New Book Argues that “Woke Media” is Undermining Democracy

In her new book, Batya Ungar-Sargon argues that wokeness is contributing to many of the societal problems in the United States we’re facing today.
October 14, 2021
Batya Ungar-Sargon (Photo courtesy Batya Ungar-Sargon)

Journalists and commentators have always had their political biases. It’s nothing new. However, in her new book, “Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy,” Batya Ungar-Sargon, deputy opinion editor at Newsweek, argues that wokeness, a far-left, activist political ideology that means a person is awake to institutional or systemic racism, is contributing to many of the societal problems in the United States we’re facing today. This once-fringe philosophy, she writes, has now seeped into liberal media outlets and increasingly divided Americans. 

“Bad News” opens with a scene in which CNN’s Don Lemon hosts a panel discussion about white women who voted for Trump. The panelists talk about how voting for Trump makes you a racist and that white women benefit from the white patriarchal system. The conversation then turned into one about how not just all white women, but all white people have a problem with racism. 

“There’s a view that’s taken hold of America’s national news media,” Ungar-Sargon writes. “It’s the belief that America is an unrepentant white-supremacist state that confers power and privilege on white people, which it systematically denies to people of color. Those who hold this view believe an interconnected network of racist institutions infects every level of society, culture and politics, imprisoning us all in a power binary based on race regardless of our economic circumstances. And the solution, according to those who hold this view, is not to reform institutions that still struggle with racism but to transform the consciousness of everyday Americans until we prioritize race over everything else.”

In the book, Ungar-Sargon argues that what’s driving wokeness is the class chasm that separates the college educated from the other two thirds of Americans.

“Of course, racism still exists and deserves our attention. But the media wouldn’t be pushing a moral panic if they weren’t benefiting from it.”
— Batya Ungar-Sargon

“The moral panic around race that we call wokeness or wokeism is just the perfect smokescreen for that class chasm,” she told the Journal. “It means people don’t have to address issues of class, using an obsession with race instead to paper over the real inequality in America. Of course, racism still exists and deserves our attention. But the media wouldn’t be pushing a moral panic if they weren’t benefiting from it.”

Ungar-Sargon, who describes herself as a populist and socialist when it comes to economic policy, said that she would have called herself a lefty, but “but today’s left has by and large abandoned the working class to fight a culture war around issues of identity. Instead of building an agenda around the needs of actual working-class Americans of all races, who tend to be more conservative, the left today is pushing highly niche issues brewed at Ivy League universities, like wokeness and cancel culture and anti-Zionism and open borders, things that are really alien to most working-class Americans, no matter who they vote for.”

“Bad News” shows readers how we got here. It’s a story Ungar-Sargon traces back to Benjamin Day, the founder of the New York Sun, who published the first penny press newspaper in the U.S. in 1833. Back then, journalists were catering to the poor and the working class, covering the stories that mattered the most to the common person. 

However, over time, as journalists have become part of the elite, they’ve represented the interests of the elite as well. With that, the working class has felt abandoned, which is one of the reasons they voted for President Trump.

According to Ungar-Sargon, wokeness silences conservatives and working-class Americans “because it disempowers the majority and takes their views off the agenda, which is antidemocratic. And it’s immoral because it asks us to put our race and gender identities before our common humanity, which is what the worst people to ever walk planet earth did.”

At the same time, Ungar-Sargon said that the media, politicians and tech companies are actively contributing to and profiting from polarization. 

“They are making a lot of money and getting a lot of power off of the rage you feel when you see something on social media that makes your blood boil,” she said. “So that is my no.1 hope for this book: that people will start to recognize that when they feel that rage at someone who is wrong on the internet, someone is making money, and we shouldn’t let our hearts become the battleground where someone else’s fortune is being made because we are all Americans and we’re actually pretty united around the values this great nation was founded on.”

In one chapter of the book, Ungar-Sargon focuses on how Jews, like the working class, have also suffered because of wokeness. An Orthodox Jewish ophthalmologist in Chicago was reading the New York Times when he saw a picture captioned, “An Israeli policeman and a wounded Palestinian on the Temple Mount.” It turned out, however, that this was a lie. The wounded “Palestinian” was actually his son, who had been beaten by Palestinians, and the “Israeli policeman” was an Arab Israeli Druze who saved him.

“[The New York Times] has always been woke,” Ungar-Sargon writes. “For if wokeness is the re-racialization of society into a crude binary where power is a one-way street and one racial group uses it to oppress and dominate another, the Left has long cast Jews in the role of oppressor, proximate to whiteness if not worse.”

Ungar-Sargon hopes her book convinces the American people that they are “too good for this nonsense,” but said the power is so concentrated away from them right now that she doesn’t know if it will happen. And, she suspects that instead of receiving pushback for her book, the media outlets are going to ignore it. 

Even though it may seem like there is no easy solution, she advocates for open debate, religious liberties and tolerance for opposing viewpoints, and she encourages people to “find a range of outlets to watch and read to help them embark on the hardest work of all, which is the spiritual practice of being in relationships with people they disagree with,” she said.

Ungar-Sargon said that if she can get more people to think about how class is actually what ails America, then she’d consider her book a success.

“As a religious person, I have always believed that the least among us has the most to teach us. Really all I want is for us to have more humility about the people who have lost on every metric in America, and how we can get back on track towards a more equal society. And yes, that means police reform and education reform but it also means have a pro-working class agenda and not indulging in the contempt the educated have for the non-educated in this country.”

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