It occurred to me a few weeks ago that the media does a real disservice to American society in terms of our elections. I’d go so far as to say that next to money in politics, the media is the most damaging thing to our electoral and political processes.
This all started because of something that happened on Facebook. An acquaintance of mine who’s very pro-Hillary posted something about how scary it is that Jill Stein is “Anti-vaccine.” The post came with an article, which I read. In the article, Stein says nothing about vaccines being evil. What she said was that people have “A lot of questions about vaccines.” That’s definitely true. People do indeed have a lot of questions. Some of those questions are either stupid or unwarranted, but they’re questions nonetheless. What she said specifically about vaccines is that she has a problem with the FDA being so closely tied to the medical industry. The words straight from the candidate’s own mouth:
In reality, there is no anti-vaccine controversy here because Stein isn’t anti-vaccine. The next criticism is, well, that just plays into the conspiracy that Big Pharma really controls everything.
While that might be true, it’s also true that Stein’s position is all about social responsibility, and that extends to corporations. But being anti-corporate isn’t the same thing as being anti-vaccine, and it isn’t even the same thing as confirming or suggesting that the government and drug companies know that vaccines are bad and conspire together. But that fact is lost on the media, which only cares about ratings and clicks.
I considered unfollowing (not un-friending) this person on Facebook, but then I realized that she wasn’t the problem. It seemed like everything I was following in social media had something to say about politics. Even pages that have absolutely nothing to do with political issues seemed to throw their two cents in. So I made the step to give up social media until the election is over. After November, I’ll re-evaluate and determine if it’s worth going back.
But the experience made me realize just how detrimental the media is to our national political discourse. The media doesn’t report at all on Stein or Johnson, who in my mind are just as viable candidates as Trump or Clinton. But the media gets to control the narrative, to direct the conversation. And the direction they take the conversation frequently seems to be at odds with what would in my mind constitute a healthy political environment.
It used to be that the news just reported the objective facts. But we’ve all seen how over the decades, and especially in recent years, this has devolved into opinion and commentary as news. This devolution of course meant that things began to separate along party or ideological lines. Entities like Fox News and MSNBC cater exclusively to ideas that their viewers want to hear, not information that their viewers need to hear. And so we get conservative and liberal folks who live in bubbles where the facts that support the other side of the argument don’t exist, and everyone else is wrong. The echo chamber is created.
And social media only reinforces the echo chamber. It gives everyone a chance to repeat the talking points and the headlines, and the more people who do that, the more something like “Jill Stein is Anti-Vaccine” becomes a fact in the minds of many people. It gives people like Glenn Beck a chance to stir the pot and make opinion and drivel sound like news. I mean, honestly, who would argue that politic discourse wouldn’t be more productive and civil if the likes of Rush Limbaugh didn’t pollute the airwaves?
But the media loves shock jocks because they drive up the ratings, and more ratings means more money. Perhaps along with getting the money out of elections we should also get the money out of the news. As long as money is the prime motivation for reporting the news instead of informing, we’ll always get sensationalizing and editorials en lieu of actual facts and objective information.
Ultimately, though, this leaves me wondering how anyone is supposed to get legitimately objective information about politics in this country. I suppose you could limit yourself to what the candidates themselves say. Watch their conferences and rallies, read their press releases and websites, watch their interviews and ignore everything else. But the “everything else” is so pervasive and ubiquitous that seems like a huge task, especially if you’re not a person who’s adept at evaluating informational sources.
But something has to change, and it has to change soon. The media gave birth to Donald Trump by feeding that machine until it became a reality. Hopefully people will also rise up and take control of their media when they take back their elections.