Italy: a great example of why I take mainstream media coverage of populism with a grain of salt
There was a time when journalists from respected media outlets like the BBC, the New York Times and the Guardian, at least made a sincere effort to distinguish between reporting the facts and reporting one’s political opinions. But that era is long over. We now live in a world in which journalists blithely dismiss political movements they disagree with as “extreme,” “hard-right,” and “fascistic,” as though the superiority of their own political opinions was a self-evident fact that needed no explanation.
This is perhaps nowhere more clear than in the response of Western mainstream media - in particular media that embrace progressive-leftist positions - to the prospect that Giorgia Meloni will be Italy’s first-ever female prime minister. From the tone of that response, one would think that Meloni was advocating the abolition of democracy, the abrogation of rule of law, or some sort of Putin-style military incursion into neighbouring territories.
Here is a sample of mainstream coverage of Giorgia Meloni’s election:
- BBC: “Ms Meloni is widely expected to form Italy’s most right-wing government since World War Two. That will alarm much of Europe…”
- CNN: “Giorgia Meloni claims victory to become Italy’s most far-right prime minister since Mussolini.”
- El País: “The strong result for the extreme-right obliges the EU to be smart in how it manages its relationship with Meloni.”
- The Guardian: “Giorgia Meloni is a danger to Italy and the rest of Europe.”
- New York Times: “The country’s hard turn to the right has sent shock waves across Europe after a period of stability in Italy led by Mario Draghi.”
Meloni, president of the conservative Fratelli d’Italia, or “Brothers of Italy”, party, swept to victory in Italy’s recent elections, and is now poised to become Italy’s first ever female prime minister. She is undoubtedly a controversial figure, and her style can be a bit shrill.
She defends a range of positions that are now viewed with disdain by many Western politicians and journalists, such as the primacy of the natural family, the importance of maintaining a birth-rate above replacement level, the ideal of heterosexual marriage, the sanctity of human life, the value of national identity and culture, the positive value of religion, the opposition to transgender operations for children, and the rejection of illegal immigration.
On the other hand, being a bit shrill or abrasive hardly makes a political leader a threat to democracy or a harbinger of political instability. And let’s not forget that the positions defended by Meloni were perceived as perfectly normal in many parts of the West a few decades ago, so it is hard to see why they would now put her outside the pale of civilisation or make her a serious "threat" to Europe.
The media's intense hostility to Meloni, and by extension, the popular movement that brought her to power, can be explained by one simple fact: her opinions on “hot button” issues have put her directly at odds with the progressive-leftist movement that now dominates social media, mainstream media, EU bureacracy, and the Biden Administration. And that, for many self-styled progressives, puts her far beyond the moral and political pale.
One does not have to support Italy’s newly elected prime minister or her opinions to understand that mainstream media’s coverage of her is nothing short of reactionary. Progressive-minded journalists seemed unwilling or unable to understand how opinions different to their own could end up resonating with a sufficient number of Italians to propel the leader of a conservative, pro-life party into power.
Indeed, the crude, reactionary coverage of Meloni’s victory was quite reminiscent of the coverage of Trump’s election - a mix of perplexity and indignation at the prospect that a large number of voters might actually hold opinions radically at odds with those of progressive-leftist journalists and politicians. The only explanation that occurred to progressive-leftist analysts, in both cases, was that the voters in question were either ignorant or manipulated.
If journalists report on political elections almost exclusively as ideological cheer-leaders, dismissing opposing opinions as part of a “hard right” agenda that menaces the future of democracy, then they are not doing their jobs. They are not actually attempting to understand social reality as it is, nor are they attempting to empathise, even remotely, with voters who wear “the other shirt.” It becomes impossible for them to understand the motives and points of view of their fellow citizens, and it becomes impossible for them to respect the opinions of citizens who see the world differently from themselves.
When journalists become completely tone-deaf to opinions at odds with progressive-leftist principles, or automatically dismiss such opinions as anathema to liberal democracy, their coverage of political events loses any appearance of impartiality and their work becomes largely irrelevant to a large swathe of the citizenry. Once journalists enter into “campaign” mode, many citizens tune out or treat their pronouncements with a grain of salt.
And rightly so.
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