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!