Canada, Media, Top

The Peterson Principle: Intellectual Complexity and Journalistic Incompetence

It was while I was watching Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Newman’s spectacularly disastrous interview with University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson that what was wrong with much of journalism today crystallized in my brain.

I’d been oscillating between anger and frustration watching Canadian media fail again and again – and often in jaw-dropping fashion – in reporting on Peterson and I couldn’t quite establish what was going wrong.

Peterson is the teacher and clinical psychologist who burst onto the scene after making a video decrying the government’s Bill C-16 which compelled the use of invented gender pronouns (ze and zir, etc) for non-binary and transgender people. Peterson connected the “compelled speech” of the legislation (and the unscientific instantiation of gender as a non-biologically-correlated social construct) to radical leftist ideology and authoritarian governments.

In an admittedly complex and controversial argument, Peterson blamed the spread of postmodernism within the academy for the rise of both identity politics and the emergence of the illiberal left. Many of the stories about him were shallow or missed the point, but several in respected publications like the Globe and Mail and Maclean’s by Tabatha Southey, Ira Wells and most recently by John Semley, were just hatchet jobs, replete with insults, inaccuracies and what appeared to be deliberate misrepresentations. In short, bad journalism you would not expect in good outlets.

At the same time, and on what I thought was a completely different channel, I was enjoying a new discovery – the podcasts of neuroscientist and public intellectual Sam Harris. I was finding these long, complex conversations between highly intelligent people mesmerizing. I listened to Harris talk with evolutionary biologist Bret Weinstein, MIT professor and A-I expert Max Tegmark, New York Times writers Mark Lilla and David Brooks, and many others. Often, I would listen to them twice because of the depth and sophistication of the discussions. This led me to the Rubin Report podcast, where interviewer-comedian Dave Rubin would do one-on-one interviews with people such as Peterson himself, British author and social critic Douglas Murray, Concordia University professor Gad Saad, and many others. What I was getting was precisely what was missing from virtually all the media coverage of the Peterson issue: intelligent inquiry, honest discussion, the exchange of views and the critique of ideas that is possible when really smart people talk about really difficult topics. In contrast were the flawed reporting and misinformed commentary that characterized respected mainstream media reports.

When I first heard about the Peterson affair, I did what I was trained to do: I spent hours researching – reviewing the original videos, listening to many hours of online lectures, and carefully analyzing the claims and counterclaims. That revealed, in startling fashion, just how shallow and facile much of the media reporting was. Then I imagined what doctors, engineers, physicists, psychologists, lawyers and any informed person thinks of the quality of the stories that touch upon their area of expertise. No wonder people are jaded about journalism today. So much of it is lazy,– and just wrong – so much of the time.

Take Ira Wells’ piece, titled “The Professor of Piffle” in the Walrus. Here, the U. of Toronto lecturer and freelance writer made statements that any informed reader could immediately recognize as false and seemingly dishonest. He writes, “It seems indisputable: Peterson is now the most famous professor in Canada. What he is not, however, is the author of any lasting work of scholarship, the originator of any important idea, or a public intellectual of any scientific credibility or moral seriousness.”

It’s admittedly hard to predict what might be lasting or important, but Peterson taught at Harvard for five years, is the author of the serious book Maps of Meaning (1999) and has published more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific journal papers. He has almost 6,000 citations and is the recipient of multiple research grants. Claiming he has no “scientific credibility” is not an opinion, it’s a verifiable falsehood.

Wells continues, “In a conversation with Camille Paglia, he lamented that men can’t exert control over “crazy women” by physically beating them … Few in the media who have lauded Peterson as being “right” on free speech in universities have bothered to qualify that he is dangerously wrong about everything else …”

The Paglia quote is an outright misrepresentation and there are many more in the article. For a full enumeration of them, see Uri Harris’ thoughtful essay “In Defense of Jordan B. Peterson” in which he states that: “Wells’ essay is littered with inaccuracies and casual insults, accompanied by a moralistic undertone” and then systemically exposes each of Wells misstatements. It’s hard not to conclude that Wells is being purposely dishonest in what he wrote about Peterson.

Next up is former Globe and Mail columnist and now Maclean’s pundit Tabatha Southey’s piece “Is Jordan Peterson the stupid man’s smart person?

It is a string of ad hominem attacks interspersed with jibes designed, apparently, for humour. Devoid of any engagement with ideas, the piece does not even remotely adhere to the precepts of real journalism. Reader response was fierce and the more than 200 comments captured the frustration so many seem to feel about media today:

It’s really sad. Southey could have given an honest critique of Peterson and his ideas without resorting to dishonesty, especially dishonesty that’s so easy to see through. This is unfortunately very poor journalism.

This article is so poorly written I had to read some sentences twice, in spite of the fact that they contained no information. It is just a boilerplate of logical fallacies: ad hominem attacks, straw man arguments, appeal to ridicule, appeal to emotions … To answer the author’s question, I think Jordan Peterson is the stupid person’s smart nemesis.

Most intellectually lazy piece of writing I’ve seen in a while. Basically name calling because the author does not like what Dr. Peterson says, not a single serious discussion of any ideas… If you’re going to disagree with someone, at least think about it for more than a few seconds, and then maybe, maybe, you’ll be able to formulate some sort of logically coherent response.

The Globe and Mail’s full-page story on Peterson by Simona Chiose – Jordan Peterson and the trolls of the ivory tower” didn’t address Peterson’s claims or the concerns he has articulated. Rather, it focussed on the extremists he sometimes attracts online and on the money he is making. It’s difficult to read the piece and not come away with the view that Peterson is at best irresponsible and at worst, a craven opportunist. Yet anyone who has listened to any of his 500 hours of free online lectures understands that labeling him as an “alt-right” sympathizer is ludicrous.

