Fourth Estate Sale
How To: Fix Trust In Media
Happy Monday War & Peaceniks!
Few things epitomize the ironic state of our modern Media as thoroughly as CNN leaking the news of its new CEO to its own reporter, and then refusing to comment on it. Nor has anything betrayed the News Media’s obvious belief in tour general gullibility as much as that news network’s “Media Expert” looking us right in the eye and telling us he DIDN’T get this information from (or directly confirm it with) his new bosses at Discovery, and yet chose to report it as fact anyway.
Which brings me to the content of this essay: We cannot trust the media.
A few weeks ago, I posted the infographic below, tracking the evolution of America’s trust in its media (as surveyed by Gallop). In that piece, I outlined how Americans went from collectively and overwhelmingly believing the News they read in 1976, to overwhelmingly and universally distrusting News Media today.
In light of the current war in Ukraine, and the rampant misinformation spread beforehand and since, I decided to repost this graphic, and focus today on a detailed dive into something I gave too little space in that post: What is happening right now to further decay our trust in Media and what specifically we all can do to fix our trust in our News.
In leaking news about their new CEO of CNN, Discovery chose to also highlight a major change in strategy for the network that invented Cable News.
“Under its new chief, CNN will dial down the prime-time partisanship and double down on the network's news-gathering muscle, top sources say. Ratings are secondary to credibility, in the view of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who's taking over CNN. Zaslav, at the urging of mentor John Malone, is likely to push CNN back to hard news, and away from red-hot liberal opining.”
Those who know my penchant for progressive-leaning policy may think I would be disappointed to hear this. They are wrong. The chart above clearly demonstrates that the transformation of NEWS into OPINION has been a significant cancer of our dying confidence in the veracity of our News Media. Opinion has a place in journalism, but that place should be clearly marked as OPINION, not BREAKING NEWS, and it should be kept very far away from the reportage of facts on important events: things like elections and wars.
So, the idea that CNN will now focus on facts and journalism, rather than blathering pundits yelling their feelings at us and calling it journalism is music to my ears… a tune I wish other “News Networks” would follow. However, the fact that this move is merely temporal, based on the urging of a major shareholder, and therefore entirely subject to change should it cause a major dip in revenues… is what leaves me not just disappointed, but alarmed.
Over the past 50 years, a myriad of paper cuts has slowly bled the trustworthiness from our News Media, leaving it an anemic shadow of its former self. However, these slices in media’s credibility have one, big thing in common: The collusion between our politicians and the industry to permanently eradicate News’ independence from commerce.
In 1987, corporations lobbied our government to remove the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, eliminating requirements for fact-checking and balanced reporting from broadcasting, and allowing the arrival of opinion-spitting disguised as fact. In this century, big tech has lobbied both parties to allow social media platforms to avoid regulation and culpability for misinformation published on their servers to their users. Why? In both cases there is one answer: Profit.
While individuals may sue for specific libel or harm, there are no federal laws governing America’s Cable News Networks, allowing them to put forth primetime entertainers as journalists, utter feelings as facts and offer misinformation as truth. While there are bills traveling through Congress to regulate big tech, online clickbait factories are left to their own devices to moderate the barrage of viral bullshit that circulates unfettered through the veins of our culture, creating millions of silos with their own, skewed versions of reality.
Why? The corporate owners of these “News” outlets spend tens of millions lobbying against regulation and donate tens of millions more to the very politicians meant to oversee them. Those politicians, in turn, see deeply biased echo chambers as useful tools for their endless reelection efforts, so they look the other way, later accepting jobs as pundits on these same “News” outlets the second they leave office. It’s a human centipede of backscratching corruption.
“There are three estates in government. But in the reporters gallery, there sits a fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
Sir Edmund Burke
The main purpose of The Fourth Estate is to watchdog our government. Things like culture, sports, weather, and human-interest stories are nice added-value. But they are secondary at best to ensuring our elected officials do their jobs honestly, and holding them accountable when they do not. That mission has been made wholly impossible by the constant game of footsie between the corporate, profit-driven media, elected representatives who keep pundits on speed dial, and the revolving door of former politicians who now sit in countless anchor chairs on supposedly “independent news” programs.
I am not saying that all news organizations color the truth to suit profit margins, shareholders, or government officials. I am saying that so much of the media does, it is now unreasonable to expect the public tell which is which.