By Nancie Silver —
NOTE: A video of the meeting can be seen after this article.
The Palos Verdes Democrats met in person and on Zoom on Sunday, February 19 to hear a thought-provoking presentation by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Michael Hiltzik. He has written for the Los Angeles Times for more than 30 years as an award-winning financial and political writer, investigative reporter, and technology writer and editor, and foreign correspondent in Africa and Russia. Michael’s seventh book, Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America, was published in 2020.
I strongly urge every reader who missed Michael’s February 19 presentation to watch the video; Michael has a wonderful way of infusing humor into his analyses. After listening to his talk, I feel more prepared to question the press’ assumptions and framing of the issues. Michael challenged us to think critically about what we read and hear from journalists, and to seek out the facts rather than just passively accept their perspectives. He reminded us that even those sources we trust to provide us with the facts are not always as rigorous in their research and reporting as we expect them to be. I have shared just a sampling of some of the topics Michael covered, but this article doesn’t begin to capture his humorous and biting analysis of a deadly serious message.
Michael set the tone of his presentation by asking the audience to honor the luckiest man on earth – Joe Biden – who is lucky enough to have opponents in the Republican Party who are willing to reveal their stupidity on camera. This was evidenced by Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Republican Response to the State of the Union, who said “The choice for Americans is between normal and crazy.”
The focus of Michael’s remarks was the state of journalism today. He has a bleak view of the quality of press coverage of the issues and delineates why he feels this way by starting off discussing the press coverage of Ron DeSantis, “who has all the charisma of a linoleum floor.” Michael pointed out that the press prefers to discuss how DeSantis’ policies will sell on the campaign trail rather than the toxic nature of his policies, such as his attempt to eliminate trust in education, his hostility toward poor immigrants and the LGBTQ community, his battles against Disney, his attacks on reading and school courses, and his undermining of the efficacy of Covid vaccines.
Michael calls out the press’ current “fetish with objectivity”, the urge to present both sides neutrally, without regard to credibility. He cites specific examples from Politico, the New York Times, and the LA Times and discusses the damage that this type of reporting has on the public.
He also discussed the coverage of the current debt ceiling issue, highlighting the real facts about who is responsible for the debt. He also talked about the coverage of New College of Florida, explaining Governor Reagan’s and Governor Walker’s role in the war over the mission of public universities; Michael believes that the real issue is DeSantis’ use of public universities for graft.
Michael questioned the truth of the press’ frequent refrain that the country is so polarized, when poll numbers tell a different story – about how Americans feel about the need for gun control, a woman’s right to choose, and more.
In closing, Michael shared his thoughts on why the press’ performance is so poor: shrinking revenue and resources due to managements’ choice to prioritize profits, and reporters unwilling to put in the time to study the issues. “There is no excuse for intellectual slothfulness on the scale we see today when the information that democracy needs is hanging in the balance.” Michael encouraged us to keep fighting to keep democracy alive.