Thanks to how the term “mainstream media” is used to mean whatever its user wants in this country, I always feel the need to preface critiques of them with two caveats:
1. I define “mainstream media” as any organization under the umbrella of the six conglomerates who own 90% of our media.
2. Tens of thousands of people work for these large media organizations. When I say, “mainstream media,” it doesn’t refer to all of them, mainly just the executives at the top making all the big decisions.
The mainstream media is based on a capitalist system, and this makes it much more difficult for their journalists to do journalism. The entire TV apparatus of media adds additional weight to this problem, as the main thrust of your nightly news program is to entertain you first, and inform you second. A generation of varying people from milquetoast simpletons to outright hucksters took advantage of the Baby Boomers’ proclivity to trust a man saying something with a gravely concerned tone of voice on the TV, and now we’re stuck with a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re talking about doing it in extremely prominent media positions—like this garbage today from longtime Meet the Press host, David Gregory:
Quick fact check: Democrats are almost universally campaigning on giving people health care and stopping Republicans from taking it away from people. This has lead Republicans to outright lie about protecting preexisting conditions in order to try to fight back.
This is peak capitalist “journalism.” Sell yourself as a Very Serious Person who thinks Very Serious Things, and then passively declare yourself to be above the fray of the “ugliness” of politics on both sides. The key here is to not take a specific position as to what is ugly, because then David Gregory would be forced to rationalize the relative ugliness of GOP policies like putting kids in cages in defiance of international law and a court order, and liberals yelling at powerful Republicans in public for doing things like that. By simply dismissing all politics as equally ugly, Gregory is able to virtue signal to his audience that “I am the sane, reasonable person here. Politics? Lemme tell ya—it's crazy, folks!”
This mindset constantly reinforced by major media pawns like Gregory is a big reason why most of this country describes itself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal—despite most of us supporting liberal policies when actually asked about specifics. We have been brainwashed into following an inherently capitalist line that doesn't really make much sense when you study how politics in this country really works. America was built on a genocide and mass enslavement, and power was tilted in the direction of the people who perpetrated those crimes. Our present malaise is directly informed by the inherent flaws in the model of our republic (like the electoral college awarding 8 years of GOP presidencies this century to two candidates who didn't win the most votes), and the vacuous “fiscally conservative but socially liberal” trope completely misses the fact that our social priorities are expressed through government spending—and our government has spent a ton of resources on maintaining white supremacy, and it is ramping up yet again under the Republican Party.
Capitalism requires continuous growth to survive. There is a simple, rational flaw at the theoretical heart of this economic system: there is infinite demand for private property, but a limited supply of private property, and supply and demand teaches us that this means the price of property will continue to rise so long as there is more demand than exists supply. The oligopolization of present-day America that John Oliver dissected so well is simply the logical conclusion of capitalism.
Capitalist media is no different. In 1983, 90% of American media was owned by 50 companies, and we're down to six now. That creates a monolithic message given how few interests are tangibly represented (read: shareholders) in our major media centers. Stuff like Medicare for All is viewed as extreme, even as the mainstream media laments the under-funding at the Veterans Administration (read: government health care) that lead to the deaths of as many as 307,000 veterans (side note: the fact that Republicans still campaign on Colin Kaepernick and not the broken VA is all you need to know what “respecting the troops” is really about).
Capitalist media simply means that journalists' ultimate endgame is chasing eyeballs and clicks, not the truth.
I'm not immune to this grim reality either, since Paste is also subject to the laws of our capitalist economy. I've written plenty of “Donald Trump did WHAT???” clickbait because I know that at the end of the day, if no one reads our articles, I can't justify my salary (and if you are annoyed at this reality and despise clickbait in all its forms, stop clicking on it).
The difference between Paste and CNN is our mission: we can keep our heads above water being honest about politics and refusing to mince words given the high stakes of what we're writing about. CNN has an immensely powerful array of advertisers and executives who have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to continuously grow their investment. In order to make more money, they need more customers—hence why folks like David Gregory cosplay Very Serious People in order to convince as many customers to continue using his Very Serious Product. The end result is that smaller outlets like Paste wind up treating politics with more actual seriousness and gravity than the CNN's of the world. Politics is quite literally about life and death, and far too many folks like CNBC's John Harwood still see it as some sort of civility drama to be honored and respected.
Both sides have problems, but both sides do not have the same problems. Democrats have sold their soul to the GOP’s financial masters, but they still operate like a normal (semi-competent) party. The Republicans are stripping the right to vote from African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans through Jim Crow-style tactics. They are kidnapping children. They are locking children in cages. They are overruling democracy in every corner of the country. Donald freaking Trump is president. It’s embarrassingly naive for a journalist to believe anything other than the unadulterated fact that Republicans are what’s wrong with our politics. Either David Gregory is playing a character on TV in the clip above, or he’s an idiot. There is no in-between.
Republican authoritarianism is getting worse. They are endorsing literal brown shirt fascist gangs, and outlets like the New York Times are describing the leaders of these groups in more flattering detail than the leaders describe themselves. The mainstream media’s slavish devotion to the bankrupt religion of bothsidesism which undergirds their perpetual chase for profits leaves them wholly unprepared to call a fascist spade a spade.
For example, Brian Kemp is the Secretary of State of Georgia, and he’s running for governor against African American, Stacey Abrams. He has concocted a scheme that could purge up to 30% of eligible voters from the rolls in America’s 8th largest state, yet that horror story for democracy isn’t even on the front pages of the New York Times, CNN or The Washington Post right now, but any break in the Russia Investigation is treated as a ten-alarm fire. Russians aren’t the grave threat to democracy that the media has made them out to be—Republicans are—but Russians own that election fraud storyline, because the CNN’s of the world need Republicans to consume their product.
Everyone should be mentally prepared for an array of election night losses enabled by the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of voters currently being disenfranchised by the Republican Party, and we should also prepare for the media to wholly undersell the authoritarian reality that the GOP has created. Until the mainstream media’s major decision makers prioritize journalism over profits, they simply cannot be trusted to tell the full story of what is truly happening in America.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.