Note: This is a version of a piece I wrote this with my brilliant friend Chris Hartline for our student newspaper, and am reprinting it here. Any goodness in it may be credited to him.
Most of the public is aware of Rush Limbaugh’s stupid and unfunny bit in which he referred to a Georgetown student as a “prostitute” and a “slut” for saying that Georgetown health insurance should cover contraception.
Do not pay attention to this man. He will make you sad.
But the name-calling does not stop there: other instances of sexist slander have been just as offensive but haven’t received as much news coverage as Limbaugh’s insult. Bill Maher, a liberal comedian and amateur political commentator on HBO, referred to Sarah Palin as “a tw-t” and “a c-nt”. Chris Matthews, MSNBC host, called Hillary Clinton “witchy,” “uppity,” and claimed that she was elected to the Senate only because her “husband messed around.”
Looks like public discourse to me.
The state of the news media today is disheartening because the system of acidity seems to be self-perpetuating. Indeed, truculence has become a prevailing rhetorical device. Keith Olbermann had a segment on his show (and a book) called “The Worst Person in the World”. Glenn Beck wrote a book in 2009 called “Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government”.
Another clear manifestation of the deficit of trust of the media was a 2009 poll done by Time magazine. Walter Cronkite held the title (since 1974) of “Most Trusted Man in America”. Cronkite was the most visible figure in the media, which at the time provided objective discourse and information to the public, and he died in 2009. In the subsequent Time poll, voters said that the most trusted news anchor in America was Comedy Central host and political satirist Jon Stewart.
The fact is that the media is supposed to provide a momentary stay against political hostility, an unbiased source of objective information for the public, and that it is not doing this. Consequently, the public is losing their faith in the news media, and by extension the American political system itself.
The media has become tool used by political parties to influence the opinions of the public. A blatant example of this is the “Plan for Putting the GOP in the News” memo from the Nixon administration. The 15-page memo was anonymous, and has written comments on it by Nixon’s then-advisor and current Fox News President Roger Ailes.
Roger Ailes: founding CEO of Fox News and adviser to Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. Also credited for possessing the world's least attractive set of jowls.
The memo stated that television was the best medium for political persuasion because of its imminent popularity: “People are lazy. With television you just sit – watch – listen. The thinking is done for you.” The plan was to record prepackaged interviews with Republican politicians and deliver the videotapes to local news stations. Presently, critics say that Fox News has demonstrated their role as an arm of the Republican Party.
All you need to know about Keith Olbermann is that he's not a pleasant person.
MSNBC, while on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Fox News, is similar in its audacious political stance. In a distasteful and recurring ending rant on his show, former host Keith Olbermann once shouted (his monologue was directed at then-President Bush), “This war is not about you … shut the hell up!”. Fellow host Chris Matthews also said after a 2008 Obama speech that he “felt this thrill going up my leg as Obama spoke.”
So it can be concluded that the media has become unabashedly partisan. Even the very fact that it is standard for each major newspaper to endorse a presidential candidate reflects a problem in the nature of journalism. It results in an overtly ideological news organization – the New York Times is liberal, the Wall Street Journal is conservative; the Washington Post is liberal, the Washington Times is conservative, etc.
A news staff tending to lean one way on the opinions page is typical and expected; however, the fear is that the ideological slant of the editorial pages will seep into the news coverage. The potential and underlying ‘spin’ of news stories becomes more important than the objectivity of the events being reported.
And maybe the Nixon administration’s prediction about the easy audience of television was prescient: political commentary television programs can be especially caustic and, at times, juvenile. They seem to appeal to the lowest common denominator of the public and of individuals. Keith Olbermann, Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow, and Bill O’Reilly are all political commentators who base their rhetoric on the petty mockery of whoever disagrees with them – their arguments are negative, not positive, and clever insults take precedent over constructive criticism.
Jon Stewart pleads with the hosts of Crossfire to "stop hurting America." Crossfire was cancelled shortly after Stewart's interview.
The media itself has not only lost its ability to objectively inform the public of unbiased political events – it has become a tool for fostering and encouraging political contention. The role of the news media is not just lost – it has been perverted. As Jon Stewart said to the hosts of Crossfire, this inflammation of petty and theatrical bickering isn’t just bad journalism – it’s hurting America.
David Brooks said: “There’s a collapse in the public’s faith in American institutions. The media has done a poor job. We’ve become as insular and self-regarding as any [other institution].” It is no wonder, then, that there is a deficit of trust among the younger generations – the apparent disintegration of the integrity of our news sources is nothing less than repelling.