Political pundits love to harp on whatever the public’s confidence in government is this month. What doesn’t get talked about enough is the confidence level in media. According to Gallup, 57 percent of the country has little or no trust in the mass media. The American people see the media either falling over backwards for a politician or doing everything they can to destroy them. How can there be any reasonable expectation for an informed public when nobody trusts the information they are getting?
MSNBC has recently openly committed to embracing their obvious “progressive identity,” even though they are already running a free PR campaign for Obama as they wage open war against the right. Their new host Lawrence O’Donnell recently had to apologize for a slavery joke about Michael Steele. CNN usually bills themselves as a centrist network, but they are plagued with more transitional issues: among these, a retiring Larry King, Parker and Spitzer (debuting dead last), and of course Rick Sanchez who recently wrote his own pink slip, as well as a week of late night comedy.
Fox, as always, is perhaps in denial about its conservative leanings, although their non-commentary news is probably the most objective, regardless, their ratings make them untouchable by anyone, even the current administration.
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The media in this country has been granted power and independence from government control, via the first amendment, for a reason. A free media is arguably the most important construct of a democratic society. It serves to disseminate information and provide a foil to government to keep it in check. They are there to define the issues and ask tough questions. However, a largely fractured media, ratings wars, and the “age of the sound bite,” have given rise to a form of self-fulfilling populism that dominates the airways. Once a largely unified industry with heavyweight icons such as Walter Cronkite dutifully defining issues for the public, it has splintered into a partisan charged landscape which brings viewers little analysis and minimal substantive debate delivered to you on a fourth grade comprehension level. While these shows can be entertaining and pleasing to people who want to hear someone rehearse talking points, this is ultimately failing the public, and the public is failing to tune in.
Journalism was put on the back-burner as the emerging force of cable news came to dominate. Ted Turner’s CNN gained fame by becoming the first 24/7 news channel, NBC Universal merged with Microsoft to form MSNBC, and Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. commissioned political hack, Roger Ailes, to run the new Fox News Channel. In the 1990s, cable news quickly outpaced network news, and in the last ten years, FNC has emerged as the undisputed front-runner.
With the turn of the 21st century and the information explosion that ensued with the birth of the internet, the old system was no longer possible, as the media became so fragmented that it is literally virtually impossible to temper and control every source of media. This revolution changed the way the game was played. Instead of relying on the latest greatest story to draw in an audience, the media turned to psychology and sociology to boost ratings. News no longer needed to rely on facts and evidence as long as it pandered towards the emotions of the consumer and flattered them by soothing them with their own views recanted by a certifiable “expert”.
The American people are responding to this media upheaval by gradually flocking to new, different, or non-traditional sources for their news. Many more have canceled their newspaper and magazine subscriptions all together. There have recently been a number of shakeups and gaffes in the industry in concert with their shrinking ratings. CNN’s Jonathan Klein was axed a couple weeks ago. NBC Universal revealed that under their merger with Comcast that Jeff Zucker will step down as CEO. Newsweek Magazine was just sold for one dollar. The New York Times circulation is dwindling, forcing them to sell their building. as the Wall Street Journal has taken over the market since it was acquired by News Corporation in 2007. The American people are tired of complacency they see on most news channels. That’s why talk radio is so huge and still growing, that’s why Fox is dominant, and News Corp. can afford to donate a couple million dollars the Republican Governor’s Association and Chamber of Commerce. Thus, the MSM is in need of an honest self-evaluation if they seek to continue to compete for the viewership of a largely apathetic and increasingly independent American citizenry.