The News Media’s Failure Of Imagination Is Killing Our Democracy

We live in a news world where a big slice of the news audience is better informed about what’s happening than the news people reporting the news. Maybe that’s because, unlike the news media, those of us in the cheap seats — untouched by the whorish need for access — can see all the players for who and what they are rather than what they can do for our careers. You’d think a crisis like this would force every person calling themselves “a journalist” to set aside the old rules of engagement. You’d think a man relentlessly lying to their faces for four plus years would eventually cause some sort of dynamic response. Aside from scratching their heads harder and longer? Most journalists have learned exactly nothing from their experience with Donald Trump.

Eventually, we’ll understand why most of our news media couldn’t aggregate the Donald Trump story which would have had them reporting on Trump as a stone cold criminal even before he was sworn in — just like Fusion GPS sorta kinda did. Fusion, the commercial research/political intelligence firm founded by former Wall Street Journal reporters Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, was hired in 2016 by the publishers of Jeb Bush-backing Washington Free Beacon to do oppo research on Trump. As Glenn Simpson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 27, 2017, before beginning their formal work, Fusion did its due diligence: they got their hands on every piece of publicly available material they could on Donald Trump. They got and read magazine pieces, newspaper articles, they listened to radio interviews, watched TV shows and movie appearances. They spent a fortune on Amazon, visited actual book stores and even went to the public library to find what they needed. What Fusion found there — in publicly available material that ANY reporter could find (had they the motivation) — convinced them so completely that Donald Trump was a money laundering criminal in league with the Russian mob that they went and hired an English company called Orbis because its owner used to work for the British MI6 and had the best contacts bar none inside Russia.

Fusion demonstrated imagination — and did something about it. So did Christ Steele. When HE looked inside Russia to answer Fusion’s questions, he was deeply troubled by the answers coming back. He was even more troubled when the American government failed to heed his red flag warning that Russian intelligence was coming at us, cyber war style and we were doing nothing to stop them.

Because HE had imagination — and could extrapolate not only what Russia was doing but what our non-response to it was doing consequently — Chris Steele did everything in his power to put his work product (raw intelligence!) into the right American hands that could process it correctly and react accordingly and do it now.

Failure of imagination has haunted the American press especially where the threat of right wing terrorism is concerned. How easily do American journalists prick up their ears every time a Republican shouts “socialism” compared to when a Republican behaves like an authoritarian shit? They’ll jump right into a discussion about single payer universal health care with “But, isn’t that socialism?” but never even think to question Republicans and the legality and morality of their actively engaging in voter suppression. That, too, is failure of imagination.

When our news media failed to remind its news audience every day of the 2020 campaign that, for the first time in American history, a president was running for re-election having been IMPEACHED for CHEATING in the very same election in which he was running, that was a failure of imagination. When they relentlessly wondered aloud why Trump so relentless sucked up to Vlad Putin — their inability to answer their own question was a failure of imagination. That the news media even now can say that what Trump is doing is treasonous — and yet still ask aloud “Will he run again in 2024” is proof that they are utterly incapable of imagining a functional and functioning Department of Justice.

You’d think the possibility of making one’s bones on the greatest story anyone will ever get to cover would inspire more journalists to journalistic greatness. But to see oneself winning a Peabody or a Pulitzer takes incredible imagination (if one really has a shot at one).

No wonder achieving that kind of journalistic greatness can only ever be a dream for them — requiring imagination. Some circles are just plain vicious.

Maybe Our News Media Shouldn’t Take Its Audience — US — For Granted…

Of all the things Team Biden must accomplish pronto on January 20, 2021, atop the list must be setting the Department Of Justice back onto a course of justice and away from its role as a mob boss POTUS’ consigliere. Had our news media not normalized a thousand terrible Trumpian behaviors as “different” rather than “objectionable” or “illegal”, we might not be facing a Constitutional crisis on January 6. Too much of our news media still aspires to be the next Judith Miller — the New York Times’ access whore who sold her sole out so that Dick Cheney might whisper lies into her ear. Even more take it on faith alone that “both sides do it” and will willingly tie themselves in knots to avoid asking white conservatives the same impertinent questions they automatically burp at progressives.

Our news media assumes we’re as stupid, vacuous and intellectually incurious as they are. Boy, are they wrong. The rise of citizen journalism has saved professional journalism from itself. Now, let’s understand — as it destroyed every other business it touched, the internet is destroying the business model for journalism. Has destroyed it already, in fact. The pandemic then came along and demonstrated how anyone with a Zoom account is now just as much a TV talking head as the most experienced TV talking head.

Hell, in my other incarnation — as The Faitheism Project — I do a podcast every week now just like every other podcaster out there. I may not be much competition right now for the big players, but we’re still competing nonetheless. The internet levels all playing fields — for better and worse. The news audience — and I consider myself just another piece of it — is far more sophisticated and savvy than it was in the days when all we had was ABC, CBS and NBC. We sit down in front of our monitors or TV sets more conversant in the visual medium, it turns out, than the people we’re watching and listening to.

TV news media truly don’t understand the language of the medium they’re working in. Example — back when it was still kosher to put climate deniers on the air, the TV news networks would, as a matter of course, put climate scientist and climate denier into a “50-50” shot that splits the screen right down the middle. That’s great. It appears incredibly fair. And it IS being fair — to bullshit. It’s being incredibly unfair to the Truth however.

The problem is the climate scientist has mountains of hard data to back up what he’s saying. The climate denier has stuff he pulled (almost literally) from his ass. They are NOT the same thing. Yet there they both are, being presented in what’s called a “50-50” shot. Fifty percent of the screen to science and fifty percent of the screen to bullshit. See the problem? A truer, more accurate representation would give more like 99% of the screen to the climate scientist and maybe one percent to the climate denier. And the climate denier would be somewhere in the corner of a frame, virtually impossible to see.

A lot of us live in a constant state of war with the press — not on the press itself but on its utter failure of imagination and it’s stone cold refusal to see or acknowledge that failure of imagination. In fact, most of the press does not see itself as culpable in any way. They arrogantly hold themselves “above the fray”, never taking sides even when taking sides is demanded. One only worries about being seen to take sides if one hasn’t the courage of one’s convictions (or, more likely, no convictions to begin with).

I’m not alone in watching cable TV news not so much for the news as for the constant assurance that we’re just as screwed up today as we were yesterday — maybe a bit more screwed up in fact. Donald Trump has turned most of America into the world of Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil”. That’s not a good thing. Logic is that world’s kryptonite. If America’s journalists weren’t trying to convince themselves that Democrats and Republicans are all really the same person (which we absolutely are NOT!), they’d be banging away at some other story already.

America’s J-schools all need to take a break from producing journalists. They need to sit back and truly see what they’ve done to the rest of us: a party that feels compelled to explain everything and a party compelled to explain nothing. After a certain point, the trains will become physically incapable of being on time.

A few years back, the 21st Century Fox board of directors chose to end their relationship with Bill O’Reilly at a time when O’Reilly was their biggest draw, their cowiest cash cow. And yet — the 21st Century board of directors understood and agreed that O’Reilly had zero future at Fox News. The reason? Fox News’ advertisers were signaling from afar. The big advertisers were the first to grasp that, as women were more and more becoming the buying-decision decision makers in American households, it no longer behooved the big advertisers to ignore them. If America’s women — out of disgust — were likely to vote with their pocketbooks, then how and why they voted was going to become vitally important.

Fox News cannot survive without big companies advertising on it. Money drives every decision they make. Never mind what anyone on Fox ever says. Watch what they do. Their actions speak every dirty secret their words refuse to betray.