The Last Dying Gasp of “The Media”

Pretty much all of the news and entertainment media are just horrible these days, even to the point that most of them have made Donald J. Trump the presumptive Republican nominee and are now unable to keep their favored presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the lead in the general election race, and we cannot deny they deserve their fate. Not all of the media and certainly not all of the rest of the country deserves this sorry slate of choices, though, and we hope this will eventually prompt a reconsideration and perhaps even a thorough reconsideration of the sorry media landscape.
Trump got twice the airtime minutes and column inches of the rest of his largely distinguished 16-person-field of Republican competitors combined, and there are two obvious reasons why this is so. One is that his already scandal-ridden tabloid career as a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-scam-university-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul with a penchant for saying news-worthily crazy things that made for circulation- and ratings-generating great copy, and the other is that he seemed to exemplify all its well-worn racist and sexist and crony-capitalist and generally heartless stereotypes of a presumptive Republican nominee. It might have seemed a win-win proposition from the outset to stick the Republicans with such a noxious candidate and bolster the circulation and ratings in the process, but now they’re starting to regret that they’ve not only created a monster their plummeting circulations and ratings cannot slay but are actually abetting his rise to power.
Trump’s unfavorable ratings in the public opinion polls are still sky-high, yet his undeniably horrible presumptive Democratic opponent’s are unfavorables are now even slightly sky-higher, while the reputation of “the media” are somehow worse yet. Even the prestigious names at Salon.com, which is a mere internet publication but is staffed by refugees names from the from the formerly most prestigious yet-soon-to-be-bankrupt empires of the ancien regime print media and by now have a larger readership than their former employers, quite rightly acknowledges that the public’s hatred of “the media” actually benefits the hated Trump. The press hates Trump, the public hates the press worse yet, so his much-publicized press opprobrium works to his benefit.
As recently as the last election cycle “the media” still had the ability to portray the quite gentlemanly and quite legitimately rich and evil Republican nominee as an incorrigible sexist just because he’d made a a brief remark about the “binders full of women” he’d hired as a Governor of Massachusetts, and as vile racist because of the the remark about “self-deportation” that that even the current presumptive Republican nominee decried as “mean,” and the hundreds of millions he’d earned by rescuing failing companies from bankruptcy seemed so awful that the country re-elected Barack Obama. This time around the the Republican’s presumptive nominee truly is a sexist pig, and he really has settled a lawsuit over the racist housing policies of his real estate empire, and he grossly exaggerates his ill-gotten wealth, but this time around they’re out of ammunition. The gross sexism of the Republican’s presidential nominee is arguably less than the presumptive Democratic nominee’s enabled perv husband that has been covered up for so many years by the more polite “media,” his undeniable racism is no more infuriating than the undeniable racism of the First Black President “the media” carried through two disastrous elections, and his self-described billions are clearly more unsavory than the self-described billionaire’s, but any medium that tries to describe the presumptive Democratic nominee’s exorbitant wealth as any more honorable will be rightly discounted.
The presumptive Republican nominee’s sexisms was openly expressed by countless on-the-record hours on fellow shock jock Howard Stern’s naked-lesbian-stripper show, but even such once-formidable media as The New York times wound up embarrassing itself in an effort to make the point by going after some women that had been disrespected by Trump but ultimately wound up preferring the self-described billionaire to their interviewers from a dying industry. The article was written by the same guy who wrote that pathetic piece about Trump rival and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio taking out a loan to to buy a rather modest, and published by the same newspaper that made excuses for the presumptive Democratic nonimee’s perv husband for so many years, so at this point Trump is probably relishing its opprobrium. So far no one’s made much of his premature call for the execution of some black teens wrongly accused of raping a Central Park jogger, or that aforementioned settlement regarding his racist housing policies at one of his properties, but at this point people will recall how so much of the press overlooked the Democrats’ equally vile racist rhetoric on behalf of minorities and much of the white portion of that public will side with a presumptive Republican nominee who “re=Tweets” the worst of his unabashedly racist supporters.

