The consequences of our extremely dysfunctional media are quite dire. I firmly believe that our biased, agenda-driven media is absolutely one of the largest problems we have in America, if not the single biggest.
This bold statement is based on my lifetime of experience as a news/political/history junkie who worked as a member of the television news media for over twenty years.
MEDIA AFFECTS EVERYTHING ELSE
Dysfunctional media is a foundational problem, one of the underlying reasons why some problems escalate out of control and others aren’t getting solved.
Every single issue America faces, from the economic mess to the drought, is made worse by a dysfunctional news media that does a poor job keeping the citizens informed. Instead of providing reasonable, rational, meaningful discussion, the news media treats most everything as a battle between blue and red, a dysfunctional rock ’em sock ’em robots approach to political theater.
We can not solve our collective problems unless we can discuss them rationally. We can’t discuss problems rationally when the news media foments so much division and misunderstanding on purpose.
Due to the dysfunctional news media, each side operates using their own set of “facts.” If you watch Fox News, they will tell you that January 6 was no big deal and COVID vaccines are ineffective. Listen to MSNBC and they insist January 6 was an attempted coup and vaccines are effective, just not 100%. Both can not be right. (If you’re wondering, MSNBC is completely right in this example.)
The News Media’s job is to lead the country in debate. Since they’re doing such a poor job, I say the consequences of that are leading us straight off the cliff.
Bad media leads to bad information, bad decisions, bad policies, internal strife, and stagnated progress. Add all that up and you have a compelling argument that says bad media is one of the major factors pushing our country over the edge.
YOU’RE AN IDIOT! NO, YOU’RE AN IDIOT!
This problem was never more clear to me than during the debates over the Affordable Care Act, derisively called “Obamacare.” (This article was originally wrritten in 2011. )
Obviously, healthcare is an issue that affects us all. Our very lives, and certainly our pocketbooks, are significantly affected by the healthcare system.
One would hope that the news media would produce in-depth, informative, factual, objective news stories to give viewers the important details they need to make wise voting decisions.
The news media in 2009-2010 was not capable of that. Today, TV news coverage is even worse. Fox has gone further off the rails, plus OAN and Newsmax, as well as hundreds of online entities, amplify the balony in a manner that makes the Obamacare Debate seem quaint.
So what happened as a consequence of the propaganda put out by the health insurance industry and the overall poor coverage of the ACA?
In town hall meeting after town hall meeting, people were screaming hysterically at each other. Some were hurling wild accusations and unfounded claims, yet were completely convinced their statements were the awful truth of descending tyranny!
Such hysteria was often greeted with complete derision, like when Massachusetts liberal Barney Frank asked a woman who claimed Obamacare was a Nazi policy what planet she lived on.
I understand the man’s frustration but come on Barney, the calling-them-stupid strategy will not promote better debate! It merely leads to deeper division. Yes, I agree that comparing a policy aimed at helping people afford healthcare to the Nazi’s burning folks in the gas chambers is indeed misguided, but let’s stop and think, where did this idea even come from? What media is this woman listening to that pushes this preposterous lie at her?
Somewhere along this line, this woman got her information and Nazi comparison from some off-the-wall report she heard from whatever media she listens to. She did not come to the conclusion on her own. There was zero truth to the Nazi comparrison.
Now I do not know who this gal is, much less what media she likes, but I do know that the healthcare debate is a perfect example of an issue where major dollars are spent to purposely fudge the facts.
UPDATE, 2022: Obviously, all these many years later, I hope everybody can see that this woman’s hysteria over The Affordable Care Act is pure nonsence. Nazi’s killed people. The ACA forced insurance companies to be a bit more consumer friendly, but not nearly enough, IMHO. The ACA was merely a set of regulations placed on the health insurance industry, nothing Nazi about it. It did however, put a dent in insurance company profits.
It’s Money, Honey!