John Semley’s piece, again in the Globe and Mail, is even worse. Marked “Opinion” Semley’s article is a mean-minded string of insults and personal attacks. He calls Peterson “an absurd figure,” “a wholly unimposing specimen,” “an intellectual snake oil salesman,” “a shameless huckster,” and “a prophet for profit.” No doubt, Semley thinks this passes for wit, but it’s just reckless, dishonest showing off. People who practice real journalism adhere to the rule that in an op-ed, the opinion must be one that could be held by an honest person in possession of the facts. It’s perfectly reasonable to disagree – even violently – with Peterson’s ideas, but no honest person could survey his 30-year career teaching and researching and surmise that he is a money-grubbing charlatan.

Of course, some articles were better than others. Christie Blatchford’s reporting was factual and careful and her commentary measured as was the New York Times David Brooks’ column. Better pieces appeared off the mainstream media grid such as Tom Bartlett’s nuanced piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education. But overall, major media repeatedly missed the mark, lazily reinforcing false stereotypes and parroting unsubstantiated accusations.

This reached its nadir when Cathy Newman had Peterson on Britain’s Channel 4. In this train wreck of an interview which went viral, you can see everything that is wrong with mainstream media today.

What transpired is neither a conversation nor an interview. Newman made no effort to illuminate or understand Peterson’s views. Peterson himself, speaking about the interview later, said: “She was arguing against who she thought I was … I realized almost immediately that whoever she was talking to bore little resemblance to me.”

It’s difficult to document every misstatement that Newman made in the 30-minute interview. She failed spectacularly and the result is amusing in a way, but also deeply unsatisfying. Why? Because journalists are not supposed to be in the business of buttressing ideologies; they’re supposed to be truth seekers. But in much of what has been written and broadcast around this subject, truth has been nowhere in sight. Watch CBC’s Wendy Mesley’s interview with Peterson for more of the same.

Though less overtly confrontational than Newman, Mesley makes no honest attempt to elucidate Peterson’s actual views. The interview is instead constructed around a “gotcha moment” where Mesley pulls out a photograph of Peterson posing with two young men and a Pepe the Frog banner. “It’s seen as an alt-right symbol, and here you are holding up a flag like it’s a joke,” she says. “I’m wondering why you would choose to be in this photo?”

Unperturbed, Peterson calmly responds that he has posed for thousands of pictures and that he’s done a two-hour lecture expressing his thoughts on the meaning of the Pepe the Frog symbol. Mesley ignores this. Neither the photo nor her question has any real bearing on what Peterson lectures on or writes about. It does nothing to interrogate what he’s saying and why so many people in the English-speaking world are listening. It’s false, and it rings false.

The only moment of real exchange is at the end, where Wesley seems truly caught off guard by Peterson’s answer to her banal question: “What’s next for you?”

“I don’t know what’s next really… The overwhelming likelihood, as far as I’m concerned and it’s been this way since September of 2016, is that this will go terribly wrong.…I think it’s unlikely that it will continue in a positive direction but you never know,” he says, pausing. “It’s too much, eh? It’s been too much for a long time. But so far so good and I’ll ride it out as long as I can. I’m surfing a hundred-foot wave and generally what happens if you do that is you drown.”

“That’s interesting,” replies Mesley.

Yes, it is. And it’s disarmingly honest and compelling. And a whole interview conducted in that spirit of open exchange would have been fascinating.

Why don’t we get these nuanced conversations? Journalists are not stupid. Some of the smartest people I have ever met have been in newsrooms. So, what’s the problem?

Some are the same issues that have plagued mainstream media for decades: lack of time, lack of specific expertise, the decline of informed beat reporters and an unhealthy tendency toward the sensational and the spectacular. But there’s something new afoot, something more insidious.

Today’s mainstream reporting on difficult subjects is often bereft of most of the qualities that define journalism itself. Instead, it demonstrates a lack of respect for evidence; a penchant for conflict; a desire not to understand but to confront and perhaps most dangerously, a lack of nuance. Instead of inquiry and critique, we get knee-jerk adherence to whatever the current dogma happens to be. On topic after topic that folks like Sam Harris and Peterson meet head on with facts and studies, mainstream media falls in lock step with the zeitgeist of the day: gender is divorced from biology, any critique of Islam is bigotry, cultural appropriation is abhorrent, words are actual violence. And worse, when writers or editors dare to challenge these “truths”, or deign to suggest a real conversation is in order, they are banished, fired or called racists. On the other hand, authors who pander to the flavour-of- the-month outrage are given national platforms that their shallow, mean-spirited writings don’t deserve.

But is that what people really want? Increasingly, I’m convinced that mainstream media is on the wrong track and the only way to ensure its future is to change course, drastically. Right now.

The danger that people will abandon bad mainstream journalism is real and present. Kevin O’Rourke captures this fear in his piece, “The Curious Case of the Canadian Psychologistwhen he says of the Cathy Newman interview: “This whole episode could turn out to be a watershed moment in the history of Britain’s relationship with the news. Why watch Cathy Newman act the clown in an expensive studio when you can get Sam Harris vs Jordan Peterson on your phone? If you have something to say to the public, why let journalists filter it when you can talk to a camera and put it on YouTube?”

While mainstream media emphasizes quick hits, short interviews, and click-bait headlines, a significant proportion of the public is seeking something else. My intuitions are, of course, anecdotal, but the hunger for honest reporting and informed discussion is quantifiable. Peterson’s channel has more than 800,000 subscribers, his long lecture videos have received almost 40 million views, averaging about 4 million a month. The Rubin Report has 635,000 subscribers and has received a total of 140 million views at nearly four million a month. Sam Harris’s podcasts receive about 2 million visits per month.

While mainstream media struggles with declining readership and a public that refuses to financially support what they are delivering, online audiences are lining up and paying. And that audience is huge and growing steadily. A 2017 Edison Research Study reported that 24 percent of Americans (67 million people) are monthly podcast listeners, up 40% in two years.

The average listener subscribes to six podcasts and 85% report listening to the entire show or most of it. That’s tremendous breadth, depth, and growth – and it’s still early days. Thinking people want – and need – informed discussion about complex, thorny issues that is intellectually rigorous and fact-based.

