CNN’s chief media correspondent has a good question as we open the week with the fallout of the Mueller investigation report.
Sure, we can argue the first half of the opening statement in this tweet, but Stelter wants to know, and I have no reason to believe he isn’t earnest in asking, how media can do better.
There's been so much solid reporting about the Trump-Russia mystery, but the media ecosystem tends to reward speculation over straight news. Are there ways to change this? https://t.co/zwJrobFpOe
— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) March 25, 2019
Very recently, Fox News came under fire by the right for hiring Donna Brazile as a political commentator/analyst. Brazile, a Democrat, is as highly partisan as some of the Republican commentators that appear on CNN and other networks. And, you know what, that is fine. If you want insight into the minds of the Republican or Democrat strategists working on various issues and campaigns in politics, these analysts are great.
But, let’s not pretend there is any real value in having them argue the merits of policies on national television while a host just sits there and nods as though there is intellectual value in it. You have brought on highly partisan personalities to take highly partisan positions and they fit the criteria of what producers want: Personalities who will argue what they think everyone in a partisan group thinks.
That isn’t political commentary. That is tribal commentary. And very rarely is it a truly accurate depiction.
There are three types of partisans who come on the air now:
- Republicans all-in for Donald Trump.
- Republicans all-in against Donald Trump.
- Democrats all-in for Democrats.
Very, very, rarely is there someone who is willing to criticize their own side on the merits. More often than not, you assign people to a program based on how well their thoughts color inside the lines of these pre-conceived notions.
Reporters and anchors in the media love to talk about how something will affect the moderate voter’s vote, but they then bring on partisans who talk about how the other side will alienate them. There is rarely the Republican who will talk about how maybe pulling back on immigration is the right play for Republicans or a Democrat who will talk about maybe pulling back on abortion-on-demand is the right play for Democrats.
Instead, the media – particularly cable news media – likes to play up the partisan divide and rivalry on the air, because that’s good ratings.
Let’s be clear, too, that ratings are a large factor here. In order to be on the air, you have to make sure it’s profitable. So, these heated exchanges are meant to bring in and keep viewers, and it’s our job in digital media to link to videos of these exchange to draw in readers. That allows cable news media to keep doing the news, and digital media to write on other topics. You have to make money in order to make money, in other words.
There is no real value to it, though. Not in the journalistic sense. And then they provide themselves cover by saying “We bring on journalists, too!” while not mentioning that a casual stroll through a lot of these journalists’ Twitter feeds shows that are just as (if not more) partisan than the commentators and analysts they bring on. This is just as disingenuous as saying those commentators are going to offer thoughtful, unique perspectives and then letting them devolve into partisan bickering over an issue.
We lament the great partisan divide in America, but we stoke it by letting these things happen. CNN, Stelter’s home network, is one of the worst offenders. Rather than position themselves in between MSNBC and Fox News, they have positioned themselves as a network as “We’ll hold Trump accountable!” and bumbled the coverage as badly as the other networks. There is a lesson to be learned in all that, but the question is if they will learn it.
The other question that arises from all this is whether or not these networks want to. Faith in the American news media is at an all-time low. In order to bring in viewers, the networks have created more arenas for the partisan commentators to fight in. But maybe, just maybe, the answer was to center yourself in real news and analysis all along. Create fewer arenas and actually let facts speak for themselves. Stop publicly revealing the agenda and instead return to full-on objectivity, like journalism is purported to be all about.
If a network tried that, the results may just shock them.