Hank Green Says It’s Not OK for the Mainstream Media to Snipe at YouTube Stars

But the Reason Isn’t What You Expect — He Even Calls Out Jon Stewart
Bethany Mota's post-interview selfie
Bethany Mota’s post-interview selfie

If you missed it in the post-game coverage of the recent State of the Union speech, Pres. Obama broke new ground beyond perfecting presidential ad libs. He also agreed to one-on-one interviews with three YouTube stars, and one of them, Hank Green, isn’t happy with the way the “legacy” press corps treated the endeavor. Green’s article, posted on Medium, is titled “Holy Shit, I Interviewed the President.” It might have been better named, “Holy Shit, the Mainstream Media is Killing Democracy.”

Green: How does a democracy function with no credible system for informing its citizens?

CNN intro’d and outro’d every segment with Glozell [Green] in a bathtub full of cereal, as did ABC’s morning show…Even new media companies like Vice were dismissive:

“Think of it as a teeny-bopper AMA…The interviewers will be GloZell Green, who’s perhaps best known for sitting in a tub full of cereal; a 19-year-old who gives beauty advice named Bethany Mota; and Hank Green, a notorious YouTube ranter whose brother wrote The Fault in Our Stars.”

Anyone who has ever had a sibling to rival knows that last remark was particularly catty.

Green also KILLED (call it a rant only if you consider thoughtful, well-written and fully supported commentary “ranting”) with his observations on why young people are turning away from the mainstream media and what that means for the future of democracy. Old-school journalists are too concerned with insults and derision (much was made of Glozell Green’s nervous slip of the tongue in referring to Obama’s “first wife” instead of the “First Lady”) to listen. As Green notes:

Legacy media accuses young people of being apathetic while actively attempting to remove them from the discussion.

Ratings-driven, agenda-laden, POV-first reporting is blighting more than civility and common ground. It’s stealing America’s legitimacy.

Walking around the White House, seeing the Press Briefing Room and all of the two-hundred-year-old chairs and decoy helicopters reminded me that the history of post-democratic power is really the history of legitimacy.

Fox News functions so successfully as an arm of the Republican Party because the news used to be an unassailable fortress of legitimacy…Cable news today uses the residual legitimacy of that bygone era (that they are simultaneously destroying) to degrade the legitimacy of their political opponents.

People without the frame of reference that Green has, of his father and Walter Cronkite, have no built-in propensity to pay attention. And rather than add balance to the situation, Jon Stewart, et al only exacerbate it.

The Daily Show, it should be noted, spends as much time mocking the news media as it does talking about the news, further decreasing young people’s trust of the news…Young people watch Jon Stewart make fun of Fox News and they think “That’s what ‘news’ is” so they disengage. This isn’t just bad for journalism, it’s bad for America…How does a democracy function with no credible system for informing its citizens?

The shift in media consumption from television and newspaper to Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter has left a generation without a source of information that they can trust. In my experience, people under the age of 30 tend to simply assume that all media are biased. They find ways to engage, but those conversations are isolated from the broader culture and certainly from politics. If their values are not incorporated into the future of this country, it will be a worse future.

Green thinks the insults leveled at the White House and the YouTube interviewers spring from the same place as the Republican applause after Obama said he wasn’t running again: fear. Republicans who clapped at that line were rude, yes, but they were also expressing relief because they know that if Obama were able to run again, he would win again.

Legacy media isn’t mocking us because we aren’t a legitimate source of information; they’re mocking us because they’re terrified. Their legitimacy came from the fact that they have access to distribution channels and that they get to be in the White House press pool because of some long-ago established procedures that assumed they would use that power in the public interest. In reality, those things are becoming less and less important and less and less true. Distribution is free to anyone with a cell phone and the legitimacy of cable news sounds to me like an oxymoron. The median-aged CNN viewer is 60. For Fox, it’s 68.

The YouTube interviewers were a range of ages: 52, 34, and 19. But they got to the White House by the same means, Green said.

Glozell and Bethany and I weren’t put in a chair next to President Obama because we have cultivated an audience. We were put there because we have cultivated legitimacy.

Legacy news outlets haven’t had legitimacy taken from them, they willingly discarded it of their own accord. But what they trashed wasn’t theirs to throw away. It was ours.

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