Are Our News Media Learning?

A righteously frustrated Colbert King writes,

The vaudeville show that’s running at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue didn’t book itself into the White House. Nearly 63 million Americans sent that burlesque comedy with headliner Donald Trump to Washington. That  million other voters thought otherwise is beside the point. Trump didn’t anoint himself president. Millions put him in office.

What does that tell us about the country?

I would ask, what does that tell us about U.S. elections and how people make voting decisions? Many mistakes were made last election by both parties; little went according to plan. But I think a lot of the blame has to go to news media and how elections are covered.

The single biggest source of information most voters go by is cable and television news. The chart is from Pew Research Center, from February 2016.

Notice that only 2 percent of people get information from national newspapers; 1 percent actually check out the candidates’ websites.

If you check out the article, you see that older people in particular lean on cable and television news, whereas younger people lean more heavily on notoriously unreliable social media. Among millennials, 6 percent name “late night comedy” as a source, way ahead of any sort of newspaper, local or national.

But going back to cable and television news, what exactly did people learn about the candidates last year from those sources?

Recently Warren Olney wrote in the Los Angeles Times that Trump owed his election victory to the current head of CNN Worldwide, Jeff Zucker.

Zucker helped create “The Apprentice” as a vehicle for Trump when he was head of NBC Entertainment, Olney wrote. And “As president and chief executive of CNN 10 years later, Zucker became the giver who kept on giving.”

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan has described his contribution this way: “It was Zucker who gave Trump astonishing amounts of free exposure in the Republican presidential primary on the cable network, continually blasting out his speeches and rallies — often unfiltered and without critical fact-checking.”

During the election season, I saw entire Trump rallies carried live by CNN, interrupted only for mandatory commercials. Not only was there no critical fact-checking, there was no serious effort to provide context for viewers. Never raised, let alone answered, was the question: Why should a developer with a shaky reputation and no relevant experience be seriously considered for the most powerful job in the world?

It wasn’t just CNN, of course. I was never to frustrated with television news as I was on March 15, 2016, when three cable networks ignored a speech being given by Bernie Sanders in favor of covering Trump’s empty podium. Ryan Grim wrote at the time,

Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all declined to carry Sanders’ speech, instead offering punditry about the evening, with the chyrons promising, “WAITING TRUMP” and “STANDING BY FOR TRUMP.”

Hillary Clinton last week got similarly dissed by the networks in favor of Trump.

Earlier Tuesday, The Huffington Post”s Michael Calderone reported that the media have collectively given Trump some $2 billion worth of free air time. 

Thanks to Trump’s ability to drive ratings and generate controversy, as well as his unmatched accessibility — notably by phone — TV networks have covered the candidate nonstop since he entered the race last summer. Numerous rallies and press conferences have been aired live, while sexist and bigoted remarks typically result in a flurry of TV interviews. After canceling a rally Friday night, Trump dominated cable news by calling into CNN, MSNBC and Fox News for a total of 48 minutes in under an hour.

“Trump’s ability to drive ratings” is key here. He was entertaining. People tuned in to see what he was up to.

Colbert King is wondering why so many Americans couldn’t see his flaws:

Trump the candidate showed himself to be an ignorant, undisciplined, ranting bully who exaggerated and lied without shame. A man who wore a tough-guy masculinity but was actually a coward, who picked on women, demeaned minorities and was thoroughly lacking in human decency. …

… Trump’s ties and affinities to Russia were no secret, either.

Two months before Election Day, reports appeared in The Post, including in this column, that there was strong evidence that Trump’s businesses had received significant funding from Russian investors — thus adding to a growing sense that the Russians may have had their hooks in him and his associates.

Plus, there were the stories about how Trump stiffed his vendors, about how Trump apparently cheated on his taxes, about Trump’s old ties to the New York mob, about his “Trump University” being nothing but a scam, about his many business failures, etc.

But was any of that on cable or television news? The Washington Post and New York Times were both doing a dandy job of digging up the dirt on Trump’s past. But if you don’t read those newspapers — and clearly, most voters don’t — would you have known about those stories? Would you have even been dimly aware those stories were even out there somewhere? I don’t think so. The only dirt on Trump that gained any traction on cable or television news, as I remember, was the “grab ’em by the pussy” remark.

One of the things that must be done, before we go through another presidential election campaign, is to put pressure on television and cable news to present the candidates responsibly and honestly. We need massive media reform. We’ve needed massive media reform since the 1980s, at least. Some of us have been complaining about that for years. The Democrats, at least, ought to be pushing that agenda, because they’re the ones most hurt by the way politics is covered. But they don’t.

Social media, alas, is a cesspool of misinformation, and I’m not sure there’s much that can be done about that. Being able to ban or block fake news sites would help, but there’s a reluctance to do that for fear of shutting off legitimate news.

10 thoughts on “Are Our News Media Learning?

