NBC News thinks popular psychologist Jordan Peterson is an “alt-right intellectual.”
In a segment that aired Saturday, NBC portrayed Peterson as a dangerous man who seeks to use “psychology, religion and biology to justify the same inequality the Left opposes.”
Throughout the report, the Canadian professor is portrayed as a “favorite figure of the alt-right” — even though the alt-right is never defined.
That’s by design.
The NBC report skewering Peterson, a man even The Atlantic admits is not an extremist, is the latest example of journalists exploiting the amorphous nature of the term “alt-right” to smear various figures as white nationalists.
Peterson is a target for this attack because he’s a popular figure who argues against progressive orthodoxy and promotes conservative positions. His young, male audience raises additional alarms, so he earns the alt-right association to make him look too toxic for the mainstream.
When the term alt-right first emerged in the public eye in 2016, it was used to describe Donald Trump’s young, internet-based fans. In Hillary Clinton’s famous August 2016 speech, she included white nationalists, Alex Jones and Breitbart in the confines of the alt-right. At that time, the term was so broad that it could be applied to various figures and groups that seemed only to share a support for Trump and an online presence.
However, soon after Hillary’s speech, the only people who still embraced the term were white nationalists, while non-white nationalists outright rejected it.
Journalists at the time of the speech were critical of outlets saying alt-right without explaining what it meant — essentially what NBC did in its report on Peterson. They argued the lack of explanation allowed white nationalism to infiltrate the mainstream under the guise of a vague new term.
In response to that criticism, the Associated Press issued style guidelines that advised reporters to always define the alt-right as “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or just “a white nationalist movement.”
The AP made it clear to reporters that the term alt-right should be narrowly used to refer to white nationalists. Shockingly, reporters have discarded that advice and continue to use the word to paint non-white nationalists as white nationalists.
Example: Jordan Peterson. Another example: Kanye West’s new conservative fans.
Kanye made headlines last week with his series of pro-Trump tweets. The Washington Post published an op-ed that claimed the rap mogul was now an “alt-right darling.” The Post op-ed’s list of Kanye-loving “alt-right” personalities included black conservative Candace Owens, “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams, Jordan Peterson (duh) and former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.
None of these people are alt-right and most white nationalists were not fans of conservatives coming to like Kanye. For instance, alt-right figure Richard Spencer was outspoken in denouncing the rapper and his new fans.
But the actual alt-right showing displeasure over Kanye didn’t matter to journalists who wanted to tie the African-American rapper to white nationalism.
Peterson, the man the media loves to portray as alt-right, has gone out of his way to denounce the movement and several white nationalists have attacked him in turn. The professor presents his message as an antidote to the alt-right and urges his fans to avoid political extremism.
All of this doesn’t matter to reporters who have an agenda to advance.
There may have been a point in time when journalists cared about accurately describing what the alt-right is. Now it’s just a useful smear to attack Canadian professors, Trump supporting rappers and standard American conservatives.