Matt Taibbi, Douglas Murray Dominate Trust-in-Media Debate

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Toronto — Conservative commentator Douglas Murray and veteran reporter Matt Taibbi soundly defeated their opponents in a Wednesday evening debate on the question of whether to trust the mainstream media, convincing a significant segment of the audience to abandon their faith in an institution they say is hopelessly compromised by bias.

The debate, held at Roy Thomson Hall in downtown Toronto and sponsored by the Canadian cultural non-profit Munk Debates, featured Taibbi and Murray squaring off against the tremendously popular non-fiction author Malcolm Gladwell and New York Times opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg, who made the case for continued trust in major American and Canadian outlets.

Pre-debate polling showed the audience virtually split 48 to 52 percent on the question of whether to trust the mainstream media.

However, over the course of nearly two hours, Taibbi and Murray compellingly persuaded over one-third of audience members (39 percent) to abandon their prior allegiance to the position championed by Gladwell and Goldberg.

To date, Taibbi and Murray won by the largest margin ever recorded at a Munk Debate. The result stunned the sold-out crowd of 2,630 viewers normally accustomed to smaller swings.

“I grew up in the press. My father was a reporter. My stepmother was a reporter. My godparents were reporters. Every adult I knew growing up seemed to be in media,” Taibbi said during his opening remarks to start the debate. “I love the news business. It’s in my bones. But I mourn for it. It’s destroyed itself.”

Taibbi’s opening remarks echoed those raised in his most recent book Hate Inc., in which he explores how the mainstream American media abandoned its commitment to neutrality in favor of fan service. Taibbi argues the change was driven by an effort to retain a niche audience of like-minded readers and viewers who remained after the industry was gutted by tech-driven changes in the advertising market.

The Canadian trucker protests featured prominently in the debate. During Murray’s opening remarks, the British commentator and fellow National Review contributor, laid into Prime Minister Trudeau and Canadian media outlets for failing to challenge the government-approved narrative that the protests were organized by bigots of various stripes.

“The Canadian mainstream media acted as an amen chorus of the Canadian government,” Murray argued. “Now why is this is rancid? So utterly, utterly, rancid and corrupt? Because in this country your media–your mainstream media–is funded by the government.”

Goldberg also discussed the truck protest, citing her reporting for the New York Times as evidence mainstream interest in unexpected stories.

“I showed up at the Ottawa protests kind of expecting the sort of things that I’ve seen at Donald Trump rallies, at various even further right events, and didn’t find it. I was really quite astonished…and I told my editors  that this is what I found and they said: ‘Great, that’s more interesting than what we thought you were gonna find.’ And it was more interesting,” she said.

Although the panelists repeatedly said they’d like to broaden the scope of the discussion beyond America, the conversation inevitably returned to American culture-war issues, a topic which Murray focuses on in his work as a writer for the U.K.-based Spectator. The discussion featured conversations surrounding the coverage of Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 election, Covid-19, and the impact of hormone therapy on children.

“I was struck, once again, in listening to our opponents by how much their arguments resemble the kind of classic structure of a conspiracy theory,” Gladwell said later on in the evening. “This is a much milder more naive variant on the traditional conspiratorial model.” During the event, Gladwell also scoffed when Murray and Taibbi raised the issue of Hunter Biden’s laptop being censored by Big Tech ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

According to a Gallup poll from October 2022, barely a third of Americans trust the “mass media”  to “fully, accurately, and fairly” report the news.

The survey was the first time Gallup ever recorded the percentage of Americans having no trust in the media greater than those that have a “great deal/fair amount” of trust in the media.

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