Mainstream journalists need to engage in critical thinking, to once again speak empirical truth to dogma, to defend facts and evidence and to fearlessly question groupthink and intellectual tyranny of all kinds. They need to respect smart citizens by being smart themselves and engaging in honest reporting and commentary.

Because I fear that if they don’t, others will. And journalists and journalism as we know it will become irrelevant.

 

Paul Benedetti is an award-winning journalist, author and writer. His essays have appeared in the Globe and Mail, Canadian Living, Reader’s Digest and Hamilton Spectator and is the former Co-ordinator of the Journalism Program at Western University, where he continues to lecture full-time, teaching journalism and critical thinking. Follow him on Twitter @pbenedetti

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77 Comments

  1. The dying gasps of Print/MSM have a distinctly desperate taste… small, independent online publications, podcasts, and streaming channels will soon be the decentralized journalism behemoth. Great piece. Nice to see that not all journalists are getting desperate and sloppy.

  2. The mainstream media are making the mistake of appealing to emotions rather than reason. It’s catchy, sure, but it’s also hollow. It’s the equivalent of junk food, and it leaves the audience feeling unsatisfied.

    • Good analogy. Intellectual junk food leads to mental obesity which means you cant make the effort to engage with any argument but just accept the easy options.

  3. Non-Canadian readers should know that the Canadian publications treated here – The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, Maclean’s – represent some of the biggest and most respected names in the business in Canada, equivalent to, say, the NY Times, The New Republic and Time respectively. The writer could also have added Chatelaine, a major Canadian women’s magazine, which produced yet another dishonest hit piece on Peterson a few months back. The problem described in this article is particularly significant because it covers almost all the biggest names in Canadian print media. A tip of the hat to Mr Benedetti, who has put his finger on a very real and troubling development.

    • Phillip says

      Myrna Blythe wrote “Spin Sisters; How women of the media sell unhappiness and Liberalism.”

      So it is nothing new, and I think one of the important revelations, is that these women in the media, believe that everyone else thinks the same way as they do.

      It’s been a while since I read the book.

  4. Just like small news papers literally printed in basements in the 19th and early 20th century, social networks, and alternate news channels like quillette , or the Rubin Report are challenging established order.

    This order is built on a tightly bound web of vested interests, academics validating the ideological tenets of government interests, governments enacting policies that bypass democratic enquiry, journalists reporting on facts through the prism of academic analysis.

    The Peterson affair is one such example, but there are many others. The rise of unregulated capitalism in the U.K. in the 80s was entirely made through academic institutions and think tanks. So was the Irak war.

    Quillette, the Rubin Report, have very little weight, almost no influence beyond a circle of aficionados. What policies were changed since they rightfully asked for common decency to become the rule? Why can’t they see that in this hotpot of new news channels, only Ben Shapiro is bringing industriousness?

  5. We really need more Jordan Petersons. His greatest quality is his ability to hold a highly informed and researched opinion, while still openly questioning his own position.

    It is a very effective and truly admirable trait. It disarms honest philosophical opponents, making them more willing to consider his views.

    “If he’s willing to reconsider his own views, why shouldn’t I reconsider them too?”

    It is also devastating to pre-programmed fools like Cathy Newman; Making her look even worse than she normally would. His candid self examination, combined with unassailable credentials, make the vacuous attacks against him from ankle biters and trans fanatics completely ineffective.

    If you haven’t watched his debates against various pseudo academics, take the time.

    • Douglas Murray is another ‘fighting the good fight’. Calm, astonishingly articulate, and more than sharp enough to cut through the ‘right on’ jibberjabber hurled at him.

    • Good point. I urge you to look at the Russel Brand/Peterson interview. I have always dismissed Russel as a typical biased leftist dealing in PC labels (Cant stand his irritating affected cockney accent either which is neither here nor there) but i have to say I will be reassessing him in future. He is one of the few of his ilk who had the intelligence to realise that Peterson cannot be dismissed as some kind of extreme right bigot but who’s articulate voice resonates with so many people and deserves the utmost respect especially by people who disagree with him the most if they themselves are to be taken seriously. It was one of the most open and genuinely connected discussions i have ever heard with both antagonists acknowledging each others failings as well as each others validity and involved a real effort to understand the others views instead of just trying to score points and “Win” the debate.

  6. “journalism as we know it will become irrelevant”
    For many, including me, it already is.
    I now only consume It second hand via critiques of it.
    And I’m a fifty year old, not a millennia,l or teenager.
    I don’t have a TV, and haven’t had one for nearly ten years.
    Even my parents are sick of the twaddle on UK tv.

    • … and so it should become irrelevant, and better for everyone if it did.

  7. Everyone in the mainstream media should read this and take it to heart. They’ve been grasping for years now as the walls crumble around them and the closest thing I’ve seen to a hint that they might be catching on is the occasional hostile piece directed at YouTube and bloggers. If they know what the threat is why aren’t they addressing it?

    In this era of amature reporting and “fake news” there is absolutely a need for professional journalism, but not if they continue forget the professional part of that equation.

  8. Pingback: The Peterson Principle: Intellectual Complexity and Journalistic Incompetence – Quillette – historystone

  9. Great piece, although you might want to recheck Dr. Saad’s credentials. As I understand, he’s a professor at Concordia, and not McGill.

  10. DiscoveredJoys says

    “Because journalists are not supposed to be in the business of buttressing ideologies; they’re supposed to be truth seekers”

    In the past, maybe. Mostly journalists are producing immediate confirmation biased entertainment for their papers’/broadcasters’ audiences. Because if you lose the audience you lose the advertising revenue. Journalism has become a short-lived commodity to be sold.

    And that’s before we even start the debate about the effects of post-modernism on culture. Within a few years there will be no outlets for ‘old style journalism’ left.