  1. At first, CNN – like the NY Times and the WaPo – had people covering news from all around the world. And they covered all sorts of international news.
    MSNBC also opened up with some of the same efforts.
    FOX never gave a shit about what went on outside of America – they were focused from Day 1 on propaganda that would rile the anger at the heart of all conservatives. This is a perfect desription of those people:
    “Trump the candidate showed himself to be an ignorant, undisciplined, ranting bully who exaggerated and lied without shame. A man who wore a tough-guy masculinity but was actually a coward, who picked on women, demeaned minorities and was thoroughly lacking in human decency,

    Hillary made the mistake of using ‘truth in advertising:’
    She labeled these t-RUMPLE-THIN-sKKKin supporting deporable people, as “deplorable.’
    And that caused the deplorable people to lash out, because in one own’s eyes, one is never deplorable – no matter how hateful, fear-filled, or bigoted one is.

    What I’m afraid of, is that with all of the voter suppression efforts by Republicans, we can never have a truly fair and equitable election.
    They’re trying to permanently KKKKrazy Glue their thumbs on the election scales.

    And thus, ended the noble American experiment in representative democracy!

    Ok, on three, let’s all chant the Republican motto:
    Party over people!
    Party over country!!
    party uber alles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    “I didn’t get a ‘Harmph’ out of that guy! Take him out and put him out of our misery by putting a Jesus-approved bullet behind his ear!”

  2. Trump the candidate showed himself to be an ignorant, undisciplined, ranting bully who exaggerated and lied without shame. A man who wore a tough-guy masculinity but was actually a coward, who picked on women, demeaned minorities and was thoroughly lacking in human decency. …

    Amen, I concur wholeheartedly. I could add a few more critical observations but that might be perceived as nit picking.

  3. What’s sad is we’ve arrived at a point where the average person won’t pay attention to anything unless there is entertainment in it. Its the result of decades of dumbing down real news and a concerted effort to devalue the importance of our institutions — political, educational and even spiritual. And its accelerated with the advent of social media, not because of it per se, but how its being used, again, with a focus purely on entertainment. Ignorant know-nothing-ism and bullying are celebrated in our culture, and violence is presented as just another way to deal with problems. Shallow celebrity is held in high esteem. And now we have “leaders” who are ascendant who affirm all that. And Trump is the perfect candidate for that.

    For that reason I believe this is bigger than the media. Even though most people aren’t reading newspapers and spending much time reading fact based news stories for comprehension and understanding, millions of voters KNEW what they were voting for in Trump and didn’t care. They knew of his bigoted, racist statements. They knew of his attacks on women. They knew of his shady business practices. Even if there was som willingness to give Trump the benefit of the doubt (give him a chance, they say) we know enough today and yet they still are unable to admit anything is wrong with not only him but what the GOP is now standing for. And these were things that, were they to be found in a democrat, Clinton in particular, then suddenly they are able to summon a little “moral clarity” to know something is wrong and not support it.

    Its this selective morality that says to me its not just a question of voters being misinformed. We’ve reached an inevitable point to where our culture is rotting from within.

  4. csm, ton of merit to what you say. I think Republicans have really gained a ton by working the refs, understanding both-sides-do-itsm, and inculcating a sense of victimhood in their supporters whenever “one of their own” is under scrutiny.

  5. Kudos to all above.i remember well the free airtime.trump never had to run one add.
    Cable news did it all for him.cable with its shallow argue with each other style is designed to produce an angry riled viewer not an informed one. Social media is just trash.on top of all that a white male jerk vote, the product of thirty years right wing talk radio. Adds up to a large number of brainwashed people. And now they all think Putin and Russia are just fine and dandy.240 years down the drain for nothing.

  6. “The only dirt on Trump that gained any traction on cable or television news, as I remember, was the “grab ’em by the pussy” remark”

    That is mostly right, though the Trump U did get some some coverage but mostly “both sides” bullshit! Even today when it seems at least CNN and msnbc are covering the Russia scandal pretty closely they still “normalize” Trump and his corruption. For instance the Don Jr. meeting, all anyone discusses is if it was illegal to “take the meeting”? Who cares what they should discuss is what did the Russians want and did they get it, I wouldn’t think the Ruskies would just peddle “dirt” on Hillary and want nothing in return?

  7. On health care, why am I not hearing about state governor run death panels? Feds are kicking the responsibility can to states who get to take the heat for the results: death to disabled ,closure of nursing homes,hospitals loss of jobs,no prenatal care birth coverage.
    On djtjr ,he told her wanted later in the summer.not only yes I want it but when.collusion

  8. The Trump U didn’t seem to register with people; I’m not sure why.
    I suspect that it’s because if Trump’s victims were stupid enough to be taken in by him they deserved what they got. Like they couldn’t see it coming? Trump held himself out as someone who always comes out on top with anybody who enters into any kind of a deal with him.. and to think he’s going to give you an equal or greater value for your money is contrary to who and what he claimed to be. Just to touch up against him in any sort of a financial relationship is going to get you burnt. So I don’t have, and I’m sure a lot of people didn’t and don’t have a high degree of sympathy for the alumni who got burnt at Trump’s University.

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