Mainstream media has taken a bruising from multiple fronts over the past few years. Some of the most trusted sources in the world of journalism have embarrassed themselves badly. Now the rise of fake news and the competitive nature of their business has turned the news industry into a joke. What happened?
Even though the buzz about fake news is relatively recent, I saw it building up since the early days of election seasons in 2015. I have an unfair advantage, of course. Operating a conservative news aggregator forces me to read more in a single day than I did my entire 2nd semester in college. This gives me a bird’s eye view of the news as it’s disseminated to the web across hundreds of sources. It also makes me investigate individual stories before linking to them when they’re a little too fantastic. That’s been a regular occurrence since after the election.
The most recent was yesterday when news started breaking that the Trump administration was shifting towards potentially opposing new settlements by Israel. This was a particularly difficult story to embrace because it was the type that mainstream media doesn’t want to follow. It sends them mixed signals. On one hand, it could be damaging to Trump to flip-flop. On the other hand, it hurt their own anti-Israel narrative that wants the Jewish state and the U.S. President aligned. If Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are in lockstep, the media can attack them both simultaneously. Two birds. One stone.
Slowly, other publications started picking up the story, but I still waited until they pulled from more than the original source. That’s the sad nature of today’s media. Even “trusted” publications have been very wrong lately.
There are many things that contribute to mainstream media’s failures, but three factors stick out:
The Great Unhinging of 2016
We’ll start with the most obvious. They didn’t just want Hillary Clinton to win the White House. They were downright certain it would happen. This was a double-whammy because both falacies made them doubt their own understanding of the world. As a result, many of them have become unhinged.
They may not recover. After having their chosen one in office for eight years, their hated foe taking over is a shock to their system that could fundamentally change how they do their jobs going forward. It’s like they were in a warm, soothing shower relaxing comfortably until someone dumped a bucket of ice water on them unexpectedly. Trump’s victory was journalistic trauma.
Real-time is Too Slow
It’s not all their fault. A lot of the mistakes they make are based upon the unfortunate side-effects of a perpetually connected society. Between mobile phones, social media, blogs, alternative news sites, and every other form of media distribution that everyday people are using, mainstream media is under pressure to run with stories before they’re fully vetted. They were once able to take a story, test the ingredients, and bake it properly until it was ready to serve. Today, they’re forced to toss everything they have together in a bowl and throw it in the microwave. Clearly, product quality has been sacrificed for speed.
This has another effect that isn’t quite as obvious. Because publications run with stories and feel justified to correct them later if they’re wrong, many publishers are using real-time demands and faulty sources in order to produce “excusable” fake news. As long as there’s some justification from another source, they’re okay with posting first and vetting later. Dozens of reports and commentaries can arise from a single reputable person Tweeting something. As long as a publication can report news, real or not, from behind the shield of a reliable public source, they no longer fear being called out for it. After all, they’re only reporting what others are already reporting. This more than anything else has given rise to fake news. Sadly, most mainstream media organizations are okay with this practice today.
Trump Plays Them Like Violins
For better or for worse, Donald Trump has been able to manipulate the media. They may be hostile to him, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t use them as tools. While most are wondering how all of these transcripts and pieces of inside information are leaking out from within the Trump administration, some are starting to realize that the leaks are very likely intentional. This is an old practice, but the White House has never had a team so adept at it.
Steve Bannon is where he is for a reason. While Trump leads the first violins, Bannon coordinates the second violins sitting behind them. He gets the right information out to the right people through a complex set of channels that keeps the media believing they are reporting against Trump when they’re actually doing exactly what he wants.
It has been far from perfect. They did a great job during the campaign but they’re finding the old tactics must be improved upon for it to work the same type of magic from the Oval Office. The funny part is that the biggest flaw in their strategy is Trump’s Twitter account. If they could keep him from blowing it when the narrative is already on their side, they’d be better off.
Mainstream media is facing an existential threat. They are losing more credibility every day while smaller publications are looking more and more like heroes. As they search for solutions to their many problems, they’ll someday come to the conclusion that they were their own worst enemy. Nobody can make the media look as bad as the media itself.Tags: Donald Trump journalism Mainstream Media Media Politics