Horror at tv “news” seems to be building this month, which has some implications for information literacy. Last week I mentioned reports of some people working in tv “journalism” coming forward (anonymously) to share a sense of self-loathing at what their enterprise has done to the 2016 US presidential election.
Kristof begins by addressing media generally, and seems to indict all of journalism, including his own form (newspapers). “Those of us in the news media… I polled a number of journalists and scholars, and there was a broad (though not universal) view that we in the media screwed up”. This gentle intro (and perhaps the general title) lead Daniel Drezner to point out the real target:
Not to worry, as Kristof pounces on tv “news” right away. Jeet Heer misreads that focus , taking the term “media” very broadly, in order to insist on how well certain print/digital outfits did (like his own, unsurprisingly), and thereby letting tv “news” off the hook. Yet it’s clear that Kristof’s main target today isn’t media as a whole – he doesn’t even take a ritual stab at social media – but tv:
Our first big failing was that television in particular handed Trump the microphone without adequately fact-checking him or rigorously examining his background, in a craven symbiosis that boosted audiences for both.
“television in particular”; “craven symbiosis”: no other journalistic medium or platform receives this kind of excellent wrath in the rest of the column.
Kristoff, having seized his prey, doesn’t let go. He cites tv person after tv person throughout the piece, from NBC to CNN, and gets them to make incredibly revealing confessions:
Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit.” (emphasis added)
Ralph Begleiter, a former CNN correspondent and communications professor at the University of Delaware… notes that Sarah Palin received more serious vetting as a running mate in 2008 than Trump has as a presidential candidate.
some complain that “CNN has handed its schedule over to Mr. Trump,” and CNN had lots of company.
Read that again. Sarah Palin, a vice presidential candidate, received more scrutiny from tv “news” outlets than Donald Trump, the leading presidential candidate for one of the two parties.
Kristof’s conclusion? “[O]n the whole we in the media empowered a demagogue and failed the country. We were lap dogs, not watchdogs.” Which nicely echoes my use of the term “lapdog” last week.
Some further thoughts:
- My friend Jesse Walker (whom everyone should read) points out quite accurately that the tv creation of Trump is not a new thing.
Reality tv is key here, not to mention Trump’s other tv enterprises (wrestling, advertising, etc.).
- I don’t want to overstate the case and argue for a kind of tv determinism. Obviously Trump taps into deep currents in American political life. Clearly the other candidates, notably Bush, failed miserably on their own. But tv “news” played a major and unnecessary role in boosting this terrible candidate. Consider it an unforced error.
- Perhaps – just maybe – we’re seeing a growing realization that tv “news” has descended down a dark, foul path. As a result we could see (I live in hope) some popular dismay, and turning precious eyeballs away from CNN, Fox, et al. Maybe, too, those networks will rethink their offerings.
- I suspect we give CNN, Fox, et al a free pass because we’re witnessing a famed golden age in other realms of tv, mostly narrative storytelling. The old attitude of dismissing the entire medium no longer works in the age of The Wire. So we need to evolve a more nuanced approach, criticizing and avoiding tv “news” while celebrating the best of television’s offerings in fiction.
What does this mean for education? As I’ve said before, we need to teach skepticism and avoidance of horrendous information outlets. Educators should wean learners off of tv “news” while it continues to be so vile. People have challenged me on this, but I am unpersuaded. The world is so rich in information, and life is too short, to waste time on the worst media and information outlets.
(thanks to Steven Kaye and Ed Webb for nudges and contexts)