Election 2016

The Trump Story the Media Dare Not Utter

They sacrificed democracy for ratings.

Photo Credit: JStone/Shutterstock

The media are engaged in an orgy of navel-gazing about the Trump presidency, but they're totally, utterly, absolutely, no-way-in-hell willing to gaze at their own navel.

Did Russian hackers revealing that Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Donna Brazile had put their thumb on the scale over at the DNC against Bernie cause Trump to win? Did he win because working white men are “angry”? Did he win because Hillary failed to campaign in the critical Rustbelt swing states? Did he win because of the Russians' media operations? Is he going to be president because so many people are so upset with “gummint”?

These (among others) are the memes that you'll find virtually every hour on TV news. But have you ever, anywhere (other than Free Speech TV), seen a TV conversation about the role the media itself played in getting Trump elected, and why they did it?

The numbers are easy to find online Trump got between $2 and $3 billion in free media coverage, while Hillary struggled to break into the evening news, and Bernie was largely ignored until the final months of the Democratic primary.

And it's not a secret: Les Moonves, the Executive Chairman and CEO of CBS, said, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter about Trump's candidacy: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS." He added: “Donald's place in this election is a good thing. … Man, who would have expected the ride we're all having right now? ... The money's rolling in and this is fun... I've never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It's a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”

The networks – whose first priority since Reagan killed the Fairness Doctrine is profitability rather than informing the public – are no doubt salivating about the next 4 years of daily eruptions from the White House. They're clearly betting The Donald Trump Reality Show - POTUS Version will provide an ongoing revenue stream, whereas a Hillary presidency would merely have been competent and boring, and thus not as profitable for the media.

Which raises an important question in this post-Fairness Doctrine, post-consolidation media landscape in the United States.

The media is the only industry that's mentioned in our Constitution, because the Founders and Framers, as much as they may have hated the coverage they were getting from newspapers (see Jefferson), believed that a “free” and vibrant press would serve as a check on the 3 branches of government: a Fourth Estate, if you will.

In a letter about Shay’s Rebellion, which some argued was incited by newspapers, Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“The people are the only censors of their governors; and even their errors will tend to keep them to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs, through the channel of public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people.

“The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide, whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Had TV existed in 1783, Jefferson would have probably expressed similar sentiments about it.

As Jefferson wrote in 1786 to his close friend Dr. James Currie, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

But ever since Ronald Reagan functionally stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and killed off the FCC's Fairness Doctrine, leading to an explosion of acquisitions and mergers, and Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, leading to an even more startling concentration of media in a very few hands, freedom of the press in America has become as much an economic as a political issue.

This is problematic, because no democracy can survive when most of the media has a sole commitment to profit with little consideration for the public good.

The Trump presidency is virtually entirely a product of our modern for-profit, highly-consolidated media.

As such, now may be an important time to reconsider how that media – particularly TV – is “free” (from corporate boards' profit interests) with regard to ownership and programming.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of over 25 books in print

 

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