One nagging question seems to be continually resurfacing during this political campaign season, “can traditional broadcast media (primarily cable news networks) be trusted as sole arbiters of accurate and unbiased information?”
Long gone are the days of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and journalistic ethics and integrity.
“I’m gonna be the power behind the president & you’ll be the power behind me.” – Larry ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, A Face In The Crowd, (1957)
We have to look no further than the previous two debates, one on Fox News and the other CNN to bolster and substantiate this fact. The major news networks have a vested interest in partnering with the political establishment on both sides.
Why? What’s good for ratings is good for business.
Although the ratings were very high for both Presidential Debates (Donald Trump notably the reason), it was quite clear each news organization was more interested in pushing their own agenda and political ideologies than they were in asking insightful, thought provoking questions based in fact.
Fox News and Megyn Kelly clearly revealed their animosity and bias toward Trump’s candidacy with several agenda-driven, “war on women” questions related to statements Trump previously made about women, all while having already posed herself for an albeit brief, but racy GQ spread.
Career advancement or hypocritical? You make that call.
Meanwhile, Jake Tapper and CNN spent almost the entire first hour of their debate asking other candidates to respond to things that were said to them or about them by Trump and others.
The traditional media has maintained a virtual strangle hold on how most Americans view and process news for decades.
I can remember my own father returning home from work to spend a tidy 30 minutes in front of the TV watching Dan Rather disseminate the evening news before joining us for dinner.
Here’s a news flash for cable news operations all across the board. Your days of news dominance and media influence are drawing to a close, regardless of your ratings or audience’s political affiliation.
America is wise to your game and you don’t own them anymore!
Anyone remember Napster? The pioneering peer-to-peer (P2P) music file sharing Internet service? Want to talk about disruption?
Napster literally imploded the entrenched and established music industry, revolutionizing how individuals consume music forever.
It wasn’t the “what” behind Napster, which for all intents and purposes was tantamount to stealing and completely illegal. It was the “how” and more importantly the “why?”
The “why” being, would someone pay for an entire album of music if they could simply download (or rip) one song – the song they really wanted?
So along comes a legion of other legitimate music platforms to create an entirely new system of consuming music – one song at a time.
The news business is going through this very same transition right now.
CNN once “king of the hill” as the sole source for 24/7 cable news in the 1980’s until others got into the same business over a decade later and knocked them off the top of the heap. They have been trying to regain that status for years now to no avail.
Viewers are more informed and educated than at any other time in history. Not to mention, as the news business continues to fragment, cable outlets insist on diluting hard news coverage with more and more sensational entertainment, editorial and opinion that does nothing but strain their own credibility, turning more viewers away.
In essence the cable news business, much like the political system is going through a major crisis of confidence with their core consumer right now.
When both anchors and pundits alike are callous, uncaring and offer little if any insight or factual value to their editorial musings, opting instead to listen to themselves talk with attitude, we begin tuning them and their messages out.
Think about the pundits, excuse me, political commentators. Can they be trusted? Do they come across as genuine, informative and open-minded? Do their insights offer any value or possible solutions?
They do not. You get the very same thing, day in and day out. Over and over. The same worn out cliche’s and tired talking points, driving whichever political, social or cultural agenda they happen to be a shill for.
It is sad to see, just how devoid the media landscape (all levels) has become of individuals who are filled with truth, honor, integrity and perhaps the most important aspect of all – who can be trusted.
Silence. Nobody home. Right.
So my question becomes, why are we still watching?
With the exception of the recent debates (driven by Donald Trump’s presence), we are not.
Ratings are down across the board and have been for almost 10 years now.
Since 2008, ratings for the largest three cable news networks are essentially flat. For additional information on the media’s impending demise, Ezra Klein wrote a wonderfully informative piece in Mother Jones back in May of this year that is worth a read.
So, as we can see, consumers are voting by choosing not to watch in favor of digesting their daily appetite of news through other forms, including digital, social, talk radio and podcasts.
Just like Napster forced the music industry to change. The evolving digital media landscape is forcing the cable television broadcast media to change as well.
The question remains, whether they will hear, let alone heed this message. At first glance, it appears they may need some convincing.
The early anchors and talking heads could be trusted, if for no other reason than they had earned our respect. They had paid their dues. Worked their way up.
Today we get Brian Williams who is paid an ungodly amount of money and actually made his news up with factual inaccuracies, sadly about his own journalistic experiences.
Look up the salaries of Anderson Cooper, Rachel Maddow, Megyn Kelly or Shepard Smith to name only a few! They are all in the mid to high 7 figures, with some actually reaching into the 8 figures!
Do you think these individuals, living inside the media bubble that is Manhattan, sending their children to exclusive private schools and frolicking in “the Hamptons,” really represent you or are concerned with your family’s best interests?
Hell no! And it’s starting to show. The audience is finally realizing that they themselves have become the joke.
The media elite have no idea the struggles you deal with on a daily basis, and sadly, they don’t care either.
The hypocrisy in the broadcast news media is almost as rank as it is in certain precincts of the entertainment industry. After all, they are kissing cousins.
Especially since most if not all cable news networks are wholly-owned subsidiaries of much larger media conglomerates (Disney, Comcast, News Corp., Time Warner and Viacom) who also own movie and television production studios, publishing houses, newspapers, magazines and hundreds of various digital media properties and that’s just for starters.
Can you say incestuous?
This is why the public’s perception of the overall media now ranks on par with the politicians themselves and their hugely unfavorable ratings. Another sign, the end is nearing for cable news and agenda-minded, propaganda mills.
Just like the major record labels could no longer force the consumer to buy an entire album to get the only song they wanted, the cable news outlets can no longer force their audiences to watch their extravagantly high paid anchors and pundits peddle their biased editorial opinions with impunity.
The people can consume their news elsewhere. It is the responsibility of each individual to find their own truth upon which to base their beliefs.
Clearly, cable news and traditional media are no longer sources that can be trusted.
As Edward R. Murrow deftly articulated, I argue the same can be said about the media as well.
Choose you informational resources carefully.
There are many members in the media who appear to be sheep, but are clearly wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.
The truth will ultimately set you free, but finding that truth is solely up to you.
* One quick side note:
I would be remiss, if I did not mention the media significance of Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic film, “A Face In The Crowd,” as mandatory viewing to better understand the detrimental forces that potentially drive the media and it’s inextricable thirst for power, influence and money in this country and beyond.
The same rules apply, whether it’s 50 years ago, 500 or 5000 – have we learned to value truth?
We can only answer that question for ourselves.