It started as a bit of joke, right?
When Donald Trump tossed his hat in the ring to run for President of the United States, many of my colleagues in talk radio and the media treated it that way.
Full disclosure: I did, too.
I said all along (and I still maintain) that the man doesn't really want to be President. He was just barking broad platitudes and sound bytes, feeding upon the fears of a angry, vocal portion of the populace for his own popularity. He wasn't serious about being President.
So, how did we get here?
Some will say that Trump fed on those fears and lazy catchphrases and brilliantly manipulated them into a popular candidacy. Others will say (incorrectly) that he spoke to the "working class" in the Heartland; people who wanted to bring jobs back from overseas and felt abandoned by both Republicans and Democrats.
The truth is, we got here because of an irresponsible, ratings-obsessed, and oftentimes lazy media. More specifically, we got here because of the for-profit cable news media who, desperate for a horse race -- and the viewers that brings -- abandoned any semblance of responsible journalism.
Good, decent reporters of days gone by are surely spinning in their graves watching the schlock that now masquerades as The Fourth Estate.
Just as Trump's rise wasn't overnight, the downfall of the American media has been a slow build. With Trump, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that there was a bitterness that was swelling. The fear of "others" was apparent even before President Obama took office. This was most apparent in the popularity of "Birtherism", something Trump cashed in on and something that a shocking number of Republicans still believe.
Some would say the downfall of journalism began with the creation of The Fox News Channel, a network which has made no secret of its politics and popularity with conservatives.
But the network didn't come along until 1996, and things were already headed downhill before that. It likely all started falling apart at the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Before then, the news wasn't really about advertising dollars. It wasn't about getting ratings for 24 hours a day.
It was about the facts.
"The cold, hard truth is that facts are often very one-sided. Facts exist whether you want to believe them or not."
Somewhere in the past 20 years or so, Americans started repeating a false narrative. The myth was about there always being "two sides to every story" and that -- because of that belief -- the media was responsible for always showing both sides. But that's simply not the case.
The cold, hard truth is that facts are often very one-sided. Facts exist whether you want to believe them or not. Over the past decade, cable news stopped being a place to find facts and instead became a place to tell you that there were several different sides to every story.
In doing so, cable news has become a place to find a lot of opinions. That's all well and good if that's what you're seeking from them. But when you're seeking the truth, it's irresponsible as hell. And it is their fault for not making it clear what is true and what is not.
The news used to be boring. People sitting behind a desk read you what was going on and you trusted them to tell you -- shocker -- the truth. The news was a major money-loser for networks, but those who did it well won both tons of awards and the respect of the people. Networks wanted to rack up trophies for their excellent reporting, not just cash for great ratings.
Then the news became big business. The most popular programs on the cable news channels aren't the anchors reading the news. They are the opinion programs, with a host and guests arguing back and forth, that bring in the big ratings and cash. These shows are exciting and entertaining (anything but boring), and usually go out of their way to depict "both sides of the story."
But they're usually just opinions, facts be damned. And those shows are on constantly. Every show seems to be two people arguing their opinions about whether or not to accept the facts that have just been read to them. But, as stated earlier, facts remain facts whether you believe them or not. Arguing over them is pointless.
By making mindless arguing over every single issue the norm, cable news has convinced a misinformed public that the facts are whatever is said by the person who screams the loudest.
"There was a time when the media would have merely ignored the wild accusations of a politician trying to smear his opponent."
A majority of scientists believe in man-made climate change? Let's get two people who aren't scientists to argue about it on-air to the point that Americans will be convinced the person disagreeing with scientists is just as knowledgable as the actual scientists.
Donald Trump randomly accuses The Clinton Foundation of being corrupt? Rather than examine the facts and investigations already conducted about that charity by people in charge of such things, let's get every political hack in the country on TV to argue that the accusation is worth covering simply because Trump said it.
In reality, it's not. It never was.
There was a time when the media would have merely ignored the wild accusations of a politician trying to smear his opponent. But, if today's media had existed in 1800, there would have been endless debates about investigating John Adams accusation into Thomas Jefferson being an atheist.
This same media, while falling over backwards to debate every single accusation lazily tossed out by Donald Trump against literally anyone, couldn't be bothered to tell its viewers what Canadian newspapers later printed: That Trump is constantly lying.
Even worse was when the debate would turn to the false equivalence of how Clinton was just as bad simply because she was the other candidate. It took, as always, foreign media to point out this was just not true.
But reporting that fact ruined the debate on TV, and made ratings slip. So cable news avoided it. They talked around it. And what happened? People were left believing opinions were facts. Why wouldn't they? It's not like the media was going to instruct them otherwise. The media used to be trusted to deliver the facts. Now they can't even be bothered to do so.
Every day, cable news programs argued and ranted rather than merely delivering the facts. Even when there was never evidence of any crime committed by Hilary Clinton in regards to her emails, the cable news talking heads paraded out political hacks on both sides to argue about it for weeks.
Even after she was cleared by the FBI, the talking continued.
When she was cleared a second time, the talking continued. Two sides, arguing something that was settled long ago. Facts be damned.
"Anything for a horse race. Anything for drama. And anything for ratings. Facts be damned."
Why shouldn't Donald Trump lie through his teeth? The media barely questioned it. Instead, they investigated the people he lied about. Why should he talk about actual policy when the media didn't even want to talk about it? They instead wanted to just turn the cameras on him and let him go, giving him more coverage than he'd had ever gotten had he paid for it through advertising dollars.
Anything for a horse race. Anything for drama. And anything for ratings. Facts be damned.
This close to the end, the media continues. All over TV, pundits are screaming about this tight race they've supposedly never seen before, amazed at how close it is between these two candidates.
In 2012, Obama beat Romney by 3.9 points.
Yet all over TV for the past several weeks, talking heads are beside themselves, aghast that one candidate is ahead of the other by a mere three points.
While focusing on the supposed absurdity of it all, TV media is completely avoiding the very real fact that the election is coming down to the usual states, the usual numbers, and the usual nail biting. For all the talk about how outlandish the candidates are, the voters are pretty much the same. And voting pretty much as they always do. And just as divided as ever.
And why wouldn't they be? Turn on cable news and it's always left versus right, not true versus false. In today's world of big money for big ratings, there are no actual facts anymore. Just bloggers and former politicians, tossing out opinions and sometimes outright lies.
The media let everyone down this year. Here's hoping that, on Thursday, it gets its ethics back.
Unfortunately, it's far more likely there will just be two talking heads arguing about who will be running for POTUS in 2020, a whole new argument to have on TV for the next four years. Facts be damned.
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