Are you perplexed by political media coverage?
I am–and I’m supposed to be an expert.
In the 1970s I fell in love with writing, journalism and politics–thunderstruck by the power of the press after seeing images of gunned-down students at Kent State and reading about Richard Nixon’s downfall at the hands of the dogged press.
When it came time to make a decision about communication or politics, I chose the offer from Cornell over Harvard, and ended up studying mass media and journalism, rather than governance.
For nearly 30 years I’ve been privileged to research framing, propaganda and media effects.
As a result I’m perplexed and saddened by coverage of presidential politics.
But I couldn’t quite pin down the reasons until my students pointed out that mainstream news today is merely a distraction.
Each morning I open my tablet and scroll through my online subscription to The New York Times.
As a media student I learned The New York Times was considered the “newspaper of record” for the United States, so I have always held it in high esteem.
But my heart sinks each morning as I see headline after headline of stories that have so little weight—a dearth of gravitas—about North American government and policy.
I read how elected grown-ups (mostly men) threaten to undermine our government by refusing to talk with their opponents, or threaten to leave the discussion altogether by walking away.
Our system hinges on wise individuals coming together to create compromises so that most (but not all) citizen claims are heard.
Media merely distracts us by reacting to petulance.
A major, international story covered for the last 9 months illustrates reportorial reaction rather than investigation.
For 9 months headlines bled over Donald Trump’s feud with reporter Megyn Kelly of Fox News.
What makes a feud between Trump and Kelly newsworthy?
The feud is newsworthy because it offers clash and conflict: the Wonderbread of today’s journalism.
Cheap, white and starved of nutrients.
My students point out the feud entertains and sidetracks us from substantive stories.
Rather than digging deeply into questions that bring Trump discomfort—he has disparaged many women in his remarks, calling them “ugly” and “dogs”—the media focused on the feud, not the story of Trump’s treatment of women.
Instead we hear about a presidential candidate’s refusal to work with a tony reporter who has high ratings.
Instead the press cover his threats to walk away from the conversation.
Weeks and weeks of distraction foment the news.
As viewers and readers we lose: we don’t get substantive information to help us make decisions.
Instead we get fluff: why is Clinton disliked? Why are there pictures of Trump eating a taco salad? Where is Bernie Sanders’ wife?
Turns out my students don’t even read or watch mainstream news.
Instead they turn to…comedy.
College students would rather get their news from Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Samantha Bee and John Oliver.
They know Comedy Central has an agenda: liberal and humorous.
But they would rather know the agenda up-front than read or watch co-called “fair and unbiased” news that camouflages its true colors.
In his reporting on the trumped-up feud, Trevor Noah skewers the pallid coverage and digs in where mainstream media fails.
Trump, he says, is a bully who changes his tune at the slightest whim.
Trevor calls out politicians and reporters on their bullshit rather than hiding behind a fake front of objectivity.
No wonder my students would rather get their news from Comedy Central.
Today’s blog is dedicated to the irreverent students in my propaganda class.