Most of the entertainment media will do their part to bring down Trump, but they’re also no longer so formidable. The late night comedians are trying to destroy the presumptive Republican nominee, and we have to admit that the otherwise execrable Stephen Colbert has been doing a pretty witty job of it, but they’re currently preoccupied with trying to bring an even farther-left Democrat into the race, and we suspect their audience skews to a younger demographic that will wind up voting for the Democrat in any case. The movies will do their bit, but they’ve been on an absurd “Bush lied, people died” tangent that the presumptive Republican nominee has already co-opted, and even they seem suddenly inconsequential. All those years of professional wrestling and reality show seem to have better prepared the presumptive Republican nominee for the the current sorry media landscape.

There are all sorts of media, which is a plural form, after all, but few are free of blame. In recent years there’s been a rise of self-described “conservative media” on talk radio and the internet, and a hide-bound conservatism has been in print for decades, but most of them have been happy to sign on with a self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-strip-club-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show mogul in from time to time in favor of a soak-the-rich tax policy and letting all the “good” immigrants he kicked out promptly back in and thinks North Carolina was crazy for keeping men out of its women’s restrooms and is generally no more reliably conservative than his presumptive Democratic opponent, and at this point we find little to like in the entire media. There’s still such old fogies as The National Review and The Weekly Standard and The Central Standard Times who are willing to admit that both sides are awful and it’s an awful situation the country faces, but at this point it doesn’t matter much.

— Bud Norman

The Shrinking Globe

Many years of toiling for newspapers have cured of us any sentimentality about the industry, but it was nonetheless sad to read that the once-venerable Boston Globe has been sold.
In yet another sign of the steady decline of newspapers, the publication went to the owner of the Boston Red Sox for a bargain-basement price of $70 million, which won’t even buy a good shortstop these days. That’s a 93 percent loss from what The New York Times paid for the property back in 1993, if you don’t take into account inflation and the $100 million of pension liabilities which the old owners will retain, and even a typically math-challenged journalist will recognize it as a rather poor rate of return on investment. The figures bode ill for the value of newspapers in less densely populated cities such as ours, but should not be surprising to anyone who has been paying attention to recent trends.
Part of the problem is newfangled technologies such as the internet, of course, which have not only lured away readers but also provided formidable competition for classified advertising revenue. The inherent advantages of the internet as a news medium first became clear to us years ago when reading an on-line obituary for the great jazz singer Anita O’Day which featured a video of the chanteuse performing with Roy Eldridge and the Gene Krupa Orchestra, the sort of thing no newspaper can provide, and we are reminded every time we check the web for baseball standings that are freshly updated with the west coast scores. Selling an old lawn mower or seeking a clandestine sex romp on Craigslist is faster, easier, and less expensive than placing an ad in a local paper, and the big advertisers are able to target their pitches to a more specific market on a well-chosen web site. Without the much-vaunted layers of editors found at newspapers, who mostly serve to ensure a uniformity of polite opinion and bland prose, the internet also offers a greater diversity of opinion and far livelier writing.
Even the shrewdest publishers would be hard pressed to survive the modern era of communications, and today’s newspapers are not blessed with shrewd leadership. The money-drenched era that followed the monopolization of every town’s newspaper and preceded the age of the internet and talk radio inculcated a dangerous complacency in the nation’s editors and publishers, and they arrogantly refused to respond to the rapid changes taking place until they had left too far behind to ever catch up. Most of the people running today’s newspapers began their careers in the post-Watergate era when journalism was a prestigious profession and everyone was looking to be portrayed by Robert Redford in a movie about their speaking-truth-to-power exploits, and few of them have any practical business sense or empathy for their unwashed readerships. In our experience most newspaper workers would rather go broke with their rigid orthodoxy than to thrive by allowing an occasional alternative viewpoint to infiltrate their pages, and we note that the Times’ even passed up a more lucrative offer because the would-be buyers might nudge the Globe a few notches to the right.
If this sounds slightly embittered, so be it. Although the various news media are currently in a transitional stage that has left the public without crucial reporting we expect that someone will eventually devise a business model for the internet which will result in something far better, and we are pleased to see that the generally baleful influence of the American is on the decline. Still, we have some regrets about the demise of the newspaper, and not just because it means fewer freelance opportunities and causes some anxiety about our own pension. An untold number of local scandals are going unreported because of newsroom cutbacks at papers around the country, just as a number of national scandals go under-reported because they involve the wrong party, and we are old enough to remember a time when newspapers occasionally did some good.

— Bud Norman