Wikipedia is the most widely used source of information in the world, and a great deal has been written about its impact on public perception of certain topics. Wikipedia shapes both scientific research and real-world economic outcomes, and is the top source of medical information for both doctors and patients. The widespread reliance on Wikipedia would not be a problem if it were a neutral and authoritative source, but earlier this year Wikipedia’s co-founder Larry Sanger declared that “Wikipedia’s ‘NPOV’ (neutral point of view) is dead.” Is Sanger’s statement correct?
As America’s acid bath of a presidential campaign boils to a merciful close, the political clamor is becoming increasingly indistinguishable from a shouting match about, over, and against the media. Twitter is still blocking the New York Post‘s main account a week after the tabloid’s controversial article on Hunter Biden’s alleged corruption. President Donald Trump has been waging preemptive war against upcoming debate moderator Kristin Welker and 60 Minutes correspondent Leslie Stahl. Sacha Baron Cohen, in a Borat sequel that ends with a plea for viewers to vote, just tried to honey-pot Rudy Giuliani.
The partisan lopsidedness to this debate, between attempted authoritarian and “enemy of the people,” can give off the misleading impression that the divide over free speech and its applications is a clean philosophical schism, with conservatives on one side, progressives and most journalists on the other. In fact it is not.
The fight over media is more a fight over power, and who gets to wield it, than a fight over principle, and how it should be applied. Trump and Joe Biden both want to roll back the speech protections in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act; the difference is that the president would do it in the name of protecting conservatives and the former vice president would do it in the name of restricting conservative misinformation. Sens. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) agree that Facebook and Twitter are guilty of “election interference”; it just depends on which election. Google faces antitrust enthusiasm from House Democrats and Bill Barr’s Justice Department alike. (This morning, on Fox Business Network’s Mornings with Maria, Donald Trump, Jr., asserted that this election would be a referendum on the First Amendment, because only his father could be trusted with following through on his promise to break up Big Tech, because Democrats who talk a big game are actually in bed with their censorious Silicon Valley overlords.)
The more politics (and its worst form, war) subsumes life, the more free speech is treated as a means to an end rather than as a magnificent if always-threatened achievement of the Enlightenment. It is no accident that the bipartisan clampdown on speech in the governmental realm is coinciding in the intellectual realm with a noisy right-left rethink of the Enlightenment itself.
Democrats claimed that they were superior because they were “listening to the science”. They weren’t listening to the science, which is not an oracle and does not give interviews. Instead, they were obeying a class of officials, some of them whom weren’t even medical professionals, who impressed elected officials and the public with statistical sleight of hand. And little else.
The entire lockdown to testing to reopening pipeline that we adopted wholesale was a typical bureaucratic and corporate exercise, complete with the illusion of metrics and goals, that suffered from all the typical problems of bureaucracy, academia, and corporate culture.
The system that determines reopenings and closings is an echo chamber that measures its own functioning while having little to do with the real world. Testing has become a cargo cult exercise that confuses the map with the world, and the virus with the spreadsheet. It gamifies fighting the pandemic while dragging entire countries into an imaginary world based on its invented rules.
When the media reports a rise or decrease in positive tests, it’s treated as if it’s an assessment of the virus, rather than an incomplete data point that measures its own measurements.
The daily coronavirus reports have become the equivalent of Soviet harvest reports. They sound impressive, mean absolutely nothing, and are the pet obsession of a bureaucracy that not only has no understanding of the problem, but its grip on power has made it the problem.
Look, we know newspapers are going to overwhelmingly endorse Joe Biden. When political donations originating from employees of media organizations are eventually tallied up, we know they will tilt massively Democrat. Most people who are cognizant of the profession’s recent turn toward “moral clarity” over unattainable objectivity understand that that means those with non-lefty politics will be subjected to harsher adjectives.
And yet the very same media commentators who have long decried the so-called “view from nowhere” are absent in this battle for more journalistic transparency.