With any highly charged political debate that directly affects the bottom line of lots of people, the debate over healthcare included lots of expensive public relations campaigns, bought and paid for by all the various stake holders. Insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, the American Medical Association and both political parties at the very least were all busy trying to influence your opinion with their own public relations campaigns. This is bought and paid for advertising, often disguised to look like genuine journalism.
Think about it, all of them creating their own individual TV ads and video news releases (fake news stories) aimed specifically at spreading their particular agenda. Lots of competing agendas all devising clever ways to spin their agenda into the “TRUTH” about healthcare in order to harness public opinion in their favor.
The end result is mass confusion and conflict. What exactly IS the truth about healthcare in America and how will the Affordable Care Act affect that? I do not think hardly anyone can actually answer that question due to all the hysteria and misinformation. People think they know, but when asked for specifics, they really can’t say.
Here is a study by the news agency Reuters that shows this to be the case. When asked if they supported the Affordable Care Act, 56% said no. After the individual provisions of the law were explained, the answers turned around substantially .
- 61 percent of respondents favored allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.
- 72 percent of respondents wish to maintain the requirement that companies with more than 50 workers provide health insurance for their employees.
- 82 percent of respondents favored banning insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
When the news media keeps discussion on a superficial level, and they repeat insurance industry arguments and talking points as facts, then the result is exactly what you’d expect. Misinformed people who have no real clue what they are talking about. Add in a dose of fear that the new law is an abomination and a threat to our very freedom, then the anger level rises to the point of absurdity.
If you’d like to learn more about how the insurance industry manipulated the debate over the Affordable Care Act, then I can suggest this “Deadly Spin” book by PR man turned whistle blower, Wendell Potter. As someone who covered healthcare a lot, I’d say the situation is way worse than what he describes in the book, but the book still shocked a lot of people. Its time to stop being shocked. Money and public relations B.S. drive the news industry.
TV NEWS AND THE INSATIABLE NEED FOR CONFLICT
Any fledgling storyteller knows that good stories thrive on conflict. To be entertaining, TV News thrives on conflict too. If there’s not genuine conflict, it can always be manufactured. This is TV after all, manufacturing “reality” is what TV production is all about. Lights! Camera! Action!
What you get are hosts and guests yelling at each other, hosts and guests calling the other side stupid morons hell bent on destroying the country. Facts are largely irrelevant.
Gotta keep it lively and entertaining now!
What are the consequences of this?
Our population is incredibly divided, some reports are claiming we’re more divided than at anytime since the Civil War. I believe this is largely a direct result of the combative nature of so many agenda-driven TV news shows that claim their side is patriotic, sinless and devoted to truth while the other side is a bunch of crazy, idiotic, lying lunatics.
I have watched in dismay as so many TV news personalities use phrases like “right wing nuts” or “loony left” to describe the opposition. Now in all fairness and accuracy, when it comes to larger media outlets, the right is way more guity of this than the left. BUT…
Can we please be civil at least?
I think viewers buy into this divisive paradigm and are led deeper and deeper into the divide. Especially when they hear the partisan bickering over and over and OVER again. Partisan bickering that’s full of vitriol and twisted facts, but presented within the context of an objective newscast is tearing us apart.
Without conflict and drama, TV news can be awfully boring. Who wants to watch a bunch of boring, factual, long-winded reports? No one really, so they spice it up. But worse than jazzing it up for the sake of entertainment value, they often present one-sided reports in order to please advertisers and other companies they are philosophically aligned with. Not all media do this, but some certainly do.
This includes more than political stories of course. Have you ever seen a “news” story about chocolate being healthy? I promise that story originated somewhere in a PR office being paid by chocolate manufacturers. Truth is, chocolate does contain some health phytochemicals, but most nutritionists would say the concurrent heavy dose of sugar and saturated fat cancel any health benefits. Therein lies the problem with PR disguised as news. Viewers need the WHOLE truth, not cherry picked facts that make an advertiser happy.
