Is Mainstream Media Reporting the News, or Creating It?

EASTSIDER-I’ve written before about the troubling shift from verifiable print media to an ephemeral electronic “news” universe.

These days our fragmented society can live out our lives in isolated niche-ecosystems, such as Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram. But this comes at the cost of breaking up our society into pockets that don’t interact or talk to each other. 

Look how the news media report on the money each candidate raises during any reporting period. It seems pretty hypocritical to me for the mainstream media to take great delight in saying who “won” the dialing for dollars donation race, and how that will determine the winners and losers in our next Presidential election. They are predefining outcomes instead of reporting the news 

We already know that our electoral system is “one dollar one vote,” instead of one voter one vote.  But over time, the major news channels are in fact working to determine the electoral outcome, defining what “left,” “right,” “socialist,” and “capitalist” should mean to their audience when looking at the various candidates. 

These sound-bite buzzwords have no inherent meaning, but over time you will “know” what they mean, depending on whether you live in the Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN electronic ecosystems. They break us up into groups – African American women, college educated White females, high school or less educated white males, and the like. All this does is create more fragmentation, not an informed electorate. 

And they all have instant polls darn near every day. Here’s what everyone thought (or should think) about the twenty-some Democratic candidates for President. Why Donald Trump is the new normal, raising millions of dollars and saving us from “Them.” See, it’s all “scientific.”  Bullshit. 

The Corporate Media Trap 

These days I mostly define Corporate Media as MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN, with their fake “left” and “right” talking head format which strives to make the anchor look wise and good. Increasingly, I’m convinced that they are really at the crux of the problem for the “older” segment of our population that actually watches news, the ones who go out and show up at the polls. 

Look how the various TV personalities from our mainstream media actually become Debate panel members, the people who determine and ask questions of our candidates in our TV election coverage dog and pony shows. These same folks then double down by deciding who “won” and who “lost” the debates. 

Cue the talking head “contributors” on each channel. It’s not just Bret Baer/Martha MacCallum/Hannity/Tucker Carlson/Laura Ingraham vs. Chris Matthews/Chris Hayes/Rachael Maddow/Lawrence O’Donnell/Brian Williams. No sir. 

I’ve written before about the current media format that eschews “reporters” in favor of Fox News or MSNBC “contributors” and “panelists.” You know, the talking faces that surround the anchor to provide the “left” and “right” point of view. The people who are chosen and/or paid directly by the networks that want to help you how and what to think. After all, they’ve shown you “both sides,” right? 

Consider how this system works. All three of the national giants cover the same three or four stories each news cycle, and their utterances are duly fed into the local news channels like CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox. Everything else is discarded in favor of these sound bites. 

All the news shows on each of the channels continue to hammer away on the same stories all day and night, so that anyone looking for straight news coverage or differences of opinion are SOL. Oh sure, there is the rare outlier, like a Fareed Zakaria or a Chris Wallace, but that’s a drop in the 24/7 news cycle bucket. 

The Takeaway 

Unfortunately, we live in a world of Corporate Media 10-second sound bites. Most people are busy, freaked out by their personal and family lives, and don’t spend much time independently determining what is actually happening with those who govern us and/or buy them. 

You will find more actual news in any edition of CityWatch, than in all the TV/Facebook universe for the week. Of course, you’ll also find out all kinds of incredibly diverse and wacky opinions in the mix, but no one said you have to read everything. 

Face it, actual independent news reporting is painstaking and expensive. A few years ago, I wrote about this at some length in a piece was called “Tweets, Twits, and the Mainstream Media.”   You might want to check it out. 

I mean, just to write this weekly column, I subscribe to The Sacramento Bee, The Bakersfield Californian, The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and The Washington Post. That’s just print media. As described in the piece, for other online resources I use a news aggregator to track something like 30 other good independent news resources. 

That’s a lot of work to ferret out a column which clearly represents my opinions, but which is based on as much factual cross-checking, clearly linked to independent sources. Not to mention documents. 

It’s much easier for someone to check out mainstream media for a minute, as they insert their biases into the results of the recent Democratic presidential debates. For example, they all say that Kamala Harris socked it to Joe Biden during the second debate. Really? It was certainly a calculated gotcha moment, but how cool or wonderful that was depends on the viewer, not on cable news. And it certainly was not the full story of mandatory bussing in California. 

Then there’s the polls. Truth is, instant polls are just that: instant. They mean little in terms of the outcome of who is going to become the ultimate Democratic candidate for President. What they do, however, is provide a starting point for news media to look “scientific” as they actually try to influence who’s “winning and losing.” 

What we all lose, however, is context and the facts we need to form sound opinions. There is little talk about the foster home to school to jail pipeline in America, no sir. The media machine doesn’t care because those folks aren’t part of their marketing plans. 

Except when it blows up in their face, little is said about the homeless other than pithy platitudes. The bi-partisan selling (literally) of America by Congress and the Cabinet is glossed over. After all, the advertisers wouldn’t like it. Where’s the real story about limousine liberals like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, or evil gnomes like Mitch McConnell? 

So, what do we wind up with? Fewer people who vote, and more and more people disgusted with the whole shebang. In California, “Decline to State,” at around 28% of registered voters, is bigger than the Republican Party. The category may surpass registered Democrats in the future. More folks simply walk away from the whole election process and the two polarizing political parties, considering them a bad deal that they have no ability to change. 

As a grassroots progressive small “d” democrat, I regularly slam the establishment Democratic Party here in CityWatch. They deserve it. My died-in-the-wool small “r” republican counterparts increasingly do the same with their Party, where they are even more unwelcome than my gang is with the Dems. 

Yet, for all that, we can do something about it. People need to get motivated enough to register to vote and then actually send in their ballots. For goodness sake, with permanent vote-by-mail you don’t even have to go to a polling place. And believe it or not, an increase of something like 5% turnout in most races can determine the winner. Add that up and we might even wind up with a two-party democratic system that is accountable. 

We can do this, and if we don’t, this whole system is going to crater big-time. And that will leave just a few muckrakers like me, creating a time reminiscent of the early 20th Century, which brought us the Great Depression. 

How’s that for a cheery note? Get out, join a group or two, get out the vote with new voters and prove that we can do better.


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.