The Death Of Media In The Age Of Trump

“An informed citizenry,” said Thomas Jefferson in 1816, “is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” (Or something to that effect; other versions include, “An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.”) America’s third president was aware that representative politics call for more than just representation -- after all, without understanding what is going on, how can we know how we want to be represented?

Information being a prerequisite for effective participation in a democracy, without freedom of speech and freedom of the press our democracy fails to function. We need access to facts and opinions that are unbiased, unafraid, and without obligation to anyone other than the public good. Without these, our perspectives, our commentary, and our votes are given blindly, the outcomes decided more by who has the money to control access to the medium and who has the greater skill in the manipulation of public opinion.



Sadly and scarily, our channels of communication are under threat on multiple fronts, starting with the fact that the companies that provide us with information have no economic incentive to, you know, inform us. There is no good business model to do so, any more than there is for policing or firefighting.

When privatized, these functions cease to prioritize the public good they were designed for, and instead become warped to the demands of the market. A for-profit prison benefits from an incarcerated population, with society the loser in the equation. Likewise, a media industry driven by pageviews and quarterly earnings benefits when we become shocked, outraged, and titillated, with our education, our compassion, and our attention to nuance ending up as -- forgive me -- huge losers.

But it’s not just that clickbait and newsertainment drive us ever further towards the lowest common denominator, sacrificing veracity for volume. It’s also the self-reinforcing algorithms of Facebook, Twitter and others, what MoveOn founder Eli Pariser described as “filter bubbles.” It is the fact that as we click on links that align with our ideology, we are shown more links that align with our ideology, until eventually we live under the false belief that only links conforming to our ideology exist -- and that, therefore, the whole world must feel as we do, with only stupid, malevolent or insane people failing to toe the party line.

And as a nail in the coffin, this: last week, after the New Hampshire Union Leader called Trump’s campaign an insult to the intelligence of voters, the candidate demanded that they be kicked out of the upcoming New Hampshire debate. ABC News, who is hosting the debate, complied.

They complied. Incredibly, unbelievably, flabbergastingly, ABC complied. An independent, established newspaper, the largest and only statewide newspaper in the small but politically pivotal Granite State, was banned from covering a political event because it disagrees with one of the candidates. How can the press possibly be free if dissent is grounds for dismissal?

I don’t believe politicians are bad people, generally speaking. But a corrupt system corrupts those within it, and if the public has no access to full and free information, there is nothing to restrain the system’s demise. As Jefferson (who apparently knew a thing or two about the human condition) also said, “If once the people become inattentive to the public affairs, you and I, and Congress and Assemblies, Judges and Governors, shall all become wolves.”

5 comments about "The Death Of Media In The Age Of Trump".
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  1. Randy Kirk from Randy Kirk & Associates, January 22, 2016 at 11:18 a.m.

    I am not a Trump booster, though I will certainly vote for him if it is my choice compared to a liar or a socialist. But your conclusion is a stunner. How could the New Hampshire Union Leader provide fair and balanced coverage after that statement. Sad, but this is why conservatives no longer trust the main stream media to give us news.

  2. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media, January 22, 2016 at 12:10 p.m.

    Quality and informative journalism seems to be a diminished requirement for many organizations today. Mediapost seems to follow suit.

    "The candidate demanded that they be kicked out of the upcoming New Hampshire debate. ABC News, who is hosting the debate, complied." Your use of words is misleading. Your words imply they were not allowed at the debate as if they were “kicked out”.

    The newspaper had been set to have a co-branding deal with ABC for the event. That co branding was really nothing more than some signage placed alongside ABC’s signage. The contract called for the paper to have a very limited role at the debate and no representative of the paper was to have been onstage asking questions.

    The newspaper was still covering the event, as they would have in the first place. They simply didn't get to hang a banner.

    Oh yeah, and your "slam-dunk" quote at the end of your piece? While it’s easy to search a database for a quote that works for you, it’s another thing to understand a quote. The quote is actually about public officials not heeding the voice of the people and instead who go about doing whatever they wish, using their power and authority to enrich themselves and those closely allied to them.

    Jefferson went on to say that there are two remedies for such a situation. The first is to petition those officials, either individually or as a group. If that does not work, the next remedy is to educate the people and to make the power of the people felt at election time. He believed interested citizens should band together and identify the elected officials who are not performing properly, make an issue of their inattention to the public will, run candidates to oppose them on these issues in the next election, and throw them out of office. That is the way Jefferson believed our system should work. That is what you are seeing with both sides of this election and the will of the people putting two candidates up for election on both sides that offer real change.

    This article sounds like yet another left-leaning "journalist" who is bitter and doesn't like that Trump (and Sanders for that matter) are changing the game in politics.

  3. David Reich from Reich Communications, Inc., January 22, 2016 at 12:21 p.m.

    I was about to leave a comment expressing dismay and disbelief that ABC caved to Trump's demands.  But Walter's comment above, assuming it's accurate, tells a different story.  Taking the newspaper out of the co-sponsorship and branding is different than banning the newspaper from covering. 

    Blog posts like this one aren't always known for their accuracy, which we would and should expect frm a major newspaper.

  4. Chuck Lantz from, network, January 22, 2016 at 2:08 p.m.

    This is a very simple situation. Regardless of whether the "kicking-out" involved co-sponsorship, banner placement or refusing to issue press credentials, the only real fact here is that ABC bowed to a complaint by one of the debate participants. Beyond that cold, hard fact of journalistic tent-folding, nothing else matters.

    The fact that it was ABC that did the deed should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed television news for more than five minutes.  ABC has been a sort of "Fox News Light" for decades, long before there was even a Fox News. Whenever ABC came to a proverbial fork in the road when covering a story, they almost always turned Right, sometimes slightly, sometimes not-so-slightly.  And this situation is no different.

    Organizations who run political debates are doing the candidates a favor, and not vice versa. And network news organizations, who are only allowed to exist if they follow certain rules and regulations, are part of a public trust, and they have the additional burden of broadcasting events such as the debates in order to fulfill some of of that public trust agreement.

     ABC should have told Trump "too bad, ... no deal."  If Trump then decided to not participate, too bad again. But to fold under pressure and treat Trump like some spoiled diva who demands that no green M&Ms be placed in his dressing room, serves no useful purpose, beyond placing even more suspicion on the quality of journalism that ABC produces. 

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 23, 2016 at 9:12 a.m.

    ABC is not the only media outlet whose editorial control that limits information and opinions. At the time of Jefferson, only land owning men were allowed to participate and you could put the group in one of the small salons in 1816. Even today, newspapers because of constraints (for another story and another day) they are limited by the space to print. On line, media can expand and allow for more information from more sources especially when it does not add to much "space". Kalia, wouldn't you want to know, as a journalist, at least that people are reading your work ? You and Chuck Lantz clear up any misgivings about the seditious demand from the media from someone who speaks 4th grade real good. It is an event consisting of more than one person. Policies or lack thereof is for another topic.

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