The Media Should Be Put on Trial for Its 2016 Election Coverage

September 9th 2016

Call the lawyers. It’s time for a major class action lawsuit – AMERICA vs. THE AMERICAN CORPORATE NEWS MEDIA. 

This week the corporate news media business continued it’s unprecedented $2.6 billion free ride to former reality TV star Donald Trump masquerading as a Presidential candidate. The latest defendant to be named in this suit is Matt Lauer, who America is charging with “impersonating a town hall moderator.”

What was NBC thinking – giving a morning-fluff-personality the job of moderating a “serious” National Security Town Hall? Clearly, to NBC, this was opportunity to boost the ratings of its Today Show by having follow-ups with the Town Hall “contestants” and their handlers. By their actions it’s clear that, to NBC, this isn’t an election, it’s a game show/talent show/ratings booster called – "America’s Got Presidential Talent!"

Well, NBC, we have real news for you – the election is not a talent contest. This is the future of our country, the future of our democracy and you have a serious job to do. And you, the American Corporate News Media, are failing. When you misuse the public trust by substituting personalities for news journalists you need to be sued by America for media malpractice.

But this is a bigger problem – media greed. 

Lets be clear NBC, an election is not a way to recoup fees paid to a failed reality TV personality. And even though Trump is now your cash cow, giving you record-breaking ratings and profits (which were flagging in his last seasons on The Apprentice) America is interviewing candidates for the most important job in the free world. And you, American Corporate News Media, are our way to make that decision. 

And what is more cynical, knowing that traditional corporate/cable/newspaper media profits are trending down, NBC is acting like other corporate entities who have been in the same situation. Think about the tobacco companies denying the danger of their products while creating characters like Joe Camel to sell cigarettes to young people. Think about the oil companies denying climate change in order to sell peak oil. That’s what the media is doing this election – maximizing profits in a diminishing industry.

According to the NY Times, in 2008 there were 2,700 newspapers in the Newspaper Association of America. Today, there are 2,000 newspapers in the newly named News Media Alliance, as the word newspaper has become an anachronism. Readers are now viewers. And the media — formerly known as the press — is constitutionally important to our American democracy. According to an article by Caroline Little, former CEO of The Newspaper Association of America:

For a society to be responsible and powerful, it must be informed. Our free press, protected by the first constitutional amendment, plays a critical role in ensuring that every American has constant access to important and trustworthy news.

Thomas Jefferson said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

As he emphasized, this free flow of information to the public is essential to preserving our American democracy. In addition to educating and reporting, the press serves as the public’s independent watchdog, charged with keeping governments, businesses and other organizations in check.

What other institution has the power to talk to key leaders, inspire social change and uncover corruption, while analyzing and providing context for major global events?

Thomas JeffersonFlickr.com / Opus Penguin - flickr.com

And is the media living up to this constitutional responsibility? Not by a long shot. Actually, by giving Trump so much free and soft coverage, they are manipulating the election in order to create a “close election” to get the best ratings for their debate and campaign coverage. 

I am not naïve or unaware of the checkered past of our press. One could hardly call the Hearst Papers of the early twentieth century unbiased coverage. FOX NEWS has never been “ fair and balanced.” But today news is entertainment for profit. And I believe it is actually depressing turnout by making the electorate disenchanted with it’s choices.

Chuck Todd on MTP exposed a CNN poll that put this election as close was skewed +4 R – meaning that the sample was more Republican than Democrat. WTF?! Why is this happening? Close elections are better rated TV. So if there is a charge of rigged elections this year, it is a charge against the media.

So, what can we do? Demand better media. Write to the station managers of corporate TV stations/cable operators and tell them you are not satisfied. Tweet about it. Call out CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX in all forms of social media. It’s time to demand that media live up to the vision of the founders of our democracy.

Joel Silberman is a distinguished media critic, expert, and strategist as well as a partner at Democracy Partners.

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