Media’s Reckless Behavior Drives the Very Divisions They Bemoan
Tabloid journalism has fallen to new lows these past couple of years — and perpetrators are loathe to look in the mirror. Wonder why?
As a young girl, I was fascinated by the news. Each week I went to the school library to consume periodicals, and I wound up winning kudos in current events in my social studies classes.
Later, with a minor in journalism, I developed an appreciation for the tremendous work that goes into covering news events well and conveying important information to the American people. My career over time would allow me the opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished journalists in the country.
But something troubling has happened to journalism, and two recent events demonstrate this perfectly.
An unknown, inconsequential worker in the Trump campaign — who was fired back in August 2015, nearly three years ago — has been the subject of “news” accounts on virtually every network and media outlet in the country over the past week or so.
On top of that, the media care an inordinate amount about a former porn star.
Why have these two individuals been elevated to the subject of news stories at so many major news outlets? Simple: They may have dirt on President Donald J. Trump.
Reporter and columnist Robert Novak, in his book about 50 years of reporting in Washington, related a number of incidents in which journalists looked the other way for certain presidents — Kennedy, Johnson, etc. — so as not to embarrass the leader of the free world.
Sure, it was a different time — but those days and that type of treatment are long gone. Reporters now treat the president’s minute-by-minute activities as a blood sport, along the lines of: “Who can drag the most salacious gossip out of a staffer, a former staffer, an inconsequential nobody who knows next to nothing?” Ah, but if this individual has something bad to say about the president — oh, then, by all means we must run it to the ground.
Every administration complains the news media treat it unfairly. But the unrelenting barrage of snarky questions and hyped-up language to try to suggest there is chaos in this administration, that the president is unstable, or is engaged in illegal activity is completely out of control.
In CNN’s documentary series “The Nineties,” longtime Newsweek editor Evan Thomas, speaking of the new cable news networks, said that since Watergate, “what started as a noble cause has turned into a scandal machine.” Washington itself has turned into a scandal machine.
It's not simply the fact that the media has a visceral reaction to anything this sitting president does. It is that they are aggressively looking for some scandal to bring him down. This is the only explanation for their relentless coverage of the so-called Russian meddling scandal that has proven to be a big fat zero for more than a year.
The major news outlets have poured countless resources into trying to unearth anything they can on this presumed scandal — and the fact that they haven't come up with anything is proof in itself that there is nothing there.
Yet journalists seek out anyone willing to leak or to spread gossip and innuendo, particularly in the White House. If you are willing to trash a co-worker or, most importantly, your boss, then you, too, can become a television star.
A CNN headline during the 10-day obsession with a White House staff secretary Rob Porter said this: "Breaking News: Former WH Communications Director Says John Kelly Should Be fired."
And who was their source? Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted in his job for 10 days before he was summarily fired by the same chief of staff he now thinks should be fired. This is breaking news? Then, after it, comes the reaction — hours and hours of incessant prattle by pundits, more speculation, more gossip. more hyped rhetoric.
And Stormy Daniels gets a close-up on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night talk show.
The media today are no longer interested in covering news — they want to create news. Once a print reporter breaks a new rumor, then that person spends the rest of the day on cable television shows. The reporters are now part of the news.
The world would think Sam Nunberg, Stormy Daniels, Rob Porter, and Omarosa were of some great importance to western democracy.
The terrible tragedy in all of this is that those in the media don't even recognize that their reckless behavior is actually driving the divisions in the country they so often bemoan. Their response to the terrible tragedy at a high school in Parkland, Florida, is to start a debate and make lawmakers come on the air to argue about gun control.
Pouncing on people in their grief and getting their angry reactions is done to create another wedge. The media's response to the Charlottesville shooting or the Ferguson police shooting was to drive the racism narrative until there were literally riots in the street.
They spend day after day trying to find dirt on the president; then, when their next poll says his popularity has dropped — oh gosh, how shocking. Now there's a new round of stories about how he is losing his base.
They leave behind the facts. They keep conflict and innuendo high in order to keep their ratings high.
So much of the media today thrive on the emotional. They leave behind the facts. They keep conflict and innuendo high in order to keep ratings high.
As Judy Woodruff of PBS noted, "Unfortunately, with cable news you have the ability, or the need, to be on the air 24/7, where you are trying to get as many eyeballs as possible at one time to gravitate toward those stories that are sensational. It brought us the ability to go too far."
Sadly, the media have gone too far.
Diana L. Banister is president and partner of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, a strategic communications firm in the Washington, D.C., area.