During the Wednesday night episode of MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, several panelists urged mainstream media outlets to ditch “neutrality” and “objectivity” when covering Trump-supporting Republicans in order to save “democracy.”
The segment began with host Lawrence O’Donnell talking about a tweet from actor Rob Reiner which read, “A vote for Republicans is a vote to destroy democracy.”
O’Donnell then asked his guests, NYU professor and former New Republic editor Peter Beinart, former Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel and former Republican campaign consultant Stuart Stevens what they thought about Reiner’s tweet and how the media should cover it, if the statement were actually true, in the context of the New York Times’ original mission statement.
O’Donnell went to Beinart first, asking, “‘A vote for Republicans is a vote to destroy democracy.’ We would, of course, prior to this period we’re living in, immediately classify that as an opinion. And a rather wild one, especially before the Trump era. But it might be a fact, and if it’s a fact, how does journalism, how does The New York Times, and publications like that, deal with it?”
Beinart answered, “But what’s important about the statement that you read about The Times’ initial founding statement, or about the Washington Post’s current statement, ‘Democracy dies in darkness,’ is that these institutions do not say that they are neutral on the question of democracy.”
He continued saying that if they’re not neutral on democracy then they can’t be neutral on Trump who is destroying democracy: “And so if one party, the dominant wing, the Trump wing of one party, is actually trying to overthrow American democracy. You as a newspaper have to be against that, you can’t be neutral on that. You can’t present both sides on that.”
O’Donnell then turned to Stengel, asking, “Is the Republican Party anti-democracy? And if so, what does Time magazine have to say about it?”
Stengel responded saying, “Well, Lawrence, I used to tell my folks at Time, there aren’t two sides to a lie. That you can’t be neutral in the face of corruption. You can’t be neutral in the face were where someone’s trying to end democracy. We can’t ignore that.”
“You can be impartial. But you cannot be neutral, you can’t be neutral and in the face of someone ending democracy. You can’t simply chronicle the end of democracy. Then that’s the end of a free press,” Stengel continued.
He added, “There is no objectivity when there is an authoritarian party that’s trying to end the protections of the press and democracy as we know it.”
Stengel tweeted Thursday night about the subject as well, writing, “I always told my journalists, there aren’t two sides to a lie. Yes, you should be non-partisan, but not neutral. Journalists must be biased in favor of the truth and facts. Biased in favor of democracy itself. We protect the press so the press can protect democracy. Let’s do that.”
During the episode, Stevens commented on whether voting for Republicans is a “vote to destroy democracy,” saying, “I really don’t see how you can argue with that because the Republican Party official platform is what Donald Trump says it should be. And Donald Trump does not believe that we live in a democracy. He doesn’t believe that Joe Biden is the legally elected president.”
O’Donnell then returned to Beinart with a question on how the media should cover candidates who questioned the 2020 election.
Beinart stated, “I think part of it has to do with this kind of stripping away the euphemism that journalists sometime rely on. And calling things by their name – not saying that Republicans ‘allege’ voter fraud … But to actually use plainer blunter language.”
He then urged the press to “take a page from George Orwell and just say, ‘This candidate has pledged that if a Democrat gets more votes, or if nonwhite people are supportive of the candidate who gets the most votes, they will try to overturn that election.’”