The news media does a poor job of informing the public on critical issues for many different reasons. Here is a list of the eleven biggest reasons with details following.
1. As for-profit entities, they are beholden to advertisers. No news organization can afford to alienate advertisers.
2. Operating budgets are so low that investigative reporting is out of the question and generally, employees are so overworked that there simply is no time to actually do a good job.
3. Public relations companies crank out tons of free content that pollutes the discussion with half truths and outright lies. Content-starved organizations with low budgets snap it up and present it as news.
4. Ownership rules were loosened by the government so now, a small handful of companies own all the media. There is no diversity and these companies often use their media outlets to promote their agenda.
5. The Fairness Doctrine, originally introduced in 1949 to force broadcasters to cover important issues by presenting competing views, was done away with in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan.
6. Sensationalized gossip and theatrics are actually preferred by the majority of the audience. Real journalism tends to be dull and boring with lots of details and facts. This makes the audience’s eyes glaze over.
7. Agenda driven political coverage is actually preferred by some in the audience as it helps validate their existing feelings as correct.
8. The demands of filling 24 hours 7 days a week are overwhelming so junk fills the void.
9. In TV News especially, star power often rules over anything else.
10. To do quality journalism, the journalist has to feel OK with being the bad guy, the “snitch,” or “tattletale.” This goes against basic human nature of wanting to be liked.
11. People with a vested interest, like politicians, find it easy to manipulate the media, so they do.
Now let’s go into a little more detail on all these varied reasons.
1. As for-profit entities, they are beholden to advertisers.
The old saying about not forgetting where your bread gets buttered is one the the single biggest reasons why the news media is not able to perform adequately in its constitutionally mandated role of public watchdog.
When a news organization relies on advertisers, criticizing them publicly will cause them to pull their advertising and destroy the media’s bottom line.
Back when I worked at local station WSMV-TV, in Nashville, TN, I saw this swing both ways. In the good old days, (early 80’s and before) when the ownership and management was truly committed to real journalism, they actually allowed us to do stories on advertisers. Although it won the station lots of journalism awards and credibility with the public, the practice caused a few advertisers to flee, which definitely hurt the station’s bottom line. When new owners came in, this practice came to a screeching halt.
The largest case of this was when the investigative reporter got wind of the fact that a large local meat packing firm has failed multiple routine government safety inspections. Among other things, raw sewage was dripping onto the meat from a crumbling building infrastructure. This company had a long and congenial relationship with the station and had spent lots of advertising dollars over the years. Once the one-hour documentary and 5-part series on the safety failures hit the airwaves, that longtime friendship came to an abrupt end. Who can blame the meat packer? They have plenty of choices on where to spend their advertising dollars. Why would they spend it with someone who tells everyone their meat is filthy, even if it is true?
On the other hand, when a vastly different owner and management team was running the station while I worked there in the mid-90’s, it was routine practice to promise the advertisers that the news department would come and do a positive story on them, even though there was rarely any actual news value. Some news directors fought against this practice and others shrugged and went along with it. Essentially, this meant the news department was producing advertisements by still called it news.
I was the healthcast producer in the late 90s. I received a phone call one day from a very chipper woman who worked for a medical imaging company that had just purchased an advertising package. She wanted to know when I was coming to do the positive story the salesman had promised her. The news director at the time allowed me to say no, but the sales department was furious.
There was another incident where the station allowed a local hospital to produce an hour-long show that was promoted and ran as a Channel 4 documentary. As a news department, we had absolutely nothing to do with the production. It was done entirely by the hospital’s PR department. It was a blatant advertisement that ran as an objective documentary.
Another time, I remember a reporter being called off a story where portions of a high-rent apartment building had collapsed. Instead of that story, which featured probably criminal negligence from both the construction contractor and the government inspectors, she was sent to the grand opening of a furniture store chain that advertised at the station. There was no real news value there, so she made something up about the grand opening being an indication of a health economy. It was total b.s.
The general manager used to routinely tell the consumer reporter that she was not to even think about doing a story on an advertiser. The car dealer selling recycled wrecks and claiming they had never been damaged? Off limits. The stories about insurance companies or questionable practices of financial institutions? Off limits.
When the financial sector collapsed in 2008, I knew that inadequate reporting by the news media had served as an enabler to a corrupt financial sector. The news media had simply turned away from reporting on the widespread shenanigans and instead offered superficial, feel good stories that served more as advertising than news.
I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that if the news media had done it’s job right, the widespread practices of predatory lending and credit default swaps, etc., plus the collusion of lawmakers with the banks to drop consumer protection regulations would have been exposed and stopped before those practices were able to collapse the economy.
Yes, I am accusing the news media of consciously lying, thereby enabling the financial collapse.
I SAW IT WITH MY OWN EYES
I had slowly seen the financial sector get more and more into these questionable practices. With the blessings of lawmakers (both Democrats and Republican) who depend on big money to win elections, state and federal consumer protection regulations were largely eliminated. This allowed the banks and financial institutions to behave more like legalized loan sharks.
I saw it with my own eyes time and time again, but we weren’t allowed to report much on it. Larger news entities like the networks not only ignored it, they consciously promoted the public relations drivel that the banks and Wall Street paid big bucks for.
The PR spin exonerated the financial institutions and placed the blame on the Community Reinvestment Act passed by Jimmy Carter. This scenario claimed that government forced the banks to loan money to minorities and poor people who greedily and irresponsibly took out loans over their heads.
That scenario is still believed by a many today. It is inaccurate. That’s not to say that there were not instances of people taking out loans over their abilities to repay, but that was a drop in the bucket compared to the harm caused by bank practices that were unethical and deceitful.
When Jon Stewart called out Jim Cramer on the Daily Show, I stood up and cheered. But it was too little, too late. And it should have come from the news media, not a comedian!
The economic collapse is just one huge repercussion of America’s bad news media. Feeling angry yet? The Iraq War is another.
I was never fooled by the PR spin in the lead up to the Iraq War. I know fake TV news when I see it, but most do not.
I also saw the economic collapse coming and warned all my friends about it. Most of them told me I was unduly paranoid, they felt like the economy was in great shape. The media told them so! Then, WHAM!
Most in the news media acted like they were shocked, simply shocked that the economy could tank, seemingly overnight without warning. Excuse me, but there were plenty of warnings. The collapse was years in the making. Anyone who thought there were no warnings or, that it happened quickly, simply does not know what is going on, or they are lying. The news media is supposed to know what is going on, so I do not think many of them can use that as an excuse.
How did I, Lorraine Grula, a small time local video producer see the economic collapse coming from a mile away and all the big-wig experts missed it? They’re dishonest enough to ignore the shenanigans and go along with the game, that’s why. If I had to guess, I’d say a lot of them were not really surprised when it all collapsed, they just had not bothered to inform the public of it.
How did I, Lorraine Grula, a small time local video producer know that there were no WMD in Iraq and that the entire reasons given for going to war were a lie? Because I could see through the facade of the circus known as TV News, that’s why. I know a staged event when I see it and the run-up to the Iraq War was a calculated and staged event by the government and aided and abetted by the dysfunctional news media.
As I hope you can see, there are many varied reasons why the news media does such a poor j ob of informing people. So far, this post has given details on just the very first reason, advertising dollars. For details on the remaining reasons, please see other articles in this continuing series.
There is simply too much information for one post, so I spread out the details for the 11 specific reasons.
Thanks for reading.