Friday, December 4, 2020

Matt Taibbi on "How the news media is failing us"


Matt Taibbi, a well-known independent journalist, recently participated in a podcast with Adam Taggart.  He has some interesting observations on what's happening to our news media, and why so many Americans distrust them.  Here's an excerpt from the transcript of the podcast.  Bold, italic text is my emphasis.

Adam Taggart: Back in the old days, the vast majority of the country listened to the likes of Walter Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow. And they trusted that they were being kept well informed. Now you contrast that to today where the landscape of news sources has fractured into millions of different options with opinion often replacing facts and accusations of fake news. Resulting in a tsunami of modern day censorship the likes that we haven’t seen for many decades.

So Matt I want to start here with a recent Gallup poll that shows that a full 60% of Americans no longer trust that the US media is accurately and fairly reporting the news. And these results came out before the Presidential election with its contested results. And the huge tangle of conflicting narratives that have erupted since then. So my question for you Matt is what has brought us to this point where the majority of the masses no longer trust the press?

Matt Taibbi: Yeah I’m actually surprised, first of all thank you Adam for having me on. I’m surprised that number isn’t higher frankly. We’ve been in a trend where belief and trust in the news media has been on a downward planed trajectory for some time now. And there’s an odd kind of paradox there because as people trust the news media less, they’re actually consuming it more. Which, to me, tells me that news is moving into the entertainment space. And it’s becoming more of an entertainment product that people do consume a lot of, they just don’t believe it as much anymore. And that has a lot to do I think with the commercial strategies of the news business. I wrote about this in a book called Hate, Inc. Basically I think in our business we’ve switched out an old model that was based on the idea of the news being non-denominational, nonpartisan, and sticking to just the facts, to a highly politicized, opinionated presentation that people enjoy but they don’t necessarily believe. And that model I think is going to have negative consequences for the business in the long run.

Adam Taggart: And is that driven by the profit motive of corporations? Or is it driven by other agendas? Just one stat I want to mention here. In 1983, there were about 50 corporations that owned pretty much most of the media in the country. Today that has concentrated to just five key players: Comcast, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and News Corp. So clearly, the vast majority of whatever news we see is rolling up into one of those companies which has its own profit objectives and whatnot. Is it just all about the dollar or are there other factors in play here too?

Matt Taibbi: I think the economic considerations are central to all of this. You talk about the concentration as you go up the chain, but the products have been atomized and fragmented since 1983. So back at that time there were only three or four major newscasts. Now, you have hundreds or even thousands of news products dotting the internet including the traditional legacy media. But there’s something for everybody. Most of them are owned by those companies, one of those companies.

But the strategy now has changed from trying to get the entire audience which is what CBS, NBC, and ABC used to try to do, they tried to get everybody. To recognizing that they’re not going to do that anymore. And trying to pick an audience and just dominate it. Which was the strategy that Fox pioneered. Let’s not go for everybody, let’s pick a certain demographic. Maybe older, conservative, suburban, or rural. And we’ll just feed them news that we know they’re going to like. And that’s kind of the business model now. And it works, but it has a tendency to fragment and polarize news audiences when you employ it.

There's much more at the link, including the podcast in video form if you'd prefer to listen to it rather than read the transcript.

That's an interesting thought.  Is the news "industry" seeing itself as just another arm of the entertainment industry?  Taken in conjunction with the corporate ownership of news and entertainment stations, that does make sense.  It also squares with what we've seen on many news broadcasts:  advertisements for entertainment products and events thinly disguised as "reviews" or "business news" or something like that.  Strangely, almost all of what's reviewed appears to come from that news station's ultimate corporate owner (such as, for example, Disney products being heavily featured on ABC News, which Disney owns).

Does that, in turn, start to affect news coverage?  Does Disney determine that its customer demographic is X, with specific views on certain subjects or issues, and therefore issue instructions to its TV news arm to slant its coverage of the news in accordance with those views, to reinforce them and attract those customers to its bulletins?

Perhaps George Orwell had it wrong.  Perhaps "Big Brother" isn't the state at all, but the entertainment industry.  Let's face it, there are enough former actors in politics (Reagan, Schwarzenegger) to make the state appear almost like an arm of Hollywood sometimes - and enough actors commenting on politics (Robert de Niro or Jane Fonda, anyone?) that they make Hollywood seem to value politics over entertainment!



Sam L. said...

The media isn't failing us, it's LYING to us, and we KNOW it is. Which is why I despise, detest, and TOTALLY distrust it, and why I ignore it. Keeps my stomach acids calm.

Old NFO said...

It's no longer the 'news' media. It's the 'opinion' media...

takirks said...

Anyone holding up Cronkite or Murrow as being anything other than partisan hacks who lied to the country for years is both dangerously naive and entirely too stupid to let out in public without a minder.