  11. Jean Rankin says

    I absolutely agree. Related: my husband and I watched the Falcon Heavy launch on the SpaceX YouTube channel and we were blown away by how much better the presentation was than anything comparable on the MSM. SpaceX used actual engineers to present what was going on: turns out it’s easier to train engineers to present than it is to train floppy-haired presenting muppets to say something intelligent and informative about engineering.

    I rarely bother with more than the headlines these days. I go to the MSM for light relief fluff. If I want to find out about something the podcasts you’ve mentioned or bloggers who actually know something is where I will go.

    • Robert Christopher says

      ‘… turns out it’s easier to train engineers to present than it is to train floppy-haired presenting muppets to say something intelligent … ‘

      So true!
      But the media icons would cease to be the centre of attention – and loose control, including control of the narrative. And where would Climate Change, Multiculturalism, the UK NHS, Women’s Soccer 🙂 , Feminism and all the other isms, be?

  12. ga gamba says

    What we see here by the named journalists are a few of Alinski’s rules at play.

    5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
    6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” Peterson’s foes enjoy the smears and the ridicule leveled at him. But it now proved itself to be a bad tactic. How? It violated Alinski’s rule #7, “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
    13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” This tactic has failed. Whether by plan or by luck, Peterson posted several dozen videos on youtube prior to releasing his videos opposing C-16. You can be assured that his enemies scrutinised them and seemingly found nothing that would damn him. His supporters could draw from many hours of footage to defend him. Further, Peterson was wise to neither monetise his youtube content nor defend his intellectual property because there is a cottage industry of youtubers who edit 3 to 12-minute snippets and upload them, which makes it easy for his defenders to use and the curious fence sitters to access.

    Years ago journalists enjoyed the monopoly of sense making to the public, of distilling a figure’s message and framing it one way or another. For those who have an inventory of content, youtube offers the figure, one who is precise with his speech and hasn’t said anything blatantly offensive, a strong line of defence.

    The larger, more important question is: how did journalism get here?

    Firstly, the rise of click-bait journalism, its need to capture eyeballs and hold them for advert revenue, has editors tolerate an ever more controversial, even adversarial, narrative. In the US newspaper advert revenue fell $40 billion from $63.5b in 2000 to $23b in 2013, and this phenomenon is found in the rest of the Anglosphere. At the same time newspapers were giving away content, so paid subscriptions also fell – soft paywalls were introduced to stem this bleeding. Legacy media’s battle against Facebook and other social media is driven in part by the anger it feels over new media’s advert revenue growth, ostensibly at legacy media’s expense.

    Secondly, I think the change to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) code of ethics 22 years ago figures importantly. It removed objectivity and unleashed advocacy journalism. (I think most laypeople still think journalists have an ethical responsibility to be objective.) Though it’s not my argument journalists can be truly objective, the ethical requirement had them explore ideas that challenged their biases. They learnt stuff. Expanding their knowledge made them more competent, and it even improved their allies’ arguments because they had to answer questions like “You detractors say…” Today, they simply toss softball question to their allies – this is practicing “good allyship”, and the journalist also faces social and professional peer pressure to conform. Advocacy journalism makes the journalist a spokesperson, a public relations agent.

    Lastly, you may have heard and read the phrase “speak truth to power” used by journalists. Sounds noble, but it ought to be unpacked and examined. Under postmodernism there is no “the truth’; there is my truth and your truth and her truth. This conflates how one experiences life and its events with the truth. A person (without membership in a group deemed powerful) may assert any old thing and it’s taken as is.

    Then, who or what is power? Again, postmodernism establishes the powerless as the oppressed and marginalised, typically these are the identity groups. But here comes the problem; within these groups there too exists the powerful and abuse. And what happens when the two powerless groups class? Legacy media, having succumbed to practicing good allyship, eschews examining these problems within oppressed groups. This is why the fact the most physically abusive relationships are lesbians’ (https://news.northwestern.edu/stories/2014/09/domestic-violence-likely-more-frequent-for-same-sex-couples) yet it doesn’t receive anything close to the same amplification heterosexual domestic violence receives by the legacy media. The same can be said for “bug chasing” and many other discomfiting subjects.

    You may recall the mass sexual assault in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve 2016. Though the basic who, what, and where were reported in the days following, it took almost a week for progressive media to come to terms with it and examine the why. Punditry had fallen silent during a major news event, this during the era of 24×7 news coverage, of every newspaper battling for views and in desperate need for the revenue that comes from them.

    The Guardian’s Gaby Hinsliff finally broke the silence on 8 Jan: “Many Germans are asking why politicians, police and broadcasters seem so reluctant to discuss what happened under cover of the crowds… Which is why, of course, liberals like me are reluctant to talk about it. […] the risk is that we end up miserably self-censoring […] Journalism isn’t really journalism when it avoids stories for fear of how some might react.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/08/cologne-attacks-hard-questions-new-years-eve)

    “Journalism isn’t really journalism when it avoids stories for fear of how some might react.” Gosh! You think so? This wasn’t a profound insight by a high-school newspaper’s reporter. It should have been covered in a university J-school. Often. Certainly it ought to be pounded into the head of a newspaper’s cub reporter. Ms Hinsliff has been working professionally in journalism since 1994. Can you imagine another occupation, be it pilots to plumbers, surgeons to seamstresses, declaring such a basic insight about one’s work after 22 years of being on the job? “Oh, I’m supposed to do this task that’s fundamental to my work?! Zoinks!”

    Had the attacks been perpetrated by white xenophobes on immigrant women the legacy media would have been in overdrive; progressive journalists have that script primed and ready. Cologne’s mass sex assault was a glitch in the system; there was no script for journalists to use. (See David Fuller’s interview with Jordan Greenhall, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NEvuQWR3oo for a discussion about glitches and scripts.) The need to practice good allyship meant the subject of powerless black and brown immigrant men abusing powerless yet white native women was avoided with the hope it would disappear from the news cycle. It didn’t. It was too large a story, so progressive journalists had to spend days figuring out how to frame the narrative. Speaking truth to power is not the same as speaking the truth to abuse, and it ought to be journalism’s job to pursue the latter and not the former. Had journalists required themselves to speak truth to abuse they wouldn’t have spent nearly a week in existential crisis; Ms Hinsliff would have been able to write her punditry soon after the story broke.

