I've recently been watching the HBO series, "The Newsroom." It's a rather engaging show about a network news show that finally starts to find its conscience and begins reporting news rather than promoting set agendas and entertainment figures. There have been two seasons, and HBO has confirmed a third and final season will begin this fall.
In the third episode, the anchor, Will McAvoy (ably played by Jeff Daniels) makes a direct statement to the viewing audience and tells them he is the final gatekeeper for what they see each night, and that he is a member of the "media elite."
Politicians have long had an adversarial relationship with the press. Broadsheets in colonial America were the first to poke fun at those in power, advocating a voice in self-determination and finally, pushing for a separation from the monarchy. In the years, decades and centuries that followed, the press has praised, cajoled, pushed and elevated those in power. They have been scathing, scornful and unforgiving. And, they have helped the American public learn more about those who are in public service.
In the last fifty years, the media has also become an extremely commercial business. Newspapers, radio stations and television stations (later to be joined by cable and satellite groups) have learned that they can make a tremendous amount of money with their news divisions. To charge those exorbitant fees, they also had to cater to viewing audiences who comprised the numbers involved in ratings. To have higher ratings, the news divisions felt they needed to cater to a broader audience, which meant the news divisions started "dumbing down" hard news in favor of "entertainment."
Instead of long, detailed pieces explaining how the new tax code would affect small businesses, the news shows opted to talk about any member of the Kardashian family who walked near its cameras. Instead of trying to figure out why Congress has yet to craft a definitive immigration plan, the news shows talk about the latest reality show star and the antics they have gotten into while out for a night on the town.
Of the biggest cable networks, it's interesting to see how their ownership stacks up. CNN is owned by Turner Broadcasting, a part of the business owned by billionaire Ted Turner. MSNBC is largely owned by the Microsoft Corporation, known more for their software than for their news background. And, Fox News is owned by British businessman Rupert Murdoch, legendary tabloid owner who has covered the scandals of the British royal family.
The companies that own the largest media conglomerates are interested in one thing - profits. They are not interested in the truth, they are not interested in providing fair and balanced coverage, they are not interested in trying to build a more informed electorate. They are interested in attracting as many viewers as possible, using any methods available, all to bring in more advertisers. When they make mistakes, or when they construct stories that are false or badly researched, they simply move on to the next news cycle and pretend they never did anything wrong.
I miss the days of Edward R. Murrow (a chain-smoking alcoholic who made many mistakes; but, always told the viewers when he did), the days of Walter Cronkite (a man who was close friends with many of the people he did stories on; but, often lost those friendships due to his coverage). There used to be people of integrity and honor in the news, but now there are personalities and shouting heads. Rather than trying to inform, today's news stars would prefer to anger, titillate or offend their viewers. They know it will get people talking, and other people will tune in to watch the train wreck that ensues.
Will McAvoy on "The Newsroom" is smart, opinionated and engaging. He laments that it's no longer acceptable to be smart, only to be loud and entertaining. If only he were real.
It’s all just my opinion.