Saturday, November 8, 2014

How our media fuels cynicism

The morning after the election I was talking to my neighbor who is a retired truck driver. He told me that he didn't bother to vote anymore because none of "them" ever did what they promised to do when campaigning. Sure...he's a sample of one. But I think he's pretty representative of the 2/3 of voters who didn't show up Tuesday. In other words, McConnell's strategy of sowing cynicism is a pretty smart move for Republicans (and a disaster for democracy).

I expect those who believe that politics is all just a power game (i.e., McConnell) to play the best hand they've got. Someone as smart as he is knows that the public at large doesn't buy their solutions (see: the success of minimum wage referendum). So he's got to come up with a way to win elections in spite of that.

The folks I DO hold accountable for the spread of this kind of cynicism are those in the media. The reason my neighbor doesn't think that elected officials ever follow through is because they are fed massive doses of hysteria every day with almost zero coverage of results.

This phenomenon was actually heightened in the lead-up to the midterm elections where the American public was fed a steady stream of fear-mongering about one "crisis" after another. But how much are they hearing about how President Obama's responses are working?

For example, you have to dig deep to learn that the Russian economy is tanking, partly as a result of the President's work to partner with European countries on sanctions following their incursion into Ukraine. Or how about the fact that the ISIS Wave of Might is Turning into a Ripple? Who noticed that - as of yesterday - Dallas is Ebola free? I personally found it fascinating that, after being consumed with the topic of Ebola for the entire month of October, not one member of the White House Press Corp asked a question about it during President Obama's press conference the day after the election.

To put this in perspective, its interesting to imagine how our current media might have handled the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962. I'm sure they'd first of all write countless articles about how President Kennedy was to blame because of his "weakness" as a foreign policy leader. Then they would play up all the possible horror stories on what a nuclear-armed Cuba would do. Some of that surely happened back then. But the difference would be that once everyone was in a frenzy, they'd stop talking about it and move on to some other crisis...ignoring how it was resolved.

I'm not one that buys conspiracy theories about why the media does this. I think its fairly obvious that they exist in a bubble of groupthink that prizes cynicism above all else and are dependent on hysteria to provide eyeballs and link bait for their financial survival.

But this is a deeply disturbing trend that requires our attention. I don't hold out much hope that we can rely on the media to fix this. Its going to eventually be up to us to demand something better.


  1. as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. a media as shitty as ours wouldn't be able to exist in a country with a decent public. and vice-versa: a country with a shitty public won't sustain a good media.

    the forces interact with each other. neither alone is "the" issue any more than one hand alone can clap. not unlike interacting population dynamics:

    1. Very true. But when change is needed, you have to look for who has investment in the status quo vs who has some incentive to change.

  2. The media is no longer about the news. The news is just another reality show whose main purpose is ratings and maximizing advertising revenue. Fear, hysteria, and stupidity rule the airways.

  3. I think that some of it relates to the notion of Entertainment TV...ratings....the game is in the sensationalism of the moment....

    there is no real money in talking about outcomes unless those outcomes bring more sensationalism...

    of all the emails that we receive from the would be nice if some of them talked about the positive outcomes...OFA...may need to embark upon that as well

  4. I disagree with you, Nancy. I believe the media are actively supporting a Rethuglican agenda. Profits, clicks, advertisers etc. are also factors, but at their core the media are consciously furthering the plutocrats' agenda.