(SCF) – Internet development resulted in disappearance of America’s local media to benefit metropolitan mainstream outlets with large countrywide circulation. Predominantly pro-Democratic, they espouse liberal values, paying little attention to political views and everyday life problems of those who live outside megacities.
The mainstream media have lost trust of provincial America to engender the phenomenon of Trump, with public trust in mainstream media reaching its lowest level in history. The people living outside big cities trust President Trump more than media.
There were times US media served all Americans no matter where they lived, while meeting the highest journalism ethics and standards. True, outlets have always been divided to some extent between conservative and liberal camps but media were not antagonistic to each other as they are now. In the 1960s-1980s, the situation was quite different. US media were the real Fourth Estate, revealing the abuse of power and highlighting real problems the country faced.
Media contribution into the Civil Rights Act becoming a law in 1964 and ending the Vietnam War was immense. It’s enough to remember the reports of Walter Cronkite (CBS), often cited as “the most trusted man in America”, about the Vietnam war. His 1968 editorial about the United States “mired in stalemate” in Vietnam was seen by some as a turning point in the US opinion of the war. President Lyndon Johnson is claimed by some to have said, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Cronkite helped broker the 1977 invitation that took Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem, the breakthrough to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.
Walter Lippman, who is remembered as Father of modern journalism, is a good example of great influence exerted by journalists on the government decision-making process. An informal adviser to several presidents, he became the leading public advocate of the need to respect a Soviet sphere of influence in Europe, as opposed to the containment strategy being advocated at the time by George F. Kennan. He too was highly critical of the Vietnam War.
Cronkite and Lippman are just few of the many examples of American journalists becoming trusted public figures the powers that be could not ignore. US media were powerful enough to make Richard Nixon resign. But with all the power they wielded, responsibility and standards prevailed. Ideological preferences played a minor role. The goal was to attract as many readers as possible. Competition was tough. It was public trust that media outlets were after. Those days are gone.
In 1983, 90% of US media were controlled by 50 companies; today, 90% of the US media landscape is controlled mostly by six massive media corporations: General Electric, Walt Disney, News Corp., Time Warner, Viacom, & CBS. Profits not standards define the agenda.
Ideological bias has grown as there is much less competition. Many of media outlets have become openly biased. Major outlets, such as the New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post, CBS, ABC, NBC, ABC, СNN, MSNBC, CNS News, Newsweek are prone to liberal bias. The New York Times has become a Democratic Party newspaper. The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, Fox News, NewsMax and WorldNetDaily strongly promote a conservative agenda.
From the 1970’s through the mid- 1980’s, confidence in the press was high. Ratings began to slip in the late 1980’s. By the 1990’s they plummeted. In 1990, 74% percent of Americans said they had a great deal or some confidence in the press. A decade later, that number fell to 58%. Before 2004, it was common for a majority of Americans to profess at least some trust in the mass media, but since then, less than half of Americans feel that way. Now, according to Gallup, only about a third of the US has any trust in the Fourth Estate, a stunning development for an institution designed to inform the public. Americans say the mainstream outlets are full of fake news, a sentiment that is held by a majority of voters across the ideological spectrum.
Nowadays, it has become unnecessary to present the arguments for another point of view, and thorough fact-checking became a thing of the past. Inaccurate reporting is vastly spread. Fake stories about the weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein provoked the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In 2016, media reported Hillary Clinton’s election victory was assured. Those were severe blows which brought down media’s ratings. The anti-Russian campaign is another example. With all the ballyhoo raised about Russia’s interference in the US electoral process and other wrongdoings, media has failed to present anything trustworthy to be viewed as evidence.
With the competition from Internet to face, mainstream newspapers have to make personnel cuts badly affecting the quality of publications. Social networking services divide users into groups of like-minded persons to limit their scope of vision. Belonging to a certain group reduces the opportunity to get acquainted with alternative views. Information should fit in the discourse, its credibility is not important anymore. Television networks are looking for their niches to become ideologically oriented as the gap between Democrats and Republicans is widening.
The US media have alienated many with Donald Trump’s relentlessly negative and antagonist coverage. Decency, objectivity and other standards appear to be forgotten as they attempt to delegitimize and impeach the president. Anything would do, including concoctions and fake news. There is little hope that the media will change and start to cover the Trump presidency in a fair and objective way.
According to an IBD/TIPP Poll conducted in December, more than half of Americans (55%) report they have less trust in the news media as a result of its coverage of the 2016 election. US media are doing their best to divide Americans and exacerbate the divisions between the two opposing camps. Outlets are turning into tools of propaganda. Media activities have become a fight without rules. Under the circumstances, the attacks against Russia in the US media couldn’t be anything but a part of the process. The sad fact is that the process of once great American media is in full swing and there is nothing in sight to stop it.
This report prepared by ANDREI AKULOV for Strategic Culture Foundation