t stay at this emotional fraught, stressed out level all the time. And frankly, that’s how I feel reading Twitter a lot.
… Yeah, I wish I knew the magic answer for the appropriate way to deal with emotion, but it’s concerning to hear that the Times actually, I didn’t realize they had, this isn’t a real word, but mathematized it so much. That’s really interesting.
Ungar-Sargon: Yeah. And it was all by design.
So in 2014, they had a really bad year and the incoming publisher, who’s now the publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, was tasked with writing an innovation report about how to take advantage of digital media, essentially. And so much of this was in there.
He wrote that we needed, that The New York Times needed to take down the Chinese wall separating audience development and the business side of things from editorial. He wanted to see journalists responsible for growing the audience. He wanted to see, he called it a two-way street. He wanted to see content that was influenced directly by what readers wanted to read. And he wanted to see his own journalists become social media stars.
There’s a really funny line in the report where he writes with horror about a journalist who didn’t tweet their story out for two whole days after it had been published.
Ungar-Sargon: Exactly, exactly. And essentially what ended up happening was he created these, his own reporters and journalists who often have quarter of a million, half a million Twitter followers and who now dictate back to him personnel decisions—when they don’t like somebody, they can create a Twitter mob and get that person fired. And that’s not hyperbole, that happened on multiple occasions.
But again, this is all by design, this is not some accident. This was baked into how The New York Times saw its next iteration. So it should surprise no one given all of this that we’re talking about that 91% of The New York Times’ readership is Democrats—91%. That doesn’t happen by accident, it takes a lot of work to get there.
Trinko: Right. OK. So you also noted in “Bad News” that journalists are getting younger, that while more experienced journalists can still get good pay, entry-level pay, at least for college grads, isn’t awesome in journalism. So, that means that younger journalists tend to be people from more affluent backgrounds. That means you’re probably talking about Ivy League grads, or at least people who went to relatively prestigious higher ed. So how do all these factors play into current media coverage?
Ungar-Sargon: Well, first of all, I think that the woke revolution is very clearly, you can draw the line, it’s basically academic malarkey, it comes right out of Ivy League, critical race theory programs, and English departments. And it’s very clearly an academic framework that has been imported wholesale into America’s newsrooms because America’s journalists come from those schools.
Now, The New York Times and NPR and The Washington Post, they select their summer interns from the top 1% of universities. So, essentially, they let all of this in the front door and then it spread like wildfire. As one New York Times editor once said to me, imagine if the younger generation showed up and not only did they have better digital skills than you … basically obviating everything you had learned, but they would call you a racist if you ever said anything they didn’t like, and you’ll understand the fear that Gen X and boomers at The New York Times are feeling and why they don’t stand up to the woke nonsense.
So I think it really did come directly from academia, and that’s really why you’re not seeing any concomitant relationship to economic policy.
You’re not going to agree with me on this, but I think that what Donald Trump brought to the table was an economic agenda that was very focused on the working class, very protectionist in nature.
He did a lot of things that [Sen.] Bernie Sanders had been advocating for in 2015, getting rid of NAFTA, trade war with China, tariffs, controlling the border, all of this stuff that had been abandoned by this free trade handshake between Democrats and Republicans for 30 years, which to me seems very much like it led to the abandonment of the working class. But it was very shocking to me to see Trump doing all this stuff and never hear the so-called socialist left say, “Oh my God, wow, this is our jam. Who could have hoped for such a thing?”
So, I felt very much like I was the only person who was out there even praising anything he was doing because Democrats had sworn that he was the enemy, and so they couldn’t praise anything good that he’d done in the economic front.
And Republicans are still so much enslaved to this—I’m sorry, forgive me—but this trickle-down nonsense that has really eviscerated, to my mind, the working class and resulted in these deaths of despairs.
But that thing where it’s like the hyperfocus on identity, on race, and [on] gender at the expense of any economic agenda that would actually give dignity to the working class, that is very much an academic, the point of view that you develop when you are very highly educated elite who never has to worry about where your paycheck is coming from.
