Can Journalists Avoid 'Normalizing?'

Let’s face it: we’re in a pretty weird era of journalism. With Donald Trump’s presidency bringing issues like ethnic inequality and political corruption to the forefront, journalists and news networks have taken clear sides, ignoring the usual basis of objectivity since the times we are enduring are so unusual. There have been moments when journalists have set their political opinions aside to engage with someone from over the fence - much to the dismay of their often one-minded viewers. Megyn Kelly was only the latest journalist to be under fire for inviting conspiracy theorist Alex Jones onto her show. The issue has been addressed: Megyn Kelly and NBC held firm, and so did Alex Jones. Unsurprisingly, the interview aired to low views and lower ratings. Still, the issue isn’t over. The silence will only continue until the next journalist decides to face another accused bigot. As long as journalists, late night hosts, or political commentators are being criticized for inviting controversial guests on their show, there’s another issue that needs to be settled: how are journalists supposed to avoid “normalizing” people?

When you decide to study journalism, it’s not like you can foresee what events will happen and who will be the best person to interview about that event. There’s just as much a chance of interviewing a reputed saint as there is of interviewing a total racist. Some have argued that by giving people with racist ideologies airtime, hosts are suggesting that racism should be accepted. Still, just because a journalist is showing that bigotry exists in society doesn’t mean the journalist is telling the audience it’s okay. Journalism has always publicized less-then-moral figures. There are ways for a journalist to expose a person without promoting them.

Many argue that exposing racist hosts allows them to gain an audience – forgetting the fact that you aren’t normalizing someone if they’re already on the radar. The temptation to act like people with racist views are still hidden from the public eye is real, and certainly easier than facing the fact that these people have a big enough following for a show or website. However, pretending that controversial people like Alex Jones, Tomi Lahren, or Milo Yiannopoulos are “at risk” of gaining traction if they’re allowed on television is ignorant. They’ve gained their traction, which is why they need to be confronted and their theories disproven.

It’s hard to watch people with offensive views be treated with the common courtesy of a television guest, but it’s also satisfying to watch glorified racists, sexists, and conspiracy theorists get hit with the questions their audiences will not ask them. After Trevor Noah’s interview of Tomi Lahren in February, some thought it downright disrespectful to defend a society where a black man should sit across from a white woman and let her tell him that his life is worth less than hers. Nevertheless, by having Tomi Lahren on his show, Trevor Noah pointed out the fault in her theory that Black Lives Matter supporters are violent and disrespectful. When asked how a person should protest, Lahren’s answer was that in the United States of America, a country that arose out of total protest, people…shouldn’t protest. When Alex Jones was confronted by Megyn Kelly about his current and past conclusions on the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Jones, who propagated the idea that the shooting was possibly a hoax, admitted that he doesn’t even know whether he believes that it was a hoax or not. Left to thrive on their platform alone, bigoted hosts only have their viewpoints reconfirmed week after week. By questioning what bigoted hosts really believe, or how they come to their conclusions, journalists, commentators, and television hosts are finally calling the credibility of these hosts into question.

People who want bigoted figures to just disappear must understand that journalism can do that without censoring television programs. Interviews often put accused bigots to the test and can distance them from their allies and sometimes, their careers. Tomi Lahren’s appearance on The View cost her a career at TheBlaze. After her pro-choice views were questioned, Lahren accused her fellow conservatives, which include those at her primary platform TheBlaze, of hypocrisy and proclaimed that women should have access to abortion. Milo Yiannopoulos’ time in the liberal eye led some people to his views not out of attraction, but to reveal their danger. Yiannopoulos resigned as senior editor of Breitbart News, his main platform, after video resurfaced showing him condoning pedophilia.

Milo Yiannopoulos resigns as an editor at Breitbart News.
Milo Yiannopoulos resigns as an editor at Breitbart News.

People like Jones, Lahren, and Yiannopoulos thrive on a different kind of journalism, one that doesn’t take facts into consideration. They thrive on a journalism that simply lets them come to conclusions and repeat them to their defenders. By calling on journalists not to cover people like them, we’re ultimately asking for the same kind of journalism. We’re asking for journalism that sticks to a certain worldview which, regardless of the fact that the world may be better off not seeing or hearing racism, ignores the reality that bigotry exists and is an influential force. We’re asking for journalism that repeats an anti-bigotry platform without highlighting the instances in which bigotry still exists. Normalizing is real. It’s casual banter and simple questions. Journalism is asking those hard-hitting questions that allow us to face reality, and change it.