    The SPJ’s code of ethics informs its members they must be courageous. “Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information,” is the first thing mentioned after the preamble. (https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:C7Cy3T5ovMgJ:https://www.spj.org/pdf/ethicscode.pdf) Newspapers like the Guardian trumpet their “courageous journalism”, especially now in these “dark times” of Trump. As they are presently, many journalists are not fit for purpose and fall short of their ethical responsibilities.

      • Robert Christopher says

        Seconded! I ended up thinking it was an article!

    • I enjoyed your thorough analysis of this article it and the information you provided.

      The media blackout about the cologne incident and a few others, obvious smear campaigns and the outrage mills…I want to say it makes my ears bleed (not yet literally). But the truth is I am depressed that journalists don’t care about the damage they do to their readers/viewers, especially young minds, when they refute their objectivity and ethics. Ideologies disappear in time and they will get exposed by future humans as having taken the easy way out by promoting hysteria and half-truths, like other propagandists from our past. Destroying the dialogue between individuals and “groups” at such an important time. The proof is all over the internet…

      It is crazy how we as humans only have our critical thinking to protect us from years (or a lifetime) of insanity, conflict and fear of the ideological sort. You might really get hurt if you lose balance on that tightrope for even a moment.

      I hope many who consider themselves progressive refuse to stomach the duplicity any longer and become hungry for something other then the too often fetid buffet presented as news. It is in our nature to seek the truth, to crave answers be it as cave dwellers or internet surfers, but our well has been poisoned for so long now. Seeking should be a fun, almost endless activity/hobby. Knowing the unchanging truth is boring so we switch to trying to convince others and that creates drama…

    • Very good analysis man. You should submit your own article to quillette and have it published. I have a few quick pointers to add as well.

      Many have noticed that the MSM and academics are unable/unwilling to turn their “punching up” and “speaking truth to power” narratives on themselves, even when they acknowledge their own power. It’s easy to assume they are just hypocrites (which they are). But they are not accidental hypocrites; they have intellectual justification. Look into Critical Theory and how it exempts itself from intellectual scrutiny. Also look into Herbert Marcus of the Frankfurt school, and how he justifies restricting the rights (such as freedom of speech) of people he deems right wing, but not left wing. The death of Western journalism is the symptom of them acting out these philosophies. The connection must be made and the ideas repudiated before change can occur.

    • Super – thank you very much. The original piece is good enough wrt it’s observations, I felt it stopped short of a deeper analysis on how on earth we got to this perverse situation where journalists have lost all sense of objectivity, and have become ideologues. The other responder was correct – this should be published.

  13. Steve T says

    I agree this article really nails the issue but in reality this isn’t anything new, it has simply become more extreme and ridiculous because the mainstream views are now so nonsensical. I gave up on the MSM finally and completely over their coverage of the IAEA report 6 months after their accident. The issue was that there was no coverage and the report was basically saying that the accident was rather different from all the speculation at the time – ie important news. The MSM media consumed vast quantities of air time and column inches at the time it actually happened but on being told “actually it was worse than that” they said nothing. This was the final straw for me. That was over 30 years ago and I’ve considered the MSM to be effectively useless for finding out what is actually going on the world ever since.

    The broad conclusion I would draw is that the problem has been developing in the media over a much longer period and has little if anything to do with modern threats to the more traditional media outlets and more to do with a general rush to the bottom as a result of open competition for audiences with new modern media being the only people who have taken an interest in catering to the minority audience that actually wants truth.

  14. Daniel PV says

    There’s nothing particularly surprising about journalistic standards today – from both the left and right. You need to give your readership what they want to hear.

    People really want there to be a conspiracy, keeping them down. They want to be told that they’d all be google CEOs right now, if it wasn’t for some faceless, evil, sinister system keeping them from achieving their potential. Its extremely gratifying for the ego. “I’m great, I have the talent to do anything I want, its just the damn system keeping me down”!

    People don’t want to be told otherwise. Evidence that shows the reasons why more men are FTSE100 CEOs is NOT GOOD to hear, as it puts the responsibility back on individuals. It says; “maybe you’re not a FTSE 100 CEO because you’re not good enough, or not willing to do what it takes, and make the necessary sacrifices”. The Ego doesn’t like that, and will react viciously to anything that contradicts the story that it wants to hear.

    That’s why people like Peterson, Shapiro, Harris et al are subject to such vitriol, misrepresentation and hatchet jobs. They spoil the wonderful oppression story that people have convinced themselves exists.

    • I’ve literally never heard anyone ever claim they deserve to be in a CEO position and that hard work isn’t required. you’re really taking something a few idiots have said and pretending that’s the mainstream ideology?

  15. Joe Bin says

    Well written. Great piece, but please correct: Gad Saad is a prof at Concordia University, not McGill.

  16. I read through some of the comments and I feel several of you are incorrect due to overthinking. The traditional media isn’t appealing to emotion, they’re appealing to $$s. The lack of subscription income has forced all media to look to ad revenue as their primary funding source. Just as banks swarmed the sub-prime mortgage industry when they realized how lucrative the profits were, the media companies are swarming into the online-ad marketplace driven by views and clicks. The best way to generate the views and clicks? Appeal to tribalism. It doesn’t matter which side of the political spectrum, the more slanted/outrageous the piece the greater the ad revenue generated. Put out a Petersen or Trump hit piece and the Left ideologues click to read and go “rah rah!” while a number of Right leaning people click in as well to post in the comments. Those comment posters are the biggest money makers because they tend to revisit over and over to see feedback and respond again. The media doesn’t care what is said, only that there is an active forum since getting to that active forum sells ad views.

