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Garvey: Ronna McDaniel’s flameout and the death of gatekeeping

By Georgia Garvey - | Apr 2, 2024

This week, Ronna McDaniel flamed out.

Maybe it was less of a conflagration doused by tidal waves and more of the fizzling death of a cheap firework, but either way, whatever plans she had for becoming a talking head ended abruptly. She was an NBC contributor for less than a week, or 30% of a Scaramucci (as he put it on social media) before the anchors at NBC and MSNBC publicly revolted and her offer was rescinded.

Let me first say that I have no affection for the woman. She’s a cookie-cutter GOP weakling, the flawed performer of a familiar balancing act on the line between Trumpian insanity and stolid conservative values. It doesn’t make me feel good, though, that she tried to come down on the side of normalcy and found that the big names at MSNBC and NBC refused to have her.

It was just another example of how we all now reject opposing views, violently at times. Even if the gatekeepers at MSNBC or NBC believe moderates (gosh, liberals, even) should probably hear from someone who voted differently than they did, we (and Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd and Joe Scarborough) are free to override them. We can keep our echo chambers pristine. Our opinions will remain unchallenged by dissent.

But there are no gatekeepers now — they all began dying out long ago, and their extinction has only accelerated in recent years.

The world used to be rife with gatekeepers. Newspaper editors decided what news we’d learn (and what we wouldn’t), doctors decided what medical information we needed to know, and religious leaders decided what a moral life looked like. Politicians were the only ones who knew how Washington D.C. really functioned — there’s even a saying about lawmaking being like sausage-making: a complicated, revolting process better left a mystery.

We now, though, have access to a shocking amount of information about every possible topic or field of study. It gushes out like water from a fire hydrant, washing away the gatekeepers who used to narrow the stream a bit. We’ve been appointed the final arbiter on all fronts. We make every decision. We are in charge.

I’m all for personal freedom, but it’s become a bit exhausting.

We used to be able to pick gatekeepers we trusted — a Walter Cronkite, a beloved family doctor, a kind rabbi — and let them do some of the dirty work of making the sausage. If we got one that stank, we were free to throw it away, but, by and large, we’d just eat what we got.

Having a gatekeeper takes the pressure of selection off. And more than that, our trust for gatekeepers places a chaotic world into order. It builds relationships and comforts us.

No wonder we’re all so anxious and depressed now. We have reams of information, more than we could ever possibly use, and no one to put it into context for us. We need to be experts on every front, sifting through the silt, looking for nuggets of gold. The only problem is, we have no idea how to tell the difference between fool’s gold and the real thing. It all looks valuable. There’s no one to tell us, “Don’t worry about that one. It’s junk.”

There have been, to be sure, benefits to the extinction of gatekeepers. We’re less likely to be led astray by someone else, a poor gatekeeper who’s too ignorant or too corrupt to do the job properly. But we’re doing a fine job of leading ourselves astray almost as often, and our hunger for gatekeepers can lead us to place too much trust in the public figures we feel represent us. We’re desperate for help deciding where to spend our mental, emotional and spiritual energy. There’s no other explanation for the power of so-called influencers.

Now, Ronna McDaniel? She’s no Walter Cronkite.

But when I went looking for all the terrible things she must have said to be forced out of NBC, I found something odd, which is to say, not much.

She didn’t say that Trump won the 2020 election. In fact, she said the opposite.

Sure, she’s done the same talking-out-of-both-sides-of-her-mouth thing that virtually every conservative politician with a sense of self-preservation has been engaging in for the last four years. But there’s value to viewers to be informed about what conservatives are saying and thinking. I mean, I guess there’s a risk MSNBC viewers might accidentally agree with her, but otherwise the downside was pretty low.

At least, that’s what the would-be gatekeepers at NBC thought.

But, as McDaniel learned, the gate’s already open and the floodwaters are rushing out, too fast to contain. Closing the gate is impossible. The position of gatekeeper, like so many others, has been eliminated.

To learn more about Georgia Garvey, visit GeorgiaGarvey.com.


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