Trinko: And I think we see in the GOP today that Trump’s economics, we’ve still got a lot of fights going on about them, which it’s fascinating to watch.
Ungar-Sargon: That’s so interesting because I think—and I’m curious what you think about this—to me, it seems like the left and the liberals have this wishful thinking about what the divide in the GOP is about. They think that the divide in the GOP is between the brawlers and then the more dignified anti-Trump side. …
Sometimes it does seem to me like the GOP has learned the wrong lesson from Trump, that the lesson they seem to have taken away is that brawling is good as opposed to the real lesson of Trump, which was that economic populism is good and that there’s a hunger for economic populism among the conservative working class. I’m so curious what you think about that.
Trinko: Well, I would say that, I think—I love how you’re turning the tables on me—I would say that I think one of the things that I think conservatives need to take from Trump’s rise is they need to make a better case for things like trickle-down economics and how they actually help. And I think that’s something that we haven’t made the case well for.
Ungar-Sargon: Uh-huh. Interesting.
Trinko: I think you can say, if you look at the rise of capitalism over the past 200, 250 years, world poverty has been, it still exists, obviously, and there’s still far too many people living without enough, but it’s not what it used to be.
And I think we need to make that clear, but I also think that conservatives, and I think many are, but I think they need to continue wrestling with certain things about, if you’ve had a broken down family and … we’re talking multiple generations, and we know that family structure affects education, it affects material wealth, it affects opportunity. What does that mean?
And I think Trump—oh my gosh, you started so many conversations, and definitely on tone and whether to brawl or not to brawl, but I think also, yeah, ideology-wise, are we communicating well? And also, what do these ideas look like in 2020 as opposed to 1980?
Ungar-Sargon: Right, right. Absolutely. Yeah.
Trinko: Actually, that segues nicely into the one more question I wanted to ask about some of these class issues. So how do you think the media could cover the working class better? And do you think the reason there’s not interest is just there’s not a financial incentive, or do you think there’s other factors at work?
Ungar-Sargon: I think polarization is an elite phenomenon that is making elites very rich. And so there’s very little incentive to cover any aspect of American life where we are not polarized, which is most aspects of American life.
And so if you turn on your TV, or you read The New York Times, you’re always going to see the same four or five topics covered because they’re always looking to amplify that polarization because they’re getting rich off of it.
Whereas as soon as you get out of New York City and Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, Americans are breaking bread with people they disagree with politically, they are joining picket lines with people they disagree with politically. You just don’t see the same polarization.
And I think that that kind of taboo on covering economic issues of working-class Americans, I think, stems from the fact that it’s in nobody’s interest.
So if you’re on the trickle-down side, you’re not going to cover working-class people banding together to try to get better wages because you think that that’s supposed to happen naturally from the trickle down. And if you’re on the liberal side, you’re not going to cover it because most working-class people are conservative, and you’re not going to take up their cause because they voted for the wrong person. And so there’s no incentive.
And, of course, the same thing happens with politicians, the people who ostensibly care about the working class, who are supposed to care about the working class on the far left, they’re very committed to hating Trump and anyone who voted for him and calling them all racists. And so they’re not going to take up their cause. There’s very much this feeling of, “Well, screw them.” Why did the Democrats do a 180 on immigration in 20 years?
And then on the right, of course, there’s very little incentive to go into those communities and cover the fact that the corporations are bleeding these people dry. I know you disagree with me about that.
Trinko: Well, actually—
Ungar-Sargon: Thank you for giving the opportunity to say that on your podcast.
Trinko: No, it’s funny, because actually you got me thinking that the other point I would make that I think Trump helped make conservatives recognize more is I would say the decline of religiosity and values has led to, and I’m not an expert in this area, and it certainly, there were obviously horrible corporate owners throughout history, including the U.S., but I do think that there’s less of an understanding now, when you hear about some of these things, what do you owe to people on an ethical scale?
