Mr Trump is the leading exponent of “post-truth” politics—a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact. His brazenness is not punished, but taken as evidence of his willingness to stand up to elite power.
Art of the Lie, The Economist
As the media spectacle of this year’s presidential election gathers terrifying force in the remaining days before the votes are cast, speculation whether American journalists are acting responsibly is growing as well. Though much of this can easily be attributed to partisan game playing, an alternative view focusing on the responsibilities of news consumers expressed recently by Matt Taibi in Rolling Stone deserves more serious consideration.
It is the view of the Media Stewards Project that commercially driven broadcast journalism too easily succumbs to the siren song of sensationalism more likely to generate a large audience whose attention can profitably be sold to advertisers of every sort. Independently funded public media sources are better suited to help citizens understand this dynamic, but are not strong enough in the U.S. to provide the critical perspective citizens need to begin addressing the perilous state of our political dysfunction.
Encouraging citizens to acquire critical media literacy skills is essential for increasing their greater participation in the workings of our democracy.
The news chases squirrels, calls them rabid, and shoots them. [ ] Journalism does not inform.
James Fallows, author and national correspondent for The Atlantic, has thoughtfully analyzed the problems and shortcomings of American journalism for decades. In a recent blog, he reflected on the publication twenty years ago of Breaking The News: How The Media Undermine American Democracy. A condensed version of his book appeared in the Atlantic as Why Americans Hate The Media and is worth reading in this watershed presidential election year.
Respected media critic Jeff Jarvis covers much of the same ground in a recent blog excerpted here:
Imagine if even a fraction of the time we see wasted on cable news were devoted to educating the public about the issues and realities of immigration, refugees, criminal justice, the economy, infrastructure, education, health care costs, entitlement costs, security, the environment, taxes, jobs…. When was the last time you saw TV news do that? How much of any news organization’s work is devoted to doing this, to informing the electorate? Shouldn’t we ask before assigning every story and booking every TV discussion: How will this help the public better decide how to vote?
Journalism is failing the nation. This election is the proof.
These are powerful arguments spanning decades for citizens to reconsider the need for supporting a much more robust public media system providing a critical perspective on the circus atmosphere that has taken over our political process and contemporary journalism driven by overly dominant commercial media interests.
Roger Ailes built the Republican party –
now both are crumbling in plain sight
Very few citizens are aware of the historic role Fox News creator Roger Ailes played from the late sixties onward to foster the rise of the modern Republican party and alter the tenor of political discourse in America.
That history is clearly delineated in How Roger Ailes Built the Fox News Factory by Tim Dickenson five years ago in Rolling Stone, and further articulated by media reporter Gabriel Sherman in his 2014 biography, The Loudest Voice In The Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — And Divided a Country.
Mr. Trump’s decision to make Stephen K. Bannon, chairman of the Breitbart News website, his campaign’s chief executive . . . formally completed a merger between the most strident elements of the conservative news media and Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was incubated and fostered in their boisterous coverage of his rise.
Aug 18, 2016, New York Times
The advent of Stephen Bannon as Donald Trump’s new campaign manager is a significant milestone in the steady evolution of the Republican Party to the extreme right long facilitated, and now lead by experienced “alt-right” media manipulators. The history of this poorly understood evolution puts into stark relief the failure of for-profit media, particularly TV journalism, to illuminate this dangerous development in American politics.
In 2013, respected political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein sought to draw greater media and public attention to the troubling rightward drift of the Republican party in their book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. In an interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, they expressed surprise and disappointment that none of the major network TV news organizations showed any interest whatsoever in discussing this topic.
Only recently have a few journalists and pundits begun to draw more attention to the role Breitbart News has played in the rise of Donald Trump. A key episode was the remarkable duping of the New York Times in covering the campaign by Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe to destroy the community organizing group ACORN by posing as a pimp and his prostitute seeking advice to circumvent the law.
Though the failure of Republican leaders to recognize their responsibility for the rise of the “alt-right” and its enabling of Donald Trump as their presidential candidate is finally being widely discussed, there are still too few connections drawn between the huge profits generated by right-wing media organizations and the threat they pose to the functioning of American democracy. Speculation regarding a new right-wing media organization involving Donald Trump, Stephen Bannon and deposed Fox News guru Roger Ailes to cash in on demonizing Hillary Clinton should she be elected president is worth following closely in the run up to election day this year.
Donald Trump once again captured major media attention over several days in August by claiming unequivocally that President Obama was the “founder” of Isis, and that Hillary Clinton was the “co-founder,” something he first suggested in early January. This presented a challenge to news organizations nationwide to explain whether there was any truth to Trump’s claim about who was responsible for creating Isis which did not end when he eventually said he was being sarcastic.
This generated even more accounts explaining why Trump supporters do not care whether what he says is true or not because the news media are biased against him. The Washington Post reported the complex factors and policy decisions made over many years by members of the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as actions by Congress, which contributed to the rise of Isis. Unfortunately, analysis of this kind is all too rare and not suited for careful consideration on commercial television news programs.
Boiled down, key underlying factors leading to the creation of ISIS were:1) invading Iraq with only dim awareness of the deep Sunni-Shia historical divisions suppressed by Saddam Hussein; 2) not providing sufficient civilian and ground forces to maintain stability; 3) the disaster of allowing Nouri al-Maliki to oversee Iraq’s transition to democracy which greatly exacerbated Sunni-Shia tensions.
These major developments were primarily the responsibility of the Bush administration, as was promoting the false connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda as reason to invade Iraq and topple him. Absent more thoughtful, fact-based discussions about how Isis came to exist, wild accusations about who is responsible will continue to be taken seriously by large numbers of voters in this election season.
