The big bang of journalism in America

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The demise of objective journalism is less a result of a news source trying to push an agenda and more about economics.

A leading research organization covering the media industry published a summary of a well-known media survey from a few years ago by describing the media as “Biased, Frivolous, And Liberal.” Unfortunately, this is correct.

Only 15 years ago according to a Gallop poll, most Americans trusted the news media. I remember much earlier than that listening to Walter Cronkite on the 6:00 o’clock news and it was like my grandpa telling me the events of the day. He is the guy who told us that President Kennedy was dead. I think it was the only time that he showed any emotion apart from an occasional stifled chuckle when reporting some silly news item. Cronkite was a consummate newsperson who wouldn’t even allow a slight emotional gaffe because it may have betrayed some inkling of bias, which, at the time, was anathema.

There are no more Cronkites or Chet Huntleys, David Brinkleys etc. etc. They are all dead — as is objective journalism.

Objective journalism has been replaced, for the most part, with Pew’s finding that the news media is “Biased, frivolous, and liberal.” This has necessarily given rise to a handful of news outlets that are the same with one not-so-subtle difference, these outlets could be described as “Biased, frivolous and conservative.” There are not many, but they are popular and very vocal.

Why has this happened? Are those newspapers and the FAMGA consortium — (Acronym for Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Usually used in the context of meaning “big technology”) –colluding to control the thoughts and minds and to create a Ministry of Truth, 30-plus years late? Possible, and I think that they probably would love to do that, but I believe that it is simple economics.

Frivolous is probably the least worrisome of these adjectives. When I wrote the first version of this article in early October 2016, the lead story on the majority of news outlets, 35 days away from what is arguably the most important presidential election of my lifetime, involves Kim Kardashian who, according to reports, had been robbed by a masked gunman in a Paris hotel.

Ms. Kardashian is a television personality who has achieved international fame and unimaginable wealth almost exclusively as a result of the size and shapeliness of her butt. Any other qualities or talents are undetectable. Certainly, frivolous could describe this in a broader more general sense, but I think that this instance would be better labeled as preposterous, or rather “pre-posterior-ous.” However, for some reason some people are very interested in certain celebrities and people are interested in reading about them.

The “biased” characteristic that the left-leaning Pew reported is much more troublesome, and I am afraid, much more obvious. Chet, Walter, and David reported the facts and left it up to the viewer or listener to provide the analysis for themselves. Today, we are presented with the analysis and primarily the facts that fit that analysis.

President Trump is fond of calling out the “fake news.” I am not sure exactly what he means by that, but he if is referring to the intentional altering of the facts, I have seen no evidence of this happening in any of the MSM or major news sources. However, more frequently the facts are massaged and repackaged to fit snugly into the particular news outlet’s broader narrative or agenda. This is necessary to make sure the story is framed in a fashion that it does not produce something that validates the reader/viewer/listener’s (“receptor’s”) worldview.  Listening to a report of the same story on CNN and then listening on Breitbart, one would be left wondering if they are indeed reporting on the same event. It is trying to push an agenda, but perhaps more the agenda of the receptor.

Unlike today, opinions formerly were relegated to the editorial or opinion page, and in print media and were almost nonexistent in broadcast media. I opined on this several months ago in an article titled the “Two Truths,” suggesting that an informed citizen needs to garner information from several news sources.

If you hear a story from a far-left source like CNN or MSNBC, you really need to get the other side from a far-right source like Breitbart or David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, while a more moderately left-leaning news source like PBS or NPR could be balanced by a moderate-right source like FoxNews. This renders all news sources akin to the expanding universe after the big bang 13.6 billion years ago.  At 0.00000000001 nanoseconds after the Big Bang, all matter began moving away from the center and from each other and it still is doing so. Sometime around a couple decades ago the Big Bang of Journalism sounded for our news sources, and since then, they have all been speeding away from the center at full speed.

And, away from objectivity.

Judith Miller, a former reporter for the New York Times, is discouraged by the direction, and states that there are several factors that have led to the demise of objective journalism.

Newspapers and news broadcasting revenues, she points out, have dramatically declined over the last decade. Revenue from print media has dropped more than 65 percent over the last eight years, resulting in dramatic cuts in staff and closings of news gathering locations in order to streamline the process in the name of efficiency. Certainly not good for this once noble “estate” but an understandable economic necessary. Objective journalism is simply no longer a sustainable venture. Not only are there free alternatives, but there is no demand.

In addition, says Ms. Miller, there is also competition from the estimated 26 million bloggers resulting in alternative news sources characterized by an incredibly wide range of journalistic competency and accuracy. Ms. Miller believes that these factors have resulted in a trend away from objectivity to a simple aggregation of “eyeballs.”

Anthony Robbins once observed that “People like people who are like them.” Similarly, people tend to be drawn to the sources which reinforce their own world view and thus eyeballs are best harvested by giving the people what they want to hear, or better yet, actually forming and shaping the narrative and massaging the reporting to reinforce that narrative. Give the people what they want to hear and they will listen, but give them a narrative that does not conform to their own worldview and they will switch the channel or “click-out” to a website that gives them a more pleasant experience.

Not too long ago, the CNN anchors during a broadcast raised their hands, in the then ubiquitous albeit fanciful, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” posture in support of the fantasy that Michael Brown was shot by a white policeman while attempting to surrender to the officer with his hands up. Now, CNN is a news source and cannot be excused for being unaware that the “hands-up” version of the events was totally inaccurate. The false narrative delivered compliments the world-view of the receptors.

In psychology, cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant state of mental stress and discomfort when you have conflicting ideas or beliefs. We strive for internal consistency and when we hear information that is contradictory to our system of beliefs we are uncomfortable. When someone is calling you to come nearer to them while they are frantically waving a “STOP” sign in your face you have two senses giving you contradictory information.

If your beliefs are more consistent with the far left, we can be assured that nothing that we hear from CNN is going to be inconsistent with our belief system and all the news is going to be “good” news in the sense that it confirms our beliefs and is not going to make us uncomfortable.

Nicholas Malino is a founding member of the Progressive Conservative Alliance and chairman of the Conservative Party of Connecticut. He is Managing Member of Tango Research, LLC a hedge fund in CT and NY. He has two books published on financial subjects.

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