    The phenomenon that led to click-bait has been absorbed by the media marketing & sales departments — nothing more onerous than that. The reason for the downfall of journalism as a result can be explained by looking at the flaw in how “big data” is being used. If the bean-counters at XYZ news are grading “merit” by looking at which pieces generate the click-ad-dollars, the algorithm will float to the top the biased, emotional appealing writers who generate the click bait. These writers (not journalists) will then be promoted and elevated simply because of their dollar generation no differently than Howard Stern, Imus, and Rush Limbaugh were in their day.

  17. Louis B says

    Very good survey of the media landscape around JBP.

    The one thing that I would disagree with is the notion that professionals will push back against this landscape. In fact, from what I can see doctors, lawyers, professors and other professionals have shown very little resistance to the dogmatic left, except where it comes to their own pocketbooks. I am constantly astounded at how docile my professional friends and relatives are to the media agenda of the moment. The polymath professional is an archetype from the past, rarely seen anymore. We imagine the lawyer or doctor carefully attending to the needs of clients or patients through the day without regard to business, and in the evening sitting down with a serious tome to gain wisdom. The reality is closer to something else. Every client and patient is an economic unit, and at night you watch Netflix and plan the next vacation. Careerism is more important than a professional oath.

    I think JBP is an articulate voice urging a return to the former mode of being for professionals. It is far more satisfying and will lead to a better society.

  18. EandJsFilmCrew says

    “If you have something to say to the public, why let journalists filter it when you can talk to a camera and put it on YouTube?” Precisely. There is no good answer to that question if you are journalist. Producers and consumers of news, post-YouTube, do not need, say, the CBC or the New York Times in exactly the same way that post-Amazon producers and consumers of goods do not need Sears Roebuck. Sears and the NYT still exist, but as rather sad remnants of their former selves.

  19. Hey folks. Paul is a great friend of mine and a deeply good man. What he says here is important and right ( though not alt-right). But, but we are a very narrow slice of the general public. So, I encourage all of us to share this piece with at least one journalist or friend who may not know of the Quillette and the podcasts mentioned. That way we will get beyond an echo chamber and start getting these ideas into general discussion. He said naively? Also, I’m very heartened by the level of discourse here. Refreshing, although a few more folks calling Paul a “racist dickweed” and a “ “neutered Peterson lapdog” would be good for balance.

    • Now that you mention it, Paul IS an alt-right racist dickweek who’s little more than a Peterson lapdog!! (#justdoingmypart) :p In all seriousness, this was a tremendous article, and I think Paul touches on many very important problems in today’s online environment.

  20. Alejandro Guerra says

    well ts not all bad apparently, this was a very well executed article

  21. Michael Romkey says

    Excellent analysis.

    As a recently retired newspaper editor in the U.S., I saw it all at close hand: Declining revenues, declining resources (financial and human), declining expertise in beat reporting, declining time to turn stories fiendishly combined with increasing demands on existing staff to do more and more, and the consequent resort to the quick, easy, popular, superficial.

    The political component — the increasing tendency for people in the news business to have a bad case of tunnel vision — confounds me, but maybe that results from what happens in colleges and universities today. That’s all a long way in my rear-view mirror. The demand to conform to the accepted liberal ideology was — and remains — fierce in the newsrooms with which I was familiar.

    The real nail in media’s coffin, as identified above, is that fact that so much thoughtful, intelligent and unfiltered information and discourse can be had for free on your iPhone or computer. The digital disruption that will probably kill most print news within the next decade presents another challenge when it comes to competing with the quality of the content and expertise you can obtain directly on the web. (The notion you need someone smart in a newsroom to curate your information, separating the wheat from the chaff, is increasingly laughable to anybody consuming their product.)

    Why pay to read shallow, biased propaganda in the NYT when, as you say, you can hear it straight from sources on YouTube, Twitter, a podcast and elsewhere, all accessed for free on your phone?

    The sad fact is many journalists are there own worst enemies in the business’ decline.

    • Michael Romkey wrote: “The demand to conform to the accepted liberal ideology was — and remains — fierce in the newsrooms with which I was familiar.”

      Mr. Romkey, I’d be fascinated to learn how this works in newsrooms, what it looks like. What sorts of pressures are put on journalists? Who does the pressuring? What forms does it take? Are conservative reporters “weeded out”? Does any “weeding out” start in journalism school?

  22. I would be interested in the author’s thoughts on the Rebel Media. I found them refreshing and brave on many stories. Finally asking the questions I was yelling at my screen. And then a spectacular meltdown which I still don’t completely understand- but suspect was in large part manufactured by vitriolic backlash by the MSM who the Rebel regularity skewered. Just this last few weeks the Liberals on the floor of the House of Commons still rail against them. What happened?

    • Blobertha says

      Rebel Media was just as hysterical & soundbitey & lacking in nuance & conflict-over-content-oriented & atrociously pandering-to-their-user-base-for-cash as the journalistic outlets mentioned above, only aimed at the other side. I think the point of Paul’s article has breezed right over your head — ALL that shit’s gotta go, regardless of the source/side.

    • Dennis says

      Sorry but your article is a hit piece that this author rails against

      • Christy says

        I agree. You are pretty smooth with it compared to some, but it nonetheless does the same things that other liberal biased writers do. Especially where you focus on the “threats” Cathy Newman received instead of how Peterson obviously and methodically exposed her ridiculous assertions.

  23. Pingback: The Peterson Principle: Intellectual Complexity and Journalistic Incompetence – Now or Never

  24. Ben Lee64Qq says

    Excellent analysis. Mainstream media has become irrelevant. Macleans, Globe and Mail, etc. are dying slowly. Regarding, Tabitha Southey, google what she did to Dave Foley. Scary stuff indeed…
    Journalism no longer exists in mainstream media. Partisan and ad hominem attacks on anyone with differing viewpoints is not journalism.

  25. Katherine says

    Fantastic piece, Dr. Peterson says that truth is his objective, many journalists need to embrace the same.