The "media" has always been lying to us, usually in lockstep with the current elite. If you missed that fact as a young adult, you weren't paying attention. I first encountered it when I started comparing the way different sources treated the same story, using the same base information. All you needed to do was look at the masthead, figure out what their angle was, and then extrapolate from there. It used to be less blatant, but it was always there.

Cronkite participated in lying us into Vietnam, then turned on the effort and lied about the success of the Tet Offensive, which basically handed the defeated North Vietnamese a propaganda victory. Who he was lying for? Look at who won the post-war period--It was not the US. They (mostly the Democrats...) frauded us into the war based on BS and lies, and then turned on a dime and went "anti-Vietnam War" once they thought it was politically expedient. Then, the communist symps like Teddy Kennedy handed them victory, condemning millions to generations of slavery under the regime.

The US media has been complicit in just about every major genocide since before WWI. They whitewashed the Armenian genocide, they covered Hitler as though he were the second coming of Christ himself, and only turned on him once he attacked their true master, Stalin. Then, they whitewashed everything that Stalin did, covered up the Communist atrocities in China, Korea, and Vietnam, all the while doing everything they could to tear down American traditions and institutions. What we see today is the end game, the final denouement of their long-laid plans.

And, you're going to have a hard time convincing me that all of this was just some series of unhappy accidents. There are far too many convenient "coincidences" strewn along the way.

Roy said...

I'm with Sam L.

They LIE.

They LIE with malice aforethought.

They LIE even when the truth is a better story.

...and this has been happening for over a hundred years. (Just look at what people like General Sherman thought about "newspapermen".)

The main difference between then and now, is that back then there was partisanship on ALL sides. Newspapers even had their partisanship in their very name. Not anymore. Now, they are all lying communist rags and none of them are worth the paper they are printed on - or the screen time in the case of broadcast (((journalism))).

As far as Hollywood... Well, everyone, including a communist, is entitled to their own opinion. But when one of those Hollywood assholes inserts their politics into what should be a non-partisan event. Well, that's when I boycott. And the two (((actors))) you named above are at the very top of my list. The irony is that I might see a preview of a movie I might like to see, but as soon as I see that someone like De Nero or Fonda had a hand in it, it goes straight into my "fuck-em" file.

Will said...

The news seen on tv is written at the corporate level, then a script is issued to the various talking heads to parrot to their local viewers. Saw this in action recently, where dozens of stations were displayed, all saying the exact same comment. So much for local control of regional news coverage. I can't recall where I saw this.

Unknown said...

Have to agree with takirks, above, that media has been biased for centuries. Look at the obvious editorial slant in every newspaper (and early radio) in North America in the 1800s and early 1900s.
So unbalanced reporting isn't new. What is new is the hypocritical stance that reporters and editors have taken, that they're "telling the whole story" and "giving it to us straight". At least in the past, you knew how the editor/reporter/publisher was going to only tell you what they want you to hear, even before you picked up the paper or powered up the radio tubes.
The best we can do now is look at a variety of sources, to help keep our confirmation bias in check, and assume that we're only getting part of the story - and probably not the most important part for ourselves.

Well Seasoned Fool said...

It may be cutting off my nose to spite my face but I haven't owned a television in years and rarely watch when I'm around one. I'm in homes where it is droning in the background. Just noise to fill a space. Try watching a program and the ten minutes of program followed by ten minutes of commercials isn't my idea of entertainment. I'm a lifelong reader and that is my entertainment and enjoyment.

ErisGuy said...

I think economic considerations are central to all of this

By “economic” he means “ideological,” otherwise there would be a variety of opinion chasing different markets, something he admits when he writes:

And trying to pick an audience and just dominate it. Which was the strategy that Fox pioneered.

Except that it’s NYT and WaPo, not Fox that started it. He own blinders force him to blame his enemies for all ills.

Unknown said...


The major networks may have tried to "get" everybody, but their daily agenda was set by the front page of the New York Times.
It was the sheet music, and the choir sang in harmony.
Cronkite may have had an aria about the war being lost. Rather might have had a solo with the false report of Dallas schoolchildren bursting into cheers at the news of JFK's assassination, there may have been a controlled opposition counterpoint in the opinion pages, but it was the same song. Everywhere, and all the time.

This was why Rush Limbaugh was such a sea-change.
He had access to the A.P. and Reuters wires. He'd tell us news that we couldn't hear anywhere else. He'd get an advanced copy of the NYT, and report "Tomorrow's News, Today!" and the next night we'd see the anchors do those stories, in order. And he did it with panache.
Communism fell, creating a vacuum in the chorus.
Then the internet gave us all access to the news wires.
Irreverent periodicals sprouted up and let us know that Anita Hill was lying, and that the information coming out of the former USSR proved the much-reviled Birchers had been mostly correct.
By the time FOX News became a force, the genie had escaped the bottle for nearly a decade.

Really, much more Huxley than Orwell, though.

Sam L. said...

Eris guy, I always (ALWAYS) call it the WaPoo (that keeps on WaPooping). Not copyrighted, so use as often as you want.