Reliable Sources with Brian Stelter

In my email on March 23, from CNN Reliable Sources <>, after this headnote:

Oliver Darcy here at 10:47pm ET on Wednesday, March 23. Here’s the latest on Reuters, BuzzFeed News, Fox, Meta, “Wheel of Fortune,” Spotify, “Real Housewives,” and more…

[…] this item, which is too good to clean out of my inbox and lose forever. Darcey and Stelter couldn’t be more right here, and I’ll just copy it here verbatim:

Two very different wars

On Wednesday night, Anderson Cooper opened his 8pm show informing his audience about the latest developments on Russia’s war against Ukraine. He told viewers about NYT’s report that the US is making contingency plans in case Russia uses nuclear weapons or launches a chemical attack. He noted that President Biden has arrived in Brussels for an emergency NATO meeting. And he covered how the US is now officially accusing Russia of war crimes.

Meanwhile, on FoxTucker Carlson opened his show condemning Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson for a Tuesday moment in which she declined to offer a definition of “woman” during her Supreme Court hearings. As Cooper showed horrifying drone footage of the widespread devastation in Mariupol, Carlson showed his audience a sex-ed type graphic of the female reproductive system.

The split-screen moment was yet another stark contrast between the two networks. But, perhaps more importantly, it was illustrative of how out-of-touch and small the culture war nonsense is amid a backdrop of actual, serious global problems. Writing for The AtlanticStanford Internet Observatory research manager Renée DiResta pointed out that the Ukraine crisis “briefly put America’s culture war in perspective.” She couldn’t be more right. 

DiResta noted that when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began one month ago, data showed that the hyper-partisan rage content that normally dominates social media was drowned out by actual news updates. “Those first few days after Russia’s invasion revealed something important about the United States: Much of what looks like unbridgeable polarization online may be the product of boredom, distraction, and jadedness; when something real happens, people pay attention to that instead,” DiResta wrote.

Four weeks after the war commenced, there are signs that fatigue is setting in. TV news ratings, for instance, have started to fall back to reality after ballooning early on. And perhaps another sign is the return of culture idiocy that is once again saturating channels like Fox and social media feeds.

“Still, the early days of the Russian invasion showed that everyday users have choices. The American culture-war influencers didn’t disappear; users just didn’t pay as much attention to them,” DiResta wrote in her piece. “It shouldn’t take a shooting war to pull our eyeballs away from the culture war. The normal state of online discourse shouldn’t be an information war of all against all. The brief moment when Americans focused on more important things didn’t last, but it did show that we have some agency here.”

[Published April 7, 2022]

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