“The media” does not exist. It is but an abstract idea, such as government or religion. When we talk to each other about how the media has responded to emailgate, the Baltimore riots, or the U.S. presidential election, we aren’t accurately representing reality. The physical truth is, there are large collaborations of individuals who discover facts and sell them to those who have neither the time nor resources to gather that information themselves.
These collaborations, unfortunately, aren’t coordinated by a system of ethics. The buildings which house the Washington Post’s printing presses, FOX News’s studios and MSNBC’s reporters are not filled with individuals who travel to work each day with the goal of publishing newsworthy and factual information to the American people (although there are definitely exceptions).
The men and women who script America’s most popular newscasts and write America’s most read columns are driven by paychecks that reflect the success of the paper as a whole, a success that is determined by the quantity of material sold.
A dysfunctional, codependent relationship has developed from this financial reality. Since the media absolutely needs us in order to make money from subscriptions or advertisements, we have a dangerous amount of control over content. Newspapers will quickly go bankrupt if they only report on events which their subscribers don’t find interest in, because as a consumer, we won’t easily surrender our money for a product we don’t want. Therefore, if we find car chases and political slurs to be more interesting than foreign policy or scientific discover, the evening news will tend to focus on the former.
As the only consistent mediator between facts and the public, the media holds a tremendous amount of power. It’s not realistic to sit down with Donald Trump and develop a true picture of him as a man and a candidate, to travel to Syria and see what is really happening in that country or to have a conversation with Pope Francis and understand the true meaning behind his speech to Congress. All we have are the various filters which the media provides, forcing us to pick our poison.
What has developed, though, is not a mutual trust between the public and the media. Instead, we demand news which are simultaneously exciting, relevant, and accurate. Following the nature of compromise, the media has provided us with none of the above.
A result of this is the focus on Donald Trump. His brash attitude makes him seem exciting, his intentions to become president make him seem important, and the media’s analysis of him is presented as fact. But take a step back, and Trump’s brashness becomes more unnecessary, his intentions become more unrealistic, and the media’s condemnation becomes more irrational and biased.
On the other end of the political spectrum is Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist and democratic candidate for the presidency. Sanders has picked up remarkable momentum among millennials, especially on the Internet. Whether Sander’s ideas are correct isn’t the issue. What matters is that they are relevant to a large and disillusioned generation. We are on the cusp of inheriting our parents’ country, and whether we comprehend it or not, we hold massive sway as a voting group.
Yet despite Sander’s popularity among young people and passionate conviction to important issues, he has been marginalized by the media. An egomaniacal businessman appealing to far-right extremists produces better ratings.
Do not slide into the role of an indiscriminate consumer. You are intelligent and deserve better than the facade sold by the media. Use your ability to criticize and analyze what you see on your Facebook feed, and take the time to compare articles with those written from a different bias. The media will not recover its dignity anytime soon, so learn to consume wisely.
Don’t support those media outlets which pander for ratings by focusing on the radical rather than the important.
(For those looking to consume news from all sides of the political spectrum, I recommend the bias-rating website www.allsides.com.)
Nigel is a sophomore pursuing a double major in history and psychology.