Sidney Powell is a former federal prosecutor and leading critic of the 2020 presidential election. The mainstream media recently sent us two messages about her. They illustrate how “woke” reporters attack public figures they dislike.
One message was that Powell now admits no reasonable person would believe her claims about manipulated voting machines. The other was that she thinks President Joe Biden will be forced to step aside to make way for Donald Trump.
Both messages seriously distort Powell’s positions in ways intended to demean and marginalize her.
I have never met Powell and have no particular attitude toward her, positive or negative. But professional journalists should treat everyone fairly. By not treating Powell fairly, journalists impugn their own professionalism.
Powell is a victim of the Distort and Blackout technique. Irresponsible journalists use Distort and Blackout to portray perfectly respectable figures—usually conservatives—as extreme, wacky, or mean. I’m personally familiar with this device because when I was politically active (pdf), left-leaning newspapers frequently deployed it against me.
Here’s how it works:
Suppose Sen. John Doe delivers a major policy address. The topic is how to improve K-12 education, and Doe proposes six different reforms.
A responsible journalist reporting on the speech would summarize carefully all six proposals. The journalist would write the story so readers feel almost as if they heard Doe themselves. To add context, the writer might report reaction from education experts, bystanders, or some of Doe’s political opponents.
But an irresponsible journalist hostile to Doe might focus on only one of the six proposals, distort it to make him look bad, and ignore the other five entirely. This is the Distort and Blackout technique.
Moreover, some reporters might ice the poison cake by presenting distorted versions to others for comment, thereby obtaining predictably unfavorable responses.
Here’s how the media have done this to Powell:
Powell has been very critical of Dominion Voting System’s voting machines. The company has responded by suing her for libel. Her attorneys have asked the court to dismiss Dominion’s case.
By Rob Natelson