The Mainstream Media Are Dying of Self-Inflicted Wounds

The Mainstream Media Are Dying of Self-Inflicted Wounds

Years of professional irresponsibility has consequences.

Credit: qvist

“Is American Journalism Headed Toward an ‘Extinction-Level Event’?” asks an Atlantic headline. The numbers are deadly. The grimmest news was from the Los Angeles Times, the biggest newspaper outside the East Coast. The paper announced it was cutting 115 people, more than 20 percent of its newsroom. In June of last year, the Times dropped 74 people. Some 2,900 newspapers have closed or merged since 2005.

Sports Illustrated is in trouble. The Washington Post, NBC News, ABC News, CNN, NPR, Vice, Vox, and BuzzFeed, among others, have shed hundreds of journalists over the past year. (The author of the Atlantic article himself was a layoff from the Post.) Job losses among print, digital, and broadcast-news organizations grew by nearly 50 percent during 2023.

The reason for all this professional carnage, according to the article? Something something the Internet something something digital advertising revenues blah blah social media.

One proposed solution calls for “direct and muscular government intervention” and legislation forcing Facebook and others to pay for “news” they feature from sources like the New York Times. Yet, as journalist Glenn Greenwald asked, “Will there ever come a moment when liberal journalists who work for corporate outlets, and who are being completely consumed by layoffs and financial failures and audience indifference, ask whether there’s anything they’ve done to contribute to the profession’s failure?”

The answer, of course, is no. No one important is going to ask. Somewhere along the way (we’ll tag it as the beginning of the first Trump campaign of the modern era) journalism lost all pretext of objectivity and decided to devote itself fully toward advocacy. It is clear now the public wants accurate reporting, not advocacy, but never you mind, the media elites on the coasts know better what you need. As long as the mainstream media traffic falsehoods, people will disappear from their audiences.

Let’s look at one almost silly example: Did Donald Trump say people should drink bleach to kill off Covid?

No, Donald Trump did not suggest that people should drink bleach to kill off Covid. During a White House briefing in April 2020, Trump did make comments about the potential use of disinfectants and ultraviolet light to treat the virus. His remarks were widely criticized because they seemed to suggest the possibility of injecting or ingesting disinfectants, which would be extremely harmful. The media, however, would not be stopped, making the bleach thing into a meme, handing it off to Late Night, then picking it up again throughout the 2020 presidential campaign.

Twelve months after the supposed statement, to keep things alive, POLITICO wrote, “One year ago today, President Donald Trump took to the White House briefing room and encouraged his top health officials to study the injection of bleach into the human body as a means of fighting Covid. It was a watershed moment, soon to become iconic in the annals of presidential briefings. It arguably changed the course of political history.” 

“For me, it was the craziest and most surreal moment I had ever witnessed in a presidential press conference,” said ABC’s chief Washington correspondent.

A year after the “fact,” it is bad enough that the media could not accurately report what was said. But how about some four years later, twice in recent New York Times articles, on January 24 and on January 29, 2024 (“oblivious or worse, peddling bleach as a quack cure”)?

The thing is, Trump never said people should drink or inject bleach. Here is his comment in its entirety: “So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous—whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light—and I think you said that that hasn’t been checked, but you’re going to test it. And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you’re going to test that, too. It sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning. Because you see, it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that.”

It was obvious Trump was talking about a hypothetical example in that hyperbolic style of his. It takes a selfish media mind to roll all that into an admonition for the suffering American people to drink a poisonous substance. But that’s what happened, and is still happening even four years later.

There are so many other examples that persist in the media as untruths, exaggerations, or something evil done by other presidents but uniquely ascribed to Trump—everything from wrenching children from their parents at the border into concentration camps, to denouncing fallen soldiers as suckers, to inciting a bloody insurrection to overturn an election, to peddling “the Big Lie” to the point that he is supposedly constitutionally ineligible to run for president.

Journalism is at a crossroads at best (it may have already crossed into the abyss). The old models of reader-supported or advertising-supported media are no longer sturdy and seem still to apply only to a few giants like the New York Times. Americans’ trust in the mass media’s reporting matches its lowest point in Gallup’s trend line, largely because of Democrats’ decreased trust. (Republicans were lost an election or two ago—see Russiagate—though independents still lead the two parties in lost trust.) Just 7 percent of Americans have “a great deal” of trust and confidence in the media.

Meanwhile, 28 percent of U.S. adults say they do not have very much confidence and 39 percent have none at all in newspapers, TV, and radio. Social media is still the least trustworthy sector, while simultaneously being one of the most read or watched. The declines for the mainstream media have been steady since their 1977 peak at about 70 percent trust levels. It has gotten worse since Trump, but you can’t blame it all on him. It’s the media’s own fault.

The loss of trust is because of a perception that the MSM is biased. Some 78 percent of conservatives think the mass media is biased, as do 44 percent of liberals and 50 percent of moderates. Only about 36 percent view mass media reporting as “just about right.” A September 2014 Gallup poll found that a plurality of Americans believe the media is “too liberal.”

Half of Americans in a recent survey indicated they believe national news organizations intend to mislead, misinform or persuade the public to adopt a particular point of view through their reporting. The survey goes beyond others that have shown a low level of trust in the media to the startling point where many believe there is an intent to deceive. When asked whether or not they agreed with the statement that national news organizations do not intend to mislead, 50 percent said they disagreed. Only 25 percent agreed.

The pattern is pretty clear: As long as the mainstream outlets are significant sources of misinformation, not to mention out-and-out lies, the people’s trust in it will continue to fall. We’ve reached a breaking point where many people believe the media intends to deceive. People literally are not buying what the media are selling, and that is entirely the media’s own fault.

The post The Mainstream Media Are Dying of Self-Inflicted Wounds appeared first on The American Conservative.

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