For about 24 hours after last week’s CNBC debate debacle, the legacy media had a collective moment of refreshing honesty. “Boy, that really sucked,” everyone agreed. Confirming what everyone with a pair of eyes and a brain believed, even liberal members of the media like Bill Maher said, “Jeez, these Republicans have a point.”
However, this week, the old guard of the legacy media has clearly realized the importance of not allowing the dastardly Republicans to get away having won a debate with the moderators, and they are circling the wagons. Earlier this week, the New York Times went into full-scale panic mode over candidates having the temerity to criticize debate moderators. Yesterday Obama jumped on the bandwagon, childishly pretending that he himself didn’t boycott a FoxNews debate over far less serious sins. Predictably, the Washington Post came next with a flaccid defense of the legacy media’s place in American society.
Here’s the problem that the legacy media has right now: they falsely assume that they have to be the ones to perform this function. As it happens, I strongly agree that a free media is essential to the functioning of a democracy, as I indicated yesterday in my post about Turkish thuggery. However, I also believe that the free market is essential – if not more so – to the functioning of a democracy. Which means, in the final analysis, that I don’t believe it’s necessary at all for, say, the Washington Post or the New York Times to be the entities who perform that function.
One of the unfortunate (or fortunate, depending on your perspective) things about the free market is that if a company is lazy and incompetent enough, they will eventually cease to exist. Or, for that matter, if they simply fail to adapt to the realities of a changing market, or are slow to adapt new technologies, or are guilty of any one of a number of business sins, they will be swept away and replaced with a company who will provide what the public wants in such a way that they can turn a profit.
The Times and Post (and the rest) act as though if the New York Times and Washington Post are no longer around to set the news agenda, this will present an imminent threat to democracy, and that’s just not so. They act as if NBC News and its affiliates are entities whose right to host Presidential debates is enshrined in the Constitution, which is a ludicrously entitled attitude.
No one on the Republican side is arguing that there should be no such thing as a media that gets to ask Republicans hard questions. The very simple contention is that CNBC did a crappy job of it and that we, as a political party, don’t have to subject ourselves to ridicule as the price of admission to a televised debate. The idea that CNBC, specifically, is entitled to conduct a debate is an especially ludicrous one given that CNBC has only existed as a network for 25 years and that they haven’t done it before.
The handwringing over the Republicans’ wholly justified complaints of bias in the CNBC debate has actually reached the point where the media is warning us all that if they, specifically, are knocked from their perch, then fascism is imminent:
Imagine what any candidate whining about the debates would do to freedom of speech if they were elected president.
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) November 2, 2015
Funny, I missed the part where any of the candidates (even Trump!) said that CNBC should be illegal after the debate. But then, liberals have always missed the critical distinction between “this company does a crappy job and I won’t patronize them anymore” and “this company should be outlawed.”
If legacy media outlets had done their jobs well over the last fifty years, or responded to the existential threat that the Internet posed to their business model by being fairer to conservatives instead of entrenching themselves and claiming special privilege, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Instead, the legacy media are now facing a reality in which only 40% of Americans trust them at all. When faced with the reality that one of their institutions (CNBC) has added another giant reason for America not to trust them, they are responding by loudly declaring that America has no choice but to trust them, in spite of the obvious fact that numerous alternate outlets crop up every day that are working hard to actually gain trust by doing hard and honest work.
Here’s an idea for the legacy media: if you want people to trust you, earn their trust. Realize that you’re in a hole to begin with, and that you have work to do to pull yourselves out of it. A good step one would be to admit frankly when you’ve messed up, as many of you did immediately after the CNBC debacle. However, step two is not to just yell “YOU HAVE TO TRUST US ANYWAY,” but rather to take measures to fix the problem, which no one at NBC or any other outlet has shown any inclination of doing.