Why the “Civil Unrest” rhetoric, itself, is the problem.

In building such a well-appointed stage, the news media is daring fringes of US society to commit acts of domestic terrorism.

Turn on a mainstream media outlet, and you’ll find pundits debate the peaceful transfer of power after the election later this week. I fear that this, itself, is part of the problem: Even just asking someone ‘will there be a peaceful transition of power’ leaves the door open to the answer being ‘no’. It isn’t that this isn’t worthy of debate — but the dogged focus on this very specific question may, in fact, turn out to be the reason why some people choose to give it more thought than it really deserves.

The media coverage of ‘risk of civil unrest’ in the aftermath of the election will be the driving cause of civil unrest in the aftermath of the election.

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Oh look, another notification from a news outlet. Great.

I am worried that the constant media coverage of the ‘risk of civil unrest’ in the aftermath of the election will, in fact, be the driving cause of civil unrest in the aftermath of the election. In relentlessly pursuing this line of questioning and reporting, it normalizes the conversation — but it does something worse, too: The media is signaling very loudly that they are ‘expecting something will happen’ — which is deeply problematic. It signals that if something does happen, they will be on the front lines covering the unrest.

The issue is that — judging by the people they find to interview about this — the number of people who would be willing to take up arms is vanishingly small. This isn’t some sort of groundswell discontent that is consuming the population and growing into a much-needed civil war to right the egregious wrongs of a society in disarray. This is a minuscule number of people who are severely let down by the lack of mental health coverage, poor education (and in particular education related to healthy source criticism), and the United States’ astonishingly lax gun laws.

I get it. The media have their ratings to chase, and with everyone in a heightened stage of big impending changes (as they would be during any election), the news media producers have a choice to make. And it appears that, increasingly, they are making the wrong one. In effect, in its coverage, the mainstream media is building a pedestal for fringe groups who might just be crazy enough to do something stupid, inviting someone — anyone — to climb the ladder and take their spot on the pedestal.

The existence of an empty stage is an invitation to people who wouldn’t otherwise have done something, to take action in some way. After all, it would be a terrible shame to let such a well-lit, well-publicized, well-filmed, well-elevated surface go to waste.

And so, we find ourselves in a place where essentially baseless speculation from a few newscasters is turning into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes; there will be incidents this week. And the furious coverage of those incidents will fuel more. In building such a well-appointed stage, the news media is daring small, isolated groups of the US population to commit acts of domestic terrorism. Unfortunately, these groups haven’t been widely reputed to back down from a dare.

Stoking fear, fanning flames, and filling the fire extinguishers with nitroglycerine was never part of a journalist’s job description. This is not how the fourth pillar of democracy fulfills its obligation to the people. The newscasters who are participating in this are irresponsible hacks who should be deeply ashamed of themselves.

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