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Journalists need to persuade citizens on impeachment, WaPo writer argues


'Are journalists merely shouting into the void?

Oliver Contreras/SIPA USA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

As the House of Representatives approaches a vote on soon-to-be-drafted articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, public opinion on the issue hasn't changed much since before the public hearings.

So, writes Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan, journalists need to find ways to better reach and persuade the small percentage of people remaining who are open to going either way on impeachment.

"Despite the hardened positions, some members of the public are still uncertain," Sullivan writes. "Some are persuadable, and yes, it matters. Maybe, just maybe, it's the job of American journalism in this moment to get serious about trying to reach these citizens."

Sullivan notably does not take an overt position regarding whether people need to be persuaded for or against impeachment. The closest she comes to that is when she writes, "We do live in a country that abides by laws and a Constitution, and nobody ought to be above them."

She does suggest, however, that simply laying out the information of the case in a way that gives equal weight to both sides creates a "false equivalency."

"And far too often, those [television news] broadcasts fall prey to a false equivalency: This side said this, and this side said that, and we don't want to make anyone mad, so we've got to cut to commercial now," Sullivan writes.

Sullivan speaks against "epistemological nihilism," a term coined by New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg to describe the "long-term Republican strategy" of saying that there are no set facts or truth, something stated by House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) during Wednesday's hearing.

Her suggested solutions include using a "movie trailer" approach to condense the massive amount of impeachment content into a "targeted, well-informed 'trailer' approach that is cogently told." The second suggestion is that journalists stop hiding behind the word "partisan" as a way to justify being neutral.

"Mainstream journalists love that word, because it lets them off the hook: We aren't taking sides, not us! The country is divided, and we can't help it," Sullivan writes.

The country, like Congress, remains significantly divided on whether President Donald Trump should be impeached. And, as Sullivan writes courtesy of information provided by FiveThirtyEight, a majority of those undecided are the people who don't pay much attention to the impeachment process and related media coverage.

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