January 7, 2016 was a frigid night in Burlington, Vermont particularly with the winds coming off Lake Champlain. Nevertheless, America’s media was there in full force to cover the event. No, it was not the anticipated arrival of Queen Elizabeth nor the return of a manned spacecraft from Mars. Donald Trump was coming to town and his campaign had distributed more tickets to supporters than the theater could hold. Now, that is a crisis and the ever-alert TV media was right on top of it. The local constabulary was interviewed and they issued all the proper and expected words of assurance that all was under control.
Further, we had the media’s finest reporters on hand to make certain that we, the public, did not miss a single step as Donald Trump descended from his plane.
Following another performance of rambling observations, America’s best and brightest political analysts came forth to give us the true meaning of the event.
So it goes in the life of Donald Trump and the interpretative media that follows him. I am largely referring to the non-news-news cable TV stations such as Fox on the right and MSNBC on the left. Their obsession with Trump and his meandering mind has less to do with politics and political bias and everything to do with ratings and money. They gain market share thereby creating more profit and the commentators and analysts not only achieve financial success via exposure but it also sells books and drives speaking fees. In brief, it is a pathway to wealth and they do not disclose a thing.
Their power has also helped reshape how our nation picks its leaders. I would contend that they are on a par with the benefactors of the court decision known as Citizens United which empowered the wealthy with increased political clout.
This rigging of coverage has clearly impacted the ability of other presidential candidates to get their message out. Simply stated, the allocation of time accorded them is a fraction of the limelight heaped on Trump. How can candidates with experience and accomplishment succeed in a media environment that rewards outrageous celebrity and then expresses surprise that the candidates they failed to cover perform so poorly in the polls?
Rather then acknowledge openly the role of TV ratings and money, these self-appointed political experts marvel at Trump’s ability to gain free media. That is akin to Al Capone wondering aloud why old Chicago’s judges and police were corrupt.
In the process, this misbehavior has contributed to the advancement of the absurd notion that experience and accomplishment are liabilities. Certainly, a rational person needing brain surgery does not seek the services of an orderly on the grounds that he lacks experience and, therefore, must be highly qualified.
Now, some will say that many of these commentators and analysts are critical of Trump and his message. This is certainly true. However, the fact remains that they are enablers in that they willingly give Trump an unfair advantage in getting his name and message out to his audience while drastically limiting the ability of other candidates to get their persona and message to their audiences. And the driving force behind this fundamental unfairness is ratings and money.
Our Constitution grants the media special rights because our founders understood the vital role news plays in a democratic society. Having news coverage determined or even influenced by ratings (money) is a direct assault on the ability of a people in a democracy to be properly informed.
It is time the spotlight went on the ratings game which is really what determines coverage. Walter Cronkite held that news should be about the seeking of truth governed by appropriate journalistic standards of fairness. Today, it is more about generating controversy and, all too often, obscuring the truth in the pursuit of profit.
This all goes to the heart of what is essential to a democracy. We deserve better – we must have better.