GOAL IS NOT TO INFORM
Too many news shows do not aim to merely inform, but aim to entertain, manipulate and convince the audience their agenda is factual.
I strongly believe that the news media deserves most of the blame for people being misinformed and divided. I do not think it is the fault of the school system, although I see lots of comments online that claim it is. Rather, I say it is the fault of the 24-hour a day news organizations that spew misinformation and public relations drivel instead of reporting objective facts.
Some news organizations are worse than others, but at some level, almost all all guilty. For the record, I think Fox News is BY FAR the worst offender but again, they are all guilty. Most Fox viewers are very loyal and will no doubt be offended by that claim. They will quickly say that even if Fox is guilty, MSNBC is just as bad. MSNBC certainly has several unabashedly liberal hosts. I believe the difference is that MSNBC as an organization is not in lock-step with the Democratic party, but Fox indeed pushes the talking points given to them by the Republican party. That is a subtle, but distinct difference. MSNBC gives some of their hosts, like Rachael Maddow, huge leeway but she is a real journalist who is does her best to research and find out the truth, like a journalist should, whereas a guy like Tucker Carlson is clearly spewing agenda-driven crap that is not even true. Lots of folks believe they are equally bad, but they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination. I think Maddow generally does a terrific job, and her left-leaning bias is clearly stated. Tucker is not shy about being right-leaning, but he does not give a wit about the truth, wheh Maddow seems obsessed with it.
FOLLOW THE MONEY!
Wild accusations and unfounded claims usually can be traced back to some group with money that has a vested interest in the outcome of an issue. Those with money steer the conversation by, in essence, buying the news media. It’s easy to do and happens every day.
In the healthcare debate, insurance companies paid enormous sums to public relations firms in order to stop what they perceive as a threat to their bottom line. There was no similar spending coming from the other side of the issue because there is no large well-funded group paying for it.
Government regulation is indeed a threat to their profits. Now that the Affordable Care Act is in place, insurance companies had to refund customers money the government deemed was unfairly used for administrative costs. Health Insurance companies like to use lots of money for “administrative costs” since that includes salaries and bonuses. That CEO making millions upon millions of dollars while his company denies customers the benefit of paying for needed treatments is going to be more than willing to fight like crazy to keep the status quo.
THE ROLE OF JOURNALISM IS CONSTITUTIONALLY MANDATED
The founding fathers understood the importance of REAL JOURNALISM in upholding our fragile democracy. They knew that without an informed population, voters would not be able to make wise choices. The news media was given wide-ranging freedoms in the Constitution of the United States. This was originally done to keep government from controlling what was printed. Government controlled news was rightly seen as self-serving and prone to lying.
What we have today instead of a government-controlled media is a corporate controlled news media that is self-serving and prone to “spinning” the n ews to the point we are all dizzy.
If government and political parties want to get in the game to produce their own fake news, they can and often do. It is certainly not hard, you just have to have the money. If you look at where the money is actually spent in any political campaign, it’s largely on TV ads and other media buys.
Now granted, TV ads and TV News are two different things. It’s not the news department’s fault when misleading commercials are produced, but when political operatives RUN “news” operations, like Fox’s Roger Ailes, then it could be argued that the entire “newscast” is really a political advertisement.
I’m not a constitutional scholar, but I can promise you this is NOT what the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment.
It is my goal to expose the problems so they can be rationally debated and fixed.
We’re not here to point the finger at anyone, or make it personal in any way. We simply worry that our country is eroding due to the consequences of a bad news media. Not all media is as dysfunctional as Fox, so I need to admit the difference. Fox viewers will tell me I am insane. Loyal Fox viewers believe it to be one of the only trustworthy news orgaizations.
It’s not by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not the worst either, at least not anymore.
Lorraine Grula, News Nerd and Journalism Advocate
Please consider signing the Demand Real Journalism petition.
Here are 15 articles on the blog for Demand Real Journalism, plus one about me, in case that is a concern for you.