And I think that ultimately capitalism, if there is not a bedrock of morality, is very different. And I think of that as, I’m not a business owner or something, but if I was, I would be thinking, “What is a just wage? What does that look like?” And I think those are questions that—
Ungar-Sargon: Totally, totally.
Trinko: … too many capitalists are not asking right now, probably.
Ungar-Sargon: And I think that it’s very, to me, one of the things that the left is deeply uncomfortable [with] is the concept of autonomy, which is, I think, very important to working-class people, the idea that they are in charge of their fate and that they have responsibility for their actions. But if you’re not paying someone a living wage, they cannot be autonomous, they cannot have that autonomy.
And I think on the left, they’ve just abandoned the whole concept of autonomy, they want the government to be in charge of everything. They want universal basic income, or nonsense like this, where you’re essentially paying people off not to work, who will then live at the beneficence of generous liberal elites. Working-class people don’t want that.
But on the other side of things, it’s like there’s no respect for the dignity of labor and … I think the last 30 years is proof that if you just let corporations off on their own, they’re going to end up squeezing the people who have the least amount of power.
And what I would like to see is populists on the left and the right joining hands together to ensure that sort of dignified labor and that … autonomy is something that together we recognize as an inherently American principle and one that’s not at odds with capitalism, or with the things that make this, the other things that make this such a great nation.
Trinko: Right. And another factor that I would say that contributes, well, what is a just or a living wage, something that you can live off of? But a big part of the problem, I would say—and I come from the San Francisco Bay Area—is rich liberals who are against policies that would make life better for low-income folks. In the Bay Area part of California, there’s a ton of “not in my backyard,” preserved land, “you can’t tear down.” So housing is insane and that’s the thing that directly hurts the workers because, of course, they can’t afford a good place to rent or own.
Ungar-Sargon: Completely. And then they’ll add on this whole environmental agenda that punishes the working class, that punishes the middle class, the chance to ban great jobs like fracking.
And then they’ll try to pass that off as, not just ridiculous things like tree equity, but they’ll actually try to pass it off as some justice when actually it’s the middle class that’s paying for this entire agenda and they’re flying to their climate conferences in private jets.
No, for sure, there’s enough blame to go around. But I feel a little bit like … when I have an opportunity to talk to conservatives, I have to try to get them to see things the way I do, just like when I talk to liberals, I tend to criticize liberals more.
Trinko: Well, I love it. That’s what media should be about. It should be about having these discussions. How do we get anywhere if we just shoot arrows and aren’t talking?
Trinko: All right. One last media question.
Kate Trinko: Do you want to make any predictions about where media goes in the next few years? Are there any factors that you’re watching closely?
Ungar-Sargon: I don’t want to make any predictions. It’s a bit of a fools game, I think. And I’ve been wrong about so many things. For God’s sake, I was woke. OK? So, I don’t know. I don’t hold a lot of stock in my predictive powers.
I will say, I am hoping to see an even more vigorous consumer boycott of the news. I think we have replaced spirituality and community and religion and caring for our fellow Americans with information and knowledge and being up to date about national politics, which matter to absolutely nobody at all.
And I would encourage people to consume much less news and to go out there and engage in communal activities, volunteer, go back to shul, go back to church, find your way back to a place where you’re going to meet people you disagree with and become one of the people who’s stitching the fabric of American society back together, because I just think that we’re obsessed with knowledge and information.
As a society, we only reward smart people and talented people. And I just, I think that that’s a sickness. So I would say, I expect the media to get even worse before it gets better, if it gets better at all, because there’s so much financial incentive in what’s going wrong. And I would urge people to find other ways to connect to their fellow Americans.
Trinko: All right. Again, that’s Batya Ungar-Sargon. She is the author of “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy.” Thank you so much for joining us today. And I’m glad we were able to dialogue.
Ungar-Sargon: Oh, man. Thank you so much for having me. This was such a pleasure. You were such a gracious host and it was really, really an honor and a privilege for me. Thank you so much.
Trinko: It was an honor and a privilege to speak to you too.
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