So much for Fani Willis getting ousted

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So that’s the end of that non-story. Earlier this year Georgia Republicans passed legislation creating an independent committee with oversight over District Attorneys in the state. If Georgia Republicans had been looking to oust Fani Willis for the benefit of Donald Trump, they’d have given themselves the power to fire her, not some outside committee. At the time it was obvious that Georgia Republicans were simply looking to score points with Trump and his base, while specifically not giving themselves the ability to take action against Willis.

But that didn’t stop several major media outlets (including MSNBC) from spending months chasing ratings by implying that Georgia Republicans had given themselves the power to fire Willis. In fact the media made it sound like she was all but a goner. All along I explained why this wasn’t even a real story, but the doomsday hysteria persisted.

Eventually, after Willis kept not being fired, and audiences were in a position to figure out that this wasn’t a real story, the media stopped hyping it. In other words, the whole thing went the way of so many other hyperbolic or fictional or unrealistic doomsday narratives that the media milks for ratings for as long as it can, before abandoning them and hoping no one catches on that these kinds of things never do end up happening.

Now the story has taken a turn. The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that the legislation was unconstitutional to begin with. It’s kind of a hilarious end to a story that was never a story to begin with. But now the kicker is that we’re seeing headlines about how this ruling has magically saved Fani Willis’ job. The implication is still that she’d have been fired if not for this ruling, when in fact there was always zero chance she was going to be fired.

This is how the political media routinely does things. It takes an unlikely or unrealistic or fictional doomsday scenario and hypes it as if it’s likely or definitely going to happen, so you’ll be scared and outraged enough to stare at your TV or phone and boost their ratings and retweets. And then when the doomsday thing that was never going to happen ends up not happening, they either hope you don’t notice that it was never real, or they use something like this non-event court ruling to make you think that the doomsday thing almost happened and in the end we got lucky. Then they move on to the new ratings-driven doomsday scenario, before you can catch your breath.

This kind of ratings-baiting is extraordinarily harmful to the public discourse. It’s not just that the mainstream political media is being dishonest by routinely pushing doomsday scenarios in misleading fashion in order to boost ratings. It’s that when the public’s attention is steered toward imaginary doomsday scenarios, it makes the public less able to be vigilant about real problems that we’re actually facing.

Fani Willis was never, ever, ever going to be fired. This was never a real story. It was all manufactured hype, both by the Republicans and by the media. But while audiences were obsessed with fretting over this phony storyline, what real stories and crises got overlooked? You’re not being “vigilant” by hanging on the media’s every calculated-to-be-scary word. In reality we need to be more vigilant about scrutinizing what the media feeds us.

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