There is no question that corporate media (CM) horrifically failed the American people in the 2016 election cycle. By treating Hillary’s email server as the very scandal of the millennium, while Donald Trump’s virtually endless litany of failings as a candidate for the highest office and as a human being were presented as just more tidbits in the here-today-gone-tomorrow news cycle (in which actual policy issues went virtually unmentioned, in any meaningful way), CM unquestionably played a key role in the disastrous outcome.
I’ve never seen anything like CM’s open, flagrant bias in this one, and my paying attention to presidential campaigns goes back to 1972. (Yeah, I was all of 11 at the time, but intellectually precocious. And a fervent Nixon Republican. But that’s another matter.) But the thing is, I don’t know that much of CM really wanted Pr*sident Trump to actually win; I don’t think they actually believed that he really could, any more than, for example, I did. Trump was seen more as ultimately harmless entertainment (and, of course, ratings-bait) than as a real threat. The intent was to create a close election, and blunt Democratic downballot gains. And as far as the fallout now coming down on corporate media, because of it all…well, everything about “President Trump” is too serious, and disturbing, a matter for any gleeful schadenfreude, on my part.
As always, sweeping statements like those in the first paragraph above, while possessed of ample truth, require a measure of qualification, here in the messy, uncertain world of…reality. How much influence does corporate media really have? Let’s consider some numbers.
– For the week ending April 10, 2017, the traditional news source that is the Big Three broadcast networks collectively got about 21,405,000 viewers a night for the evening news. Extrapolating from this I’m rounding to a current U.S. adult population of 250 million. So while the viewership is certainly no paltry number, it’s all of about 8 ½ percent of this country’s adults.
– For the first quarter of 2017, the main cable news sources – Fox, MSNBC, and CNN – together averaged about 5.54M viewers in primetime (daytime numbers, also included in the linked article, are significantly less). That’s 2.2% of American adults. Juggernauts.
– As far as newspapers go, I thought I’d focus on Minnesota’s biggest, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I couldn’t find current circulation numbers (I didn’t look very hard), but I figure they haven’t changed a whole lot from 2013.
Sunday circulation grew to 515,078, a 0.1 percent increase from the prior period, making Star Tribune the seventh-largest Sunday newspaper in the U.S.—and the fifth-largest by print circulation. Weekday circulation rose to 301,345, a 0.3 percent increase from the preceding six months, making the Star Tribune the nation‘s 14th-largest daily.
(Star Tribune Company)
Minnesota’s current adult population is about 4.25M. So it works out to about one daily Strib (including digital subscriptions) for about every 14 adults in the state. I don’t know how many people read a given issue. Or how many, like me, mostly just do things like make a quick run through the sports section during a too-hurried breakfast.
– This is from an article that has all kinds of data on political website traffic.
A new study from Pew Research claims that 62 percent of people get their news from social media, with 18 percent doing so very often. As expected, the top social media news source is Facebook. Pew’s study claims that two-thirds of Facebook’s users read their news on the platform. They say Facebook reaches 67 percent of U.S. adults, equal to 44 percent of the U.S. population.
Only about a quarter of those polled (4,654 members of the Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel) get news from two or more sites, and only 10 percent receive news from three or more platforms, putting people who consume more than one news source in the minority.
But how much of what people see on Facebook has its genesis in CM? It gets complicated in a hurry, more so when you try to take into account “fake news.” I don’t have good answers.
(Here is the study from Pew referenced therein. It is an exhaustive beast, and I haven’t processed it all, myself.)
– And as far as what people think of the “news” that they’re watching/hearing/reading these days:
I’m just touching the surface, here. There are many studies and books out there looking to assess the real reach and impact of contemporary media, corporate and otherwise. I’ve never seen anything to the effect that there is general agreement on quantifying said reach and impact, at least not yet.
If you’re into this stuff enough to have read this far, you know as well as I do that for us political junkies the above is borne out all the time, via our interactions with the vast majority who are not well-informed on the issues of the day, by what we consider any reasonable standard, because they don’t really try to be informed. So is CM the whole problem? Of course not. But the very pervasiveness of the plutocratic, warmongering agenda of its “news” presentation is a big factor, every damn day. Like the “solids” in a sewage pond, their crap settles everywhere, eventually, in some way. Which produces the biggest “success” of corporate media, given the agenda of its ownership: reinforcing the behavior of non-voters, via false equivalence and pervasive negativity about governance.
There’s an awesome opportunity that responsible journalism can rise to right now. The repeal of Obamacare begs to be framed not as a retributive power struggle between political parties, but as a moral struggle for a diverse people to define a good society. Climate change cries out to be covered not as a farce about ignorance, but as an epic about the survival of our species. Explaining economic policy requires risky honesty from the media about inequality, and a fearless, patient commitment to educating its audiences. That’s not the same as keeping the country watching by keeping it on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Corporate media could provide a lot more real reporting, have a chance of picking up younger viewers, and feel a whole lot better about what they’re doing in the process. I have no doubt that there still are plenty of people, at virtually every corporate media outlet, who would love nothing more than to do legitimate journalism and tell it like it is about the disaster that is not only Trump himself, but all of contemporary American conservatism. Hopefully at some point it will happen. But I’m not optimistic. Obviously most CM also believes that it can’t afford to alienate probably at least half of its viewers/listeners/readers by really telling it like it is about Trump – and the imbecilic judgment of his voters.
I’m well aware that many of those who call the shots at corporate media are vehemently denying any responsibility for “President” Trump. And that while at this time they are not being complete Trump toadies, there’s little indication that they seriously intend to change their ways for the better in any big, lasting way. That’s how pitiful, gutless cowards always roll. Somebody HAS TO come up with an effective way, or ways, to hold them accountable, or they’ll only get worse. And to CM:
Thanks for Trump, a**holes.