We have constant news coverage. It’s a fire house effect but why has that not improved our knowledge? Why are people more distrusting now? Why has “post-factual” become a thing? Why are we becoming more divided rather than closer together? Are we?
I keep the TV on most of the time and it is almost always defaulted to a news channel so I know of what I speak and I do dip into all of the major news networks though I have defaulted to MSNBC for quite a while now more out of habit than anything else.
What I see is a lot of speculation on motive. Partisan reasoning for everything and a value of drama over fact and policy. This last 18 months through the Trump phenomena has been the culmination of a strong propaganda campaign through Fox News and talk radio that has sent us to a place where every issue has two sides and facts are open for debate.
We saw an early iteration in the tobacco industry consciously lying about the health affects of their product. That was the precedent to how Republicans and conservatives dealt with climate change. Both of those areas dealt with science – with facts – and both have been obfuscated to stop action on true issues. In the case of tobacco it was about individual lives and that was bad enough. In the case of climate change it is about the fate of everything that lives on our planet. Rather than digging in to the facts and stating clearly what those were the media instead became a place where there was an equal discussion of pros and cons of the “idea” despite climate scientists – the experts – being on one side and the other was politicians, pundits, and people like Michael Chrichton – a fiction writer. Both sides were given equal attention, equal veracity and the focus was on who was right rather than on the policy choices. Rather than accepting the science and deciding how to act – or if we should act – the debate has been stuck for decades on the if rather than the what even though the actual experts agreed on the facts. The media was part of that process because they choose what and how to cover the news.
During the election, we heard a lot of drama and almost no policy. We heard and we still hear that Donald Trump is just really good at driving the news. By implication the media is ceding control of a Free and Independent Press to one individual.
The entire impression that the country has about the state of our politics, about the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, about Hillary Clinton, about Donald Trump was and is driven by how the media chooses to cover them.
Here is a recent example. Chris Matthews of MSNBC decided that Marco Rubio questioning Rex Tillerson was about revenge or grandstanding. It was a rather scathing indictment. He did not even mention as a possibility that Senator Rubio had reasoned objections to a man who has worked for the same oil company, Exxon, for 41 years. He did not play Senator Rubio’s very valid questions to Mr. Tillerson, that went something like this
We’ve been told that your experience around the world, your contacts, are why we should ignore your lack of experience in diplomacy and in the public sector, but you have not demonstrated that today.
This particular exchange focused on Mr. Tillerson not being willing to call any examples of truly appalling and well known human rights violations as such. He deferred time and time again saying that he did not have enough details.
That was not covered by Mr. Matthews, instead he was evaluation Senator Rubio’s motivations, without any input from the Senator. He was demeaning him and not covering the actual hearings and the questioning therein. That to a T illustrates the problem. The networks have hours and hours to fill but most of it is periphery discussions that go over and over the same things and talk about the people and their motivations but with no substance. It makes every politician, in DC and elsewhere, seem petty and uncaring and doesn’t touch the issues being discussed.
Let me give you another. Part of the Trump/Russia propaganda against Hillary Clinton was her health. When she happened to actually get pneumonia, a very common illness and one that was sweeping through her campaign staff, and she left a 9/11 ceremony early without disrupting the ceremony and notifying the press and then almost fainted as she got into her car it became a major story that went on over a week with breathless incantations that it was another symptom of her lack of transparency. This was all because, from her diagnosis on Friday till the revelation on Sunday she hadn’t disclosed that she was sick. Imagine that, it sounds silly, but it was handled as a major scandal, another reason that we just couldn’t trust her. That is despite laws in this country that allow for health privacy, or simple human decency. It was also despite the real and varied lack of disclosure by her opponent. The lack of a sense of scale or importance was breathtaking. It was driven by the media which is driven by the Republican Propaganda machine. Every Republican Congress person, Trump Campaign representative, and pundit came prepared to pivot to Hillary’s failures no matter the question. The media played right into it and it was a “Huge” story that was built on nothing.
Or consider the Affordable Care Act. There has been a lot of discussion, a lot of debate, a lot of condemnation but how many facts do we know about it. We know approximately how many people have gained insurance but do you know how many people are covered other ways? How many people who are complaining about the rise of their premiums, or the changes in their insurer, or the rise in their deductible are actually covered under employer plans and, as such, are not getting their health insurance from “Obamacare”? Do you know? Does the media?
I was a business manager at a not for profit with decades of experience so I have a good understanding of the nuts and bolts because I had to explain to employees how their insurance worked and the changes in insurance – and we had changes every single year before and after the ACA. Premiums went up. Deductibles went up. We added high deductible plans with accompanying health insurance accounts – for us insurance premiums for health insurance were far lower for the high deductible plans and with an accompanying HSA they actually cost less even though meeting that deductible was hard especially in the first year. Yes – even that is confusing. Our news channels should be helping people understand that rather than just playing the repeal/don’t repeal argument over and over again and focusing purely on the politics rather than on the policy.
Part of the ACA, especially in the early years, included a provision that the Republican led Congress refused to live up to – they were supposed to help insurance companies make up for losses in the early years. That is a factor in the problems of access. Republicans refusing to do anything to make the law better was a problem. Republicans denouncing the law was a problem. Focusing on the religious reactions to the very simple act of providing free contraception (or contraception at all) was a Republican led problem – totally ignoring separation of church and state. Democrats used Republican ideas to try to bring them to the table – they still wouldn’t play – they were the Party of NO not because they were looking out for the American People but because they wanted President Obama to fail and that part of the story was not covered. That is a big part of why they have no real plan to offer the country. Their plan is the ACA. The Democrats I know wanted single payer health insurance, essentially Medicare for all.
In a world of 24/7 news we are getting almost none. The media talks about talking about things. They predict, they subscribe motives, but with a few very notable exceptions they no longer cover the news. We need more investigative journalism. We need them to look at issues, dig into them, and have fewer discussion about the motives of people two, three, four or more times removed.
We must have better. We deserve better and our Democracy depends upon it.