The notion that the media, writ large, was responsible for the election of Donald Trump has been repeated so often on television and in the blogosphere that it’s become an unquestionable fact. This idea isn’t just false it’s destructive. Ten months into the Trump administration print journalist continue to point out the president’s almost daily battles with the truth. Print journalists have been screaming from the mountaintops, but their cries keep falling on deaf ears. The media didn’t fail America; Our apparent disdain for literacy and critical thinking failed us.
Most of the criticisms that have been leveled at the media are based on the spectacle we see on television. There are journalists, and then there are pundits. Both groups are part of the media, but they serve different functions. Too many national and local news broadcasts have emulated the pugilistic debate style cable news turned into ratings, gold. Meta-critical analysis of complex issues has been replaced with ad hominem attacks. Even a person committed to proactively engaging the media is often under-informed due to trends in television news production. We are seeing more pundits on the news than actual journalists.
Simply put, journalists debunk lies with information and pundits argue over them. The sheer amount of information aggregated and disseminated in print is amazing when you consider the massive budget cuts many newspapers and magazines have endured over the last decade. In spite of the barriers and limitations placed in front of them, print journalist continue investigating and writing about the important stories that affect us.
Many of Donald Trump's incessant lies are about mundane topics that don’t affect the average person, but this doesn't matter. When hard facts are subject to debate, everyone loses. If the president said, he invented the stapler 35% of America would either reflexively believe him, or feign ignorance to avoid acknowledging the fact that he has shown all of the symptoms of being a pathological liar. Worse, news shows all around the country would invite pundits on to defend his lie. If America wants a more informed electorate, we have to change the current model used by a lot of television news outlets.
A typical thirty-minute local newscast boils down to about twenty-three minutes after commercial advertising commitments are handled. Then, you have to subtract weather, sports, and local human-interest stories. After all of this, there are usually less than twelve minutes for hard news. The eleven or twelve minutes dedicated to current events get further split between national, state and local issues. The portion of the news dedicated to national politics is often presented as theater instead of fact-driven analysis of political ideas. If the same thirty minutes were spent reading a local newspaper, we would have a much more informed electorate. According to a 2016, Nielsen report, the average American watches television for 35 hours per week. Many of these same people claim they don’t have time to read?
When politicians, government officials, academics or private citizens engage in public discourse, their words should be parsed for accuracy. Print journalists and media outlets have an obligation to make sure the information they disseminate is as accurate as possible, but this doesn’t happen enough on television. No one in print media disputes the fact that two plus two equals four, but cable news will fill the b-block with pundits willing to argue over this. The ratings generated from these sideshows has caused too many news outlets to emulate their success. This has infected the only source of information some Americans receive. This model is unsustainable and will continue to erode the lines between fact and fiction.