First Donald Trump broke the media, then he made them a laughing-stock. Despite their endless self-regard, everyone knows who the real fake news are now.
The 2004 comedy Anchorman opens with the observation that “there was a time…when people believed everything they heard on TV”. The joke is grounded in reality: in the early 70s, when the movie is set, nearly 75% of people trusted the mass media. On average today, less than half do. Depending on age, political affiliation and nation, often much less.
Trust in the media has been declining for years, but with Brexit and the 2016 US Presidential campaign, they tipped over the cliff. When Rachel Maddow wept at the election result, the gig was up. When Donald Trump pointed at CNN’s Jim Acosta and declared, “You are fake news”, the mainstream media were humiliated.
The basic problem is that, more and more, the mainstream media is incapable of even understanding how badly they’ve screwed themselves up, and why. The root of the issue, as with so many of modern society’s ills, begins with academia.
Having quite recently been in the belly of the beast, I speak from experience.
It used to be axiomatic, and is still given lip-service in basic journalism textbooks (should students care to actually read them) that the absolute bedrock principle of journalism, is that when reporting the news, never, NEVER mix opinion with reporting.
But student journalists have spent far too long – often from at least the later years of high school, but increasingly earlier – under the thumb of Marxist academic theory. While first-year students might be given a cursory warning about mixing news and opinion, that is almost immediately undermined by a constant barrage of Marxist drivel. Student journalists are not longer taught to just report the facts. Indeed, they’re openly taught by critical theory-obsessed academics that there are no facts. There is only “your truth”, identity politics, and, above anything else, power.
In the Marxist worldview of the modern Humanities faculty, power is everything. In their fantasy-land there are only oppressors (the evil white, capitalist, straight, Christian patriarchy) and the oppressed (the noble, the brown, the queer, Muslim and female).
Consequently, journalism students have it constantly drummed into them that their first and often only “duty” is to “speak truth to power”. As they progress through their degree, they’re loaded with more nonsense course units like “Gender, race and journalism”, and “Journalism and society”. These courses will often explicitly expound “Marxist and feminist perspectives” and “examine society through the lens of race, gender and power”.
To some extent, older and wiser students are at least able to see through the monomanias of their lecturers and form their own opinions. But universities are, more and more, enforcing a stifling intellectual conformity, where to kick against the pricks of Marxist groupthink is to court failure. And most students are basically kids. They’re 19 year olds, just out of high school, very impressionable, and, frankly, naive and ignorant. Most of them uncritically lap up their professors’ bullshit.
And then they’re released into the wide world of media – a media which has changed immeasurably in recent years. The rise of online media has starved the mainstream media of money and lead to mass layoffs. Unfortunately, the first to get the axe were senior journalists and especially sub-editors.
Once upon a time, these old hands would help curb the enthusiasms of the bright young things. Not any more. In fact, the mass retrenchment of experienced journalists means that these indoctrinated juniors are more often than not bumped up into senior roles far faster than they ever should have, without ever having had their youthful idiocy knocked out of them.
What are still basically student reporters are now running the newsroom. That’s why supposed “papers of record” read like a red-ragging campus paper.
So, that’s why the mainstream media not only can no longer even understand the fundamental precepts of reporting, but actually thinks they’re antithetical to their imagined mission of “speaking truth to power”. That’s not news. It’s campaigning.
That’s how we got here.