It's Time for the Media to Choose: Neutrality or Democracy?


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“Making it harder to vote, and harder to understand what the party is really about — these are two parts of the same project” for the Republican Party, Jay Rosen writes. “The conflict with honest journalism is structural. To be its dwindling self, the G.O.P. has to also be at war with the press, unless of course the press folds under pressure.”

Rosen is a professor of journalism at N.Y.U., author of the blog “PressThink,” and one of America’s sharpest contemporary media critics. And his argument is a simple one: The media’s implicit model of American politics — of two coequal parties with competing governing philosophies — is fundamentally broken. Today, the most important axis of political conflict is not between left and right, but between pro- and anti-democracy forces.

The way Rosen sees it, the American mainstream press must make a choice: Will it double down on its commitment to detached, nonpartisan neutrality? Or will it choose instead to boldly and aggressively defend truth and democracy?

These days, Rosen’s view seems almost common-sensical. But he’s been critiquing “both sides” journalism — and the model of politics underlying it — for years now, long before such arguments came into vogue. As a result, he’s done some of the most original thinking about what an alternative model of journalism would look like, and wrestled with the inevitable political, social and economic tensions that come with it.

So this conversation is about what pro-democracy journalism could look like in practice and the thorny questions that this approach to coverage raises. But it also touches on the drawbacks of the press’s focus on Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema; how journalists should cover Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson; why Rosen believes “moderate” and “centrist” are “two of the most ideology-soaked terms” in political journalism; the consequences of an economy where political news has to compete for attention with Netflix, Xbox and TikTok; and why Substack and podcasting may hold one of the keys to restoring trust in the media.


Americans’ Trust in Media Dips to Second Lowest on Record” by Megan Brenan

The Coming Confrontation Between the American Press and the Republican Party” by Jay Rosen on PressThink

Battleship Newspaper” by Jay Rosen on PressThink

Election Coverage: The Road Not Taken” by Jay Rosen on PressThink

CBS News poll on Build Back Better

Book Recommendations:

The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse

Making News by Gaye Tuchman

Deciding What’s News by Herbert Gans

This episode is guest-hosted by Nicole Hemmer, a historian whose work focuses on the right-wing media and American politics. She is an associate research scholar with the Obama Presidency Oral History Project at Columbia and author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.” You can follow her on Twitter @PastPunditry. (There’s more about the other guest hosts during Ezra’s parental leave here.)

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein. Book recommendations from all our guests are listed at

Thoughts? Guest suggestions? Email us at

“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Jeff Geld, audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin.

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