Very few regard the 2016 presidential election season as normal in any respect thanks to the unique reality TV talents of Donald Trump. His masterful seizure of our public discourse is endlessly discussed with every new outrageous statement he makes, many now questioning the journalism that is being practiced even by reputable news organizations.
Media analysis from respected sources such as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and the Columbia Journalism Review have weighed in about widespread journalistic malpractice, and CNN host Brian Stelter specifically criticized Fox News for greater public shaming.
But there is little analysis pointing to a more systemic problem, namely that our commercially driven media system combined with under-resourced non-profit media organizations serving audiences as citizens, not consumers, require the systematic teaching of critical media literacy at all K-12 and college levels of instruction.
Unlike all of the British Commonwealth countries and most of Western Europe, the U.S lags far behind in teaching basic media education. Entirely too few American citizens, including Supreme Court justices, are aware of practical explanations as to WHY we as a nation are experiencing such breathtaking sophistry, mendacity and manipulation of public discourse this election cycle.
A healthier balance of commercial and public media is unlikely to be realized in the U.S. for a very long time, in large part due to the paucity of critical media literacy skills among our citizenry. Perhaps a growing awareness of the dangers facing our democracy related to our hyper-commercial media system and scarce knowledge of media education that have allowed a rank demagogue the opportunity to actually become our president will open the American mind to this unexamined reality. Key organizations addressing this issue worth following:
Global Critical Media Literacy Project (GCMLP)
Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME)
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
News Literacy Project
Media Literacy and Digital Culture Program / Sacred Heart University
Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP) / Bournemouth University
Trump Will Still Lose. Here’s How.
Bloomberg View, January 7, 2016
A basic question of the 2016 presidential election cycle is how Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, could possibly be taken seriously given his repeated, well documented lies, constant insults, and questionable policy positions. It is credible to argue that Sarah Palin opened the door for the current Trump media phenomenon. And Glenn Greenwald is right to point out how cost effective it is for pundits to appear on television, how rarely they are held accountable for their questionable predictions, and that the preponderance of pundits spouting opinions masks the cold fact that ever less independent, investigative journalism is taking place to help citizens consider which candidates to vote for.
James Baldwin long ago suggested that a good measure of public education is the level of political discourse taking place in a presidential election season. By this standard, our country is failing to grasp the most basic tenets of media education and the need for a more robust public media sector willing to examine such issues.
The 2016 presidential race thus far strongly indicates this will be a change election due to the surprising success of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as anti-establishment candidates as well as the remarkable failure of the mainstream media to cover their campaigns responsibly. Trump continues to dominate the coverage on the Republican side which now includes heated debates about the role commercial media, especially TV news, is playing.
Pulitzer-Prize winning historian of the press, Doris Kearns Goodwin, considers the coverage of Donald Trump a journalism fiasco. Supporters of Bernie Sanders have complained for many months about both the lack of coverage of his campaign as well as the general quality.
Sanders regularly criticizes the commercial TV networks for their relentless focus on personal attacks instead of serious issues like income inequality, campaign finance reform, inadequate healthcare and family leave, our crumbling infrastructure, and the rising cost of higher education.
Since the commercial TV networks profit handsomely from the costly political ads they air while continuing to cover candidates as celebrities to boost their news ratings, there is a great opportunity this election season for citizens to consider the general failure of our commercially driven media system to adequately cover the significant issues they will be voting on. There is a profound connection between the lack of media attention to issues American citizens care about most and the gross imbalance between commerical and public media.
Thirty years ago, Neil Postman, a professor of media ecology at New York University, published Amusing Ourselves To Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, a sobering critique of American television news as entertainment programming that blights civic discourse because it is consumed passively, it’s content determined by commercial feasibility.
The opening program of Late Night with Stephen Colbert contained a brilliant satirical segment demonstrating acutely how insightful Postman has proven to be about the remarkable failure of commercial television news to engage citizens in the political issues of the day, accurately predicted in the 1920s by John Reith, the first Director General of the BBC.
The unfortunate shortcoming of Colbert’s satire is an overwhelming sense nothing can be done about this sad state of affairs, while also generating handsome profits for his parent company CBS. In contrast, public service media attempt to shed more light on this peculiarly American political pickle, but with too meager resources. A robust debate about such issues is now taking place in the UK over renewing the charter of the BBC, something Americans who want to do something about this dilemma could learn from.
It is conceivable that the failure of our commercial media to properly serve the public interest needs of citizens in our democracy could become a major issue in the 2016 election, but only with widespread grassroots pressure to force mainstream media to address the issue.
In the past several weeks, Donald Trump has surged in the polls to become the leading Republican candidate for president in 2016 despite making incendiary statements widely regarded as “unpresidential”. What explains this? Analysts are flooding the media with a variety of explanations, but few point to the major failure of mainstream journalism to question the radical positions Trump and other political leaders have expressed for many years.
Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne hints at this in his amusing “Trump has the GOP establishment’s number”, describing how the party “created the rough beast it is now trying to slay.” Few Republican leaders bothered to challenge Trump when he repeatedly questioned Barack Obama’s legitimacy to be president because he would not reveal an “authentic” birth certificate. Poll results in 2014 show two-thirds of Republican voters believe either a) President Obama definitely was born outside the US, or b) possibly was.
Something is amiss when these realities are barely referenced. In the view of Media Matters analyst Eric Boehlert, mainstream journalists repeatedly report how polarized political debate has become without making clear how far to the right of center the Republican party has steadily moved for decades. Historian Heather Cox Richardson traces this theme comprehensively back to the 1950s. Such views appear in alternative media but rarely reach the broader public, in large measure because commercial media dominate our political discourse while public media remain marginal in both reach and impact. Go here and here for more evidence of this.