  26. Samuel says

    This is the article that I wish I could read in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star or National Post. But instead, I read it on an Australian website! (A really good site at that).

    I am afraid that if the Canadian government provides a taxpayer bailout to many of the publications mentioned in this story, the problem identified will only get worse. MSM in Canada does a disservice to intelligent and thoughtful discourse on people and ideas that exist outside the traditional Laurentian-elite mainstream perspective. A bailout will only further entrench these viewpoints and exacerbate the growing divide in the media landscape.

    It is sad that as a Canadian, I will continue to have to turn to Dave Rubin, Joe Rogan, Sam Harris and Quillette to get a nuanced perspective on Canadians such as Peterson.

  27. Phillip says

    I don’t know if others have picked on this, but this is twice he has referred the risks he is taking;

    >I have been walking a very thin tightrope. I only have to say one thing, in all the things that I have said since September, and I have come close!

    >The social justice types who have been trying to bring me down have focused on three or four things that I have said and tried to make them into a cause celebre. So far, they haven’t been able to make it stick, but believe me, I’m not counting on that to continue. And I also understand that, well, you know, the Yin and Yang symbol. Let’s say that I’m in the white serpent at the moment, and things are all going swimmingly. But there is the black dot that can always manifest itself, and things can shift for you very, very rapidly, and I’m very aware of that.

    >I think it’s unlikely that it will continue in a positive direction but you never know,” he says, pausing. “It’s too much, eh? It’s been too much for a long time. But so far so good and I’ll ride it out as long as I can. I’m surfing a hundred-foot wave and generally what happens if you do that is you drown.”

    Personally I hope that he does not get brought down, because we need people like him. However the heretics generally do get crucified.

  28. Pingback: Worth checking out – Scribbles

  29. “The danger that people will abandon bad mainstream journalism is real and present”: I’m not seeing the “danger” in people abandoning bad things.

  30. James Hurley says

    While it’s true that the Internet is filling the gap created by the failure of the mainstream media, it’s important to recognise its role in creating it.

    When newspapers and magazines made their content available online for free (as they all did at the dawn of the Internet era), they instantly devalued journalists and journalism. There are parallels with the music industry here, although that was caused by piracy rather than voluntary devaluation of its product.

    In both cases, the consequent loss of revenue led to a risk averse mentality and a pandering to the lowest common denominator. In journalism, this process was exacerbated by two things; social media, with is emphasis on dumbed-down soundbites, and the granular nature of digital analytics, which led to media organisations chasing clicks however they could get them.

    Where online led, television has followed, culminating in the situation we find ourselves in today.

    • Phillip says

      While it’s true that the Internet is filling the gap created by the failure of the mainstream media, it’s important to recognise its role in creating it.

      Up until the internet we were dependent on what the media, print or TV?Radio were prepared to present to us. There was no real way of checking facts and details. Today we can check (mostly) the accuracy of details reported in the news. Sure a lot of news is click baiting, but anyone who wants to spend the time can check details.

      A news story that has stuck in my mind. The vision showed a young boy and man hiding behind a 44 gallon drum.

      The voice over said that they were hiding from bullets being fired by Israeli soldiers, then the vision cuts to black and we are told that the boy was killed.

      Years later Melaine Philips reveals that the story was a set up, it never happened and that the boy was still alive.

      My emotional response at the time of the story was anger towards the Israeli soldiers, now when ever a news story pushes my emotional buttons, I question if it is true.

      • Now the powers-to-be here in Europe try to block the alternative websites as “Fake News”. Censorship as with the rogue dictatorial States.

  31. Peter Kolding says

    While it is doubtless true that legacy media interviewers and journalists are driven by sensation and constrained by time limits, I think more is going on. All of them adhere to the identity politics worldview as a basis for examining reality. That groups of people, however conceived, have particular and legitimate grievances caused by other groups and that it is immoral not to challenge people and ideas that may stand in the way of answering these grievances.

    From their viewpoint, the truth or falsehood of a counter-argument is irrelevant because the objective is to ensure that people are aware of these grievances and address them exclusively.

    Some examples, from the interview.
    – Newman starts by questioning the sex of Peterson’s viewership and asks Peterson to explain why this is not ‘divisive’.
    -Newman, after Peterson has explained that men constitute 80% of his audience, asks “what’s in it for the women?”
    -Having explained that women want confident and adult men, Newman then restates this as “You’re saying that women have some sort of duty to help the crisis in masculinity?”

    And so an interview to discuss a book recommending optimal behaviour for individuals regardless of sex, is addressed by Newman in terms of how it serves to address the grievances of women, as defined by feminist ideology. Her worldview is that the grievances of the female group are caused by the male group and that anything that males do must be limited to meet those grievances.

    This worldview interprets all ideas and behavior being based on identity and group membership, and all interaction as either inimicable or supportive of group-based grievances being resolved. In addition, the solution is the responsibilty of the group being accused of blame and should be that group’s only concern.

    Thus the smears and lies that legacy journalists trot out in almost rote fashion in these circumstances are actually understandable and adhere to an internal logic. In the examples I gave above, if you are a man and do not address women’s grievances exclusively you are, ipso facto, either stupid, delusional or malevolent. Thus all the attributes of competence, expertise and benevolence people attribute to you are logically insupportable and indicate, instead, that you are motivated by a refusal to acknowledge reality or you have a malevolent desire to exploit it for your own personal advantage.

    It is true that journalists are driven by sensation. But the interpretation of what constitutes sensation is a product of their worldview. And their worldview makes them incapable of interpreting the world in any other terms than identity and group grievances.

  32. Dr RTFM says

    “Journalists are not stupid.”

    I’m sorry, but I totally disagree. A very large number of them are extremely stupid and lack even the most basic understanding of rudimentary symbolic logic.

    • Indeed, parroting fashionable ideology (whether for the left or right) passes for intelligence nowadays.

