TYT Misses the Beat

In what may turn out to be the most catastrophically consequential riff in human history, President Trump escalated tensions with North Korea when he blurted out that if they continue to threaten the United States, “they will be met by fire and fury like the world has never seen.” In the wake of this remarkably irresponsible statement by the president, CNN and MSNBC have, so far, acted against character by featuring a lot of coverage pushing back against the president’s bellicose posturing. However, this has not stopped some in alternative media from accusing the two big liberal news networks of beating the drums of war.

TYT Politics commentator Emma Vigeland made a video titled “North Korea Drumbeat Amplified by Media, Trump Allies.” Ms. Vigeland’s coverage of the topic, for the most part, is excellent. She does a good job giving us context around the president’s comments. She passionately reminds us that we must consider the fate of the South Koreans who are severely vulnerable to the consequences of our belligerence. Then she berates CNN for beating the drums of war, citing three headlines as examples:

  1. Why It Could Take Months for the U.S. to Get Ready for War with North Korea
  2. Here’s How Hawaii Is Preparing for a Nuclear Attack
  3. U.S. Missile Chief: We Absolutely Believe We Can Handle North Korean Nuke

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with Ms. Vigeland’s criticism of CNN. For one thing, the first two headlines don’t indicate a desire to accelerate us towards war. The first headline is actually pumping the brakes, saying that war isn’t imminent. The second headline is again shying us away from war by raising the specter of a nuclear strike on our homeland. The third headline looks promising in going to support Ms. Vigeland’s case. Unfortunately, she didn’t provide a link to the actual story, and after searching for over 30 minutes, I couldn’t find it. In fact, she didn’t provide links to any of the pieces she cited, which is not acceptable. As a professional, Ms. Vigeland should be well aware that she must supply the sources that she is referencing. And as a news outlet, TYT Politics has both the responsibility and the resources to include these sources. This is not a small quibble. Ms. Vigeland is criticizing CNN for not having journalistic standards and it undermines her case if she and her network lack basic editorial standards. This lack of citation may also indicate that she expects her core audience to accept what she says uncritically, which is problematic because a major criticism of outlets like CNN is that they are uncritical in their reporting.

Ms. Vigeland is quite intelligent, which, ironically, indicates that she may not have actually read the articles that she cited. Otherwise, she would have seen that the first two paragraphs of the first article are clearly not drumbeats for war:

Despite bellicose rhetoric coming from US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, analysts say there are no signs the US is planning a first strike on North Korea or that Kim will make good on threats to hit the US territory of Guam.

The US military isn’t in any position right now to strike North Korea with the kind of campaign that would be needed to bring battlefield success and would need weeks, if not months, to sort out the logistics, analysts say.

One of Ms. Vigeland’s most barbed criticisms of CNN’s coverage is that it hardly included any context about how 72 years ago today, we dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. However, the second article she cited (as near as I can tell since I could not find an article with the exact title she mentioned) starts out:

Mitsuko Heidtke shakes her head in disbelief after hearing that Hawaii is now the first US state to prepare for the possibility of a nuclear strike by North Korea. She lives on the island of Oahu now, but 72 years ago she was in Hiroshima, Japan.

Heidtke says she was 10 years old when she experienced firsthand the utter devastation and the terrible consequences a nuclear bomb can deliver. She is disturbed to learn that there is even a remote possibility of going through anything like that again in her lifetime.

Ms. Heidtke goes on to tell us what her 10 year old self saw that day: “It was so terrible. People were running away with their skin hanging from their bones and burned.” And CNN notes that “at least 70,000 people were killed by the initial blast of the US atomic bomb in 1945.”

Despite her gaffe here, Ms. Vigeland is ultimately right; CNN and MSNBC are ghoulish news outlets that suck ratings out of the fear they sow in us. There is also a very easy case to be made that it is more CNN and MSNBC’s fault than it is Donald Trump’s that we are as close to war as we are. But Ms. Vigeland does this truth a disservice in her fervor and her haste to attack the mainstream media simply because they are the mainstream media. I have previously warned of the danger of uncritical attacks against the press.

I fully believe that Ms. Vigeland has the chops to do excellent reporting that illuminates the failings of the mainstream media. I think she and her colleagues at TYT can show us, with nuance and skill, how to consume the things the mainstream media does well while avoiding the many poisoned pills they have in store for us. But first she and the other intrepid reporters at TYT must stop squandering their credibility on unforced errors.

There’s a storm coming. Dark agents of misinformation are amassing against us. They are smart. They are cunning. And they are legion. We must all be our better selves if we are to overcome them.

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