The Metamorphosis of the American Press
The Press has the power to shape our future,
“If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (32nd President of the United States, on Press)
“The press should be not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, but also a collective organizer of the masses”
Vladimir Lenin (Russian Communist Revolutionary and Premier of Soviet Union 1922 – 1924, on Press)
There is a beautiful scene in ‘Game Change’ (about the 2008 presidential elections) when John McCain’s chief strategist Steve Schmidt says to Sarah Palin: “No News Cycle Lasts for More than 72 Hours Anymore, News is Consumed for Entertainment Purposes Only“. As I witness the non-stop electoral politics 72-hour news cycle every day, I cannot help but wonder whether Schmidt’s words should be set in stone.
There is little doubt that media significantly influences the outcomes of presidential elections, more so these days than any of the elections in history. Gone are the days when politicians without charisma can hope to one day – become The Leader of the Free World. With the continuous convergence of electronic and print media, it is safe to say that Google owned ‘YouTube’ is indeed the television of the twenty first century. The New York Times can be read on print, just as easily as it can be flipped through on your iPad or Android.
It is the uninhibited power of the information and internet age. Youtube has no pressure of viewership, (in most cases) censorship and (again, in most cases) geographical boundaries, and hence it reaches infinitely more people than the traditional outlets can ever hope to do. In my mind the traditional television outlets include (not exhaustive) MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, Comedy Central, and Fox News.
In fact I rate Rachel Maddow’s Show (MSNBC), The Daily Show (Jon Stewart on Comedy Central), The Late Show (Letterman on CBS), and The Tonight Show (Leno on NBC) very highly. If we include fringe commentators on both sides – then we should include Bill Maher, and the radio shows presented by Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Let us be gracious and accept Fox News as an actual news channel and not as a propaganda machine. Even then, with a 24/7 news cycle there are not many shows that one can watch to get actual undiluted news. One way for news channels to push their left centered, or right centered agenda is by claiming that the show is presented by a Commentator (implying, he interprets rather than reports), and not a reporter. Sean Hannity from Fox News comes to mind.
Other than the few shows mentioned above, have you ever wondered how our traditional media identifies the most trivial of news pieces everyday, preferably one that increases rating and panders to sensationalism, and hammers home the message day in and day out. Over the top reactions using phrases such as Obama’s Watergate, and Obama’s Social Justice and most incredulously – Nazi references describing the current administration, leads someone with an actual appetite for undiluted news to switch off the television in search for more authentic outlets.
I think ‘The Young Turks’ (the largest YouTube news channel in the world) came to the rescue of people who want the truth, and nothing more. I have a few issues with its host Cenk Uyger, but he is by far the most consistent political commentator you can find outside of television. He is as critical of Obama, as he of the Republican party, but he lends credit where it is always due.
Let us consider the print (and electronic outlets). On the left is New York Times, and on the right are Wall Street Journal and Politico. A personal favorite of mine has always been Huffington Post, and I have an innate and profound admiration for Ariana Huffington. Just yesterday, Huffington Post had an excellent article on India’s electricity failure, and beyond that – it is consistently is on the mark with respect to the pulse in Washington each day. Read Huffington Post each day, and you can almost be rest assured that you are not wasting your time on chaff and mindless chatter (traditional media?), you get actual news that reflects the pulse in Washington. Sometimes, there is unadulterated chaff originating out of Washington in itself (e.g. Eric Holder contempt), and that is not really Ariana’s fault, that really is Washington’s fault. Oh well, its an election year after all.
The media can make or break your career, and in most instances there is nothing called as bad publicity. News is consumed differently than even from five years before. I no longer read news papers in print (and my dad still does so – religiously every day), and I get my news exclusively from online. Since my time ach day is limited, I quite logically go to outlets that probably fit with my interests. Is it not surprising, that a left centrist will probably read the New York Times rather than the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) ? Even though reading the WSJ in my case will potentially provide me a more diversified viewpoint. I think I do not read WSJ any more because when I finished reading an article, it is loaded with propaganda and same old archaic talking points (e.g. trickle down economics), I almost feel like independent of what the story is, the WSJ will inevitably find a way to get the banal talking points into the article. I am sure New York Times has been held to the same standard (or the lack of it) by the right, but I still think it reports news, rather than integrate talking points consistently.
I remember our president saying to Jon Stewart (on The Daily Show) that he no longer watches news, for he feels he does not learn anything from it. I am fairly sure he watches news at some point, but I concur with his assessment of most outlets these days. We all remember the 9/11 First Responders Bill (the bill that lends them medical benefits) – called as the Zadroga Bill, and how it lost traction in the senate? The news got lost somewhere between us keeping up with the Kardashians and Trump’s birther issues.
Among all the traditional and print outlets inundated with seasoned commentators, it was indeed a political satirist – Jon Stewart, who saved the bill from doldrums and got the senate’s attention in a span of two days. It passed the next week, and it provides medical benefits to 9/11 first responders to this day. How ironic is that? As ironic as Ariana Huffington (The Huffington Post) and Cenk Uygur (The Young Turks, here is Uygur on Obama) delivering is with the news that we as people who are involved and interested in out political governance, policy and electoral politics – truly deserve.
Roger Ailes (President of Fox News) started the ‘Fair and Balanced’ network in 1996, and he has exclusive meetings with Richard Nixon outlining how to present the GOP to the American people. He also outlined how to inform people about Fox’s version of the truth, and it is probably not surprising that Fox was the first channel to announce the 2000 election to Bush (Bush V Gore). I am positive that the left centered channels are involved in the same information feed to the people, probably to a lower extent than Fox News.
There is no doubt that the news machine treated our President favorably, when compared to Clinton in 2008, and there is no doubt that they will exert a significant influence in the outcomes of presidential elections in the eons to come. Freedom of the Press is a prerogative, but it must be earned. With power comes responsibility, unfortunately most of our traditional outlets have way more of the former than the latter. Huffington Post, The Young Turks and Jon Stewart, remain as unique exceptions to the current media in our political system.