February 20, 2017
Over the past couple of years, I’ve noted how it is increasingly difficult to talk about the mainstream media, because there no longer is a mainstream media. With the proliferation of internet news sources, not to mention the popularity of the unambiguously partisan Fox News and MSNBC, news sources have become increasingly decentralized. This has not been a good thing. It has allowed people to hide in their ideological bubble, seeking out only sources that tell them what they want to hear, and decreased reliability as everybody rushes to report the latest story with minimal verification. The closest thing that remained to traditional mainstream media was CNN, along with a couple of other dinosaurs, and now that they’ve abandoned any pretense of journalistic neutrality to take up the anti-Trump banner, I think we can officially say that the mainstream media no longer exists, but has been replaced by a bevy of liberal and conservative media outlets.
I think that what happened, essentially, is that Trump did what Trump does to bait the media into reducing itself to irrelevance. He was so blatant in his disregard for the truth that the media not only felt the need to call him out on it, they did so in a manner that was aggressive and indignant. They began to report everything Trump said or did through a negative lens, reporting with the presumption that if Trump said it, it’s dishonest. Trump has said a lot of thing that are objectively untrue, to be sure, but a lot of what he’s said is also either opinion or falls into a gray area. By reporting his opinions as if they are untrue facts, by allowing people posing as anchors such as Jake Tapper and Chris Cuomo to act more like pundits, and by running headlines that sound more like opinion pieces pulled from the website of the DNC, CNN and what else remained of the mainstream media have lost all credibility as objective journalists and become nothing more than another mouthpiece of the left. Poll after poll confirms that this sentiment is shared by the American people. What’s worse for the traditional media, trust is divided along party lines, with Democrats giving the media significantly higher ratings than Independents, who in turn rank it higher than Republicans (though ratings are low among all three groups). What good is your reporting if it’s only believed by the people who like what you’re telling them?
The decentralization of the media poses a problem for anyone interested in honest, democratic debate. Many of these outlets are more than a little loose in their regard for the truth, and even when what they are reporting is accurate, they are selective in what they report and how they report it. Worse, it allows people to seek out only information that confirms their biases, causing people on the left to sink further to the left and people on the right to become more absolutist in their views. After all, everything they are hearing tells them they are right, and neither side hears a voice that offers a different view. This makes polarization inevitable and compromise impossible. If you can’t even agree about what’s really going on, how can you come to any sort of agreement in how to approach it?
There is still time for traditional media outlets to turn this around and rebuild credibility, but they don’t appear to have any interest in doing so. They are so high and mighty in their media ivory towers that they are completely oblivious to how they are viewed by everyone in this country outside of their media circles. In that they are aware of how distrusted they are, they are so committed to the view that they are the ultimate arbiters of truth and that anyone who dares to question them is a brainwashed enemy of democracy that they refuse to even consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe, they are doing something to hurt their own credibility. This arrogance is what has led them into irrelevancy, and is what will keep them there.