As MSM continues to deteriorate into irrelevance and subservience to the powers they pretend to check, the independent-media label is growing more desirable as media orgs attempt to distance themselves from being seen as anything remotely MSM. Independent media is a largely underfunded, under-promoted space, so when large media orgs decide to brand themselves independent and enter that space, problems arise. Established independent media orgs are decentered and erased as large platforms use their access and larger platform to hijack the debate around existing issues and steer it in a direction friendlier to their friends and patrons. To add injury to insult, large media orgs claim poverty because they are now independent and unable to collect sustaining MSM revenue, and use their large platform to attract donations that would otherwise go to true independent media now further marginalized by the gentrification of their space.
The Guardian has been the industry leader in colonizing independent-media space. Most visits to the site result in a footer banner asking readers to disable adblock and donate to keep their independent ship afloat. Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning went as far as to pen an utterly ahistorical donation plea that blamed “Trumpism” for most every ill of the past five-hundred years:
Trumpism has exposed faultlines of cynicism, racism, misogyny and xenophobia, and awakened long dormant white nationalist groups. This election has revealed America to be a deeply polarized nation. As Trump assumes the world’s most powerful office, we must work to protect the US’s open, multicultural democracy which celebrates diversity of perspective and plurality of voices, especially with the Republicans winning the House of Representatives and much of the Senate. Trump will face few checks on his power.
Never has the world needed independent journalism more. Through our reporting, the Guardian will hold Trump and his administration to account. We will strive to uncover the truth if those in power hide behind falsehoods. We will continue to sort fact from fiction. When underrepresented experiences are ignored, we will find ways to make sure they are heard.
This is rot. Trump no more exposed fault lines than he invented the comb over. He leveraged existing racism, misogyny and xenophobia all the way to the White House, but evidence and instances of these evils have been legion for centuries. Claiming the US has only recently shown itself to be “deeply polarized” is the height of dishonesty, especially for a media org that gained so much of its indie cred covering Black Lives Matter protests. The second paragraph provides the motive for all this historical revisionism: give your money to the Guardian, because only their wholesome independence can contain the completely brand-new, never-seen-before-ever evil of Trumpism.
If this were actually true, life would be so nice and everything would be much simpler. Unfortunately it’s not the case. The Guardian US’ record as a truth-to-power independent media org has been abysmal. Its decision to break with many media orgs and continue using the term “alt-right” demonstrates how it willingly extends benefit of doubt, and publicity via its platform, to any hate group it can use to build its audience and by extension, donor base. The Guardian has recently profiled right-wing social media, re-published Laurie Penny’s sympathetic profile of Milo where she describes the man who has violently terrorized women for years as “secretly quite a sweet, vulnerable person who is gracious to those he considers friends,” an attempt to “make sense” of the alt-right, more gotta-hear-both-sides profiles, and anonymous it-almost-happened-to-me pieces that treat racism as a momentarily lapse in judgement instead of a historical and institutional problem. Just as CNN did with Trump, the Guardian feeds the alt-right with story after story in an attempt to manufacture an acceptable opponent it can visibly engage with to increase clicks and donations. How is this so-called independent media any different than MSM again?
The Guardian’s coverage of Silicon Valley is equally self serving and cynical. Their coverage of meal-replacement Soylent is an excellent example of this. While truly independent media offered prescient warnings about the product, the Guardian discussed it as a legitmate food replacement. When reports of cadmium and lead poisoning emerged a year later, the Guardian gave Soylent platform to defend itself and even passed off heavy-metal poisoning as a common problem in the food-replacement industry. Another year passed and Soylent prepared to strike again, aided by article after article from the Guardian talking up Soylent and its history while omitting any mention of its toxic past. Inevitably, Soylent’s toxic past became present again, and anyone who relied on the independent protection of the Guardian ended up curled up in their bathrooms regretting their ill-placed trust.
In July of this year, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff credited tech as being a driver for social change. Model View Culture founder Shanley Kane responded with a detailed and efficient analysis of the depths of Benioff’s hypocrisy. Instead of reaching out to follow up with an independent publisher, the Guardian’s Julia Carrie Wong gave Benioff further platform to portray himself as “misinterpreted” and nobly save face. This is why the Guardian’s claim to being independent media is so laughable; they give all deference and benefit of doubt to the alt-right, tech companies like Soylent and tech CEOs like Benioff, while keeping true independent media like Model View Culture marginalized by refusing to even reference their unparalled criticism. Independent media is certainly more necessary and in need of funding than ever. The sooner major media orgs like the Guardian stop colonizing this space and find their own identity, the better.