  33. Nicholas Whitehead says

    I was a TV journalist for 11 years and a newspaper journalist before that. I am so sorry to say that I agree with the author here. Journalists are, on the whole, bright people who can, like lawyers, get their heads around any given subject very quickly. The apparent failure of journalists to read Peterson’s book before conducting a major interview with him is most disappointing.

    ‘Mainstream’ journalism is needed now, more than ever, because of all the lies, idiocy, bigotry and fake news flying around on social media. Proper journalists should stick to the old-fashioned principles of checking facts and getting both sides of a story. We’re supposed to be open-minded and even-handed. Our aim is to seek the truth and express it clearly. Let’s not fall short of that.

  34. Dennis says

    Paul, Dennis from Geneva Dr……excellent piece, thank-you for such a well thought out analysis

  35. Andrew Roddy says

    The penultimate paragraph asserts that journalists need to ‘once again speak empirical truth to dogma’. It has a noble ring to it. It might be a good motto for a journalistic, comic-book super hero.
    Could this be a fantasy that is itself mired in dogmatic empiricism?
    Wether it is or is not, I think this is a fine article and demonstrates that good journalism is so much more than empirical fact-checking. It is clear and focused but moreover it is deeply felt.

  36. Did any of you PAY to read this excellent article? “You don’t miss your water ’til your well runs dry”…

  37. David J says

    Analysis of the Peterson – Newman interview has been done to death, not least on Quillette. Time to let it go.

    While a supporter of Peterson and accepting he wiped the floor with Newman, I don’t think she was that bad, or at least not any worse than what you’d expect from someone with her political views.

    “What transpired is neither a conversation nor an interview. Newman made no effort to illuminate or understand Peterson’s views.”

    This is patently incorrect.

    • Andrew Roddy says

      David, if you can quote from that interview instances where Newman made an ‘effort to illuminate or understand Peterson’s views’ that would be helpful. If theyre in there I missed them.

      Regarding ‘done to death’ and ‘time to let it go’, you have a stronger case there. This piece would make a fitting last nail in the coffin but there are those who won’t be able to let go of the vindication and glee they have derived from this debacle.

  38. All the professions that have moved the training of their new recruits into the academy from the workplace itself have seen a corresponding decline in practitioner capability. The practice of law is degrading as fast as the practice of journalism, and don’t hold your breath that the rate of medical errors is going to decrease. The degradation of journalism is due to the very phenomenon that Peterson names: the degradation of the academy.
    The universities are a problem. All professions should reclaim their prerogative to train their new entrants in the real world, not the fake world of academe. And we should stop regarding university as the final chapter in compulsory schooling. It is a waste of our children to send them there.
    We used to send them to learn from people like Dr. Peterson, but there are fewer and fewer like him left in the ivory tower – the good ones are coming out. The rest are almost all idiots, and villainous ones to boot.

  39. Voltaire once said that “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities” and i believe the media have a hell of a lot of answering to do when it comes to questions of authenticity, information and good journalism.

    Good journalism is essential to the democratic health of any country. The slightest twist in linguistic prose can make an honourable man like Peterson appear like the devil incarnate. Then, and only then, can people do horrible things in the name of whatever they wish.

    It is outlets like Quillette, The Rubin Report and the Waking Up Podcast and smaller, more self managed outlets that will pave the way forward for good journalism. Switch off your tv (unless you have netflix) and plug in your headphones and read widely. Not only will you get access to a wealth of information at your fingertips, you will get a clearer picture of what exists in the real world.

    The dying sigh of the conglomerate beast that is modern corporate journalism will utter its last words when it realises what it deems “in our interest” is the complete opposite.

  40. Paul Benedetti says

    Thank you to everyone who posted a comment. I have read them all. Intelligent, interesting and thought provoking. I really appreciate the feedback and the conversation.

  41. Thank you for article professor, and the reassurance that I’m not alone in my thinking at Western University. I hope to see you on campus!

  42. Robert Christopher says

    ‘What happens next?’
    Peterson has stated that we need to tell the truth and see what happens. This he does, and why he is so refreshing – the future is waiting for us, to help form it.
    It is the only way of being alive and fulfilled. 🙂

  43. So well said, Mr Benedetti.

    ‘Never ascribe to malice that which is explained by stupidity,’ someone said; I think stupidity lies behind much of the ugliness. The stupidity of a nonstop short-attention-span media industry that chases ratings and encourages a young reporter to think ‘reporting’ equates to generating a fireworks explosion and a million-click headline once per day. If I thought I had to work under that pressure in order to keep the next clueless poseur from landing the anchor slot I covet, I suppose I would never have time to look deeply into anything either.

    Many reporters I have dealt with approach their assignments in the genuinely belief that they understand it already. After all, they are the fourth estate, in tune with information no one else has, purveyors of fact, distillers of truth. Besides, they’ve discussed the story at length with their friends, watched their colleagues talk about it on the television set. Everybody ‘knows’ Peterson is a Bad Guy, so here’s an opportunity to say it again in a more titillating and punchy fashion than anyone else has yet done. They believe they have the story’s essence, have populated the plot with its hero, villain, and a certain impending denouement; the only use in getting up from a desk or dialling a telephone is to sort the characters’ names and record a couple of sound-bites. Often these inexperienced reporters can get a story so backward–despite its internal mythic consistency–that the literal quotes and the spelling of people’s names amounts to the only ‘journalistic accuracy’ they produce.

  44. This part rings so true for Philippine mainstream media – those who are not in the pay of narcos, oligarchs, corrupt politicians, & not playing along U.S. deep state black propaganda – and how they vilify Duterte, a president who enjoys unprecedented Filipino support.

    “Today’s mainstream reporting on difficult subjects is often bereft of most of the qualities that define journalism itself. Instead, it demonstrates a lack of respect for evidence; a penchant for conflict; a desire not to understand but to confront and perhaps most dangerously, a lack of nuance. Instead of inquiry and critique, we get knee-jerk adherence to whatever the current dogma happens to be.”

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