Will dumb liberalism be the death of media?

16 Jan 2018  |  Tracey Follows 
Will dumb liberalism be the death of media?

Now writing each month for Mediatel: Tracey Follows

Against the backdrop of a world that encourages more voices in media, we now have liberal-thinking brands using their power to boycott or ban media they don’t care for. It's a dangerous road, writes Tracey Follows.

I’m not suggesting media is going to die, the long-term trend is for a more mediated world, not a less mediated one. If anything one has to wonder in the age of social media whether media will just eat itself. But there is a sense right now that some kinds of traditional media in particular are being bludgeoned to death by a series of side swipes from a growing number of brands desperate to gain some millennial credence.

Before Christmas we had to observe unedifying apologies from Pizza Hut and then Paperchase for running promotions in the Daily Mail. In fact the Paperchase promotion had come to an end, but sniffing out the bad smell of a social media campaign against it, Paperchase decided to snuff it out, issuing a statement which read:

"We’ve listened to you about this weekend’s promotion. We now know we were wrong to do this - we’re truly sorry and we won’t ever do this again."

My immediate thought was: so what does that communicate to anyone who works in a Paperchase store who happens to read the Daily Mail?

If this company thinks it is so distasteful as to ban itself from placing any advertising within it, then surely it wouldn’t sink so low as to employ a Daily Mail reader to serve its customers. But then that would be discrimination, wouldn’t it?

Then only a few weeks later, we have Virgin Trains saying that they will no longer sell the Daily Mail on board their trains. Yes, they have reduced the number of titles they sell, but it appears that they did also want to communicate that the values of the Daily Mail and the values of the Virgin brand differ so radically that the two could not occupy the same physical space.

Again, the logical conclusion seems to be that Virgin would therefore not employ a train driver or a shop assistant who reads the Daily Mail. Wouldn’t that be rather discriminatory? Perhaps Virgin recognised this as only yesterday they reversed their decision and reinstated the Mail on their trains.

That’s the problem with this new kind of media brand boycott. In what we might now call ‘brandstanding’, an increasing number of mainstream brands are not only setting themselves apart from certain views and opinions, they think they can claim the moral high ground to do so.

One historical characteristic of media in general has been that it extols, and it attracts, liberalism. Free speech, investigative journalism and speaking truth to power.

We rely on much of the media to hold the establishment to account, to fight many causes of the common man, and to provide a range of opinion, not just the propaganda fed to us by the State, wherever we happen to reside, whoever might be in charge at the time.

But the media only has itself to blame for this latest curtailing of consumer choice, because lately, media culture itself has adopted the post-truth narrative, one that suggests that facts are the same as the truth.

Actually, it is the 'post-truthers' who are themselves being disingenuous. They like to pretend that before opinion was democratised and distributed through social media that there was an era in which the established media only dealt in truth by reporting only the facts.

No such era ever existed. It’s just that they have less tolerance for some of the truths that are emanating from some other media because they don’t chime with their own.

The truth is: "Facts are the enemy of Truth".

Facts are something observable and for the most part objective; they can be empirically substantiated in reality. But truths are different, truths are by their nature subjective - and yet more powerful.

A truth is the state of a certain matter, it may to be a person or a place or an event or a situation. A truth is what someone has come to believe and it conveys what is really happening for them. Unlike a fact, which is permanent and unchanging, a truth depends on the current situation.

If the truths of Creationism and Darwinism can co-exist within our society, surely we are liberal enough to allow both the Guardian and The Mail"

And truths are what newspapers have always offered their readers: an interpretation of the current situation. A newspaper full of facts would be more like a periodical, and to its readers, wouldn’t ‘ring true'.

The quote above comes from Don Quixote and describes what he felt in his heart and his mind to be the case. Truth gave him meaning and purpose and a life worth living.

In this sense, truth is more powerful than the facts because truth cannot be defeated by them, and if news media want to bemoan a post-truth mentality, they are themselves peddling something which may be a truth for them but is certainly not for others.

My argument is simply this: By all means, challenge the facts and rail against ‘fake news’ stories wherever they might be.

But don’t hide behind the smoke and mirrors of a ‘post-truth’ media, in order to destroy other media you don’t yourself happen to like simply because that media and its readers or viewers have an interpretation or hold values you don’t happen to share.

If the truths of Creationism and Darwinism can co-exist within our society, surely we are liberal enough to allow both the Guardian and The Mail.

As we move through the future decades and we become more and more mediated as a society, expect more truth not less. But less tolerance of such truth as well.

Against the backdrop of a world that seemingly encourages more voices in media and more access to media (i.e. a greater liberalisation of media), we now have liberal-thinking brands using their power to boycott or ban media they don’t care for.

Many liberal brands are tolerant of all kinds of opinions - providing they chime with their own. And that is dumb liberalism. And if dumb liberalism doesn’t bring about the death of media, it certainly has the potential to diminish it over time. And no-one wants that.

Tracey Follows is the founder of Futuremade and now writes on the subject of strategic foresight each month for Mediatel



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NigelJacklin, MD, Think Media Comsultancy on 19 Jan 2018
“I was attracted by the 'dumb liberalism' headline. Yesterday I listened to a radio programme discussing algorithms in which someone described how a black 74 year old woman might be the subject of discrimination if she applied for travel insurance if the code was written by white males. Gosh how awful that would be...except that I don't think insurers ask what colour you are...so a bit of a fuss over the wrong problem. Different kind of dumb liberalism. Glad to hear the beardy misogynists train company has reversed it's decision.”