What Now For The Mass Media?

 

It has been interesting to read and listen to the ongoing post-election soul searching—often tinged with stark fear—on the pages and channels of America’s oldest and finest newspapers and networks. The election of Donald Trump as our nation’s next President has prompted a range of reactions that variously read like one of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s stages of grief or some sly satire from the pages of The Onion.

Whether his election is blamed on FBI Director James Comey, the Electoral College system, fake news sites on social media, rampant racism and sexism, or Anthony’s troublesome weiner, it often seems the “opinion makers” are befuddled by the voter preferences expressed at the ballot boxes of America. Given that every major newspaper in the United States endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, it seems that many are still in shock about turning around on Election Day and discovering that the expected parade of compliant readers had vanished.

This has unfortunately sometimes morphed into a vaguely concealed contempt for the very Americans who decided their daily newspaper’s coveted endorsement wasn’t worth a bucket of warm spit in terms of influencing their votes. The ability that we all now enjoy to search out and curate our own news and information on the internet puts everyone from The Wall Street Journal to MSNBC in the position of figuring out how—and if—they are going to adjust to readers and viewers who no longer neither need nor entirely trust them.

I understand why a great many newspapers endorsed and actively supported Hillary Clinton. Trump’s pugnacious and punitive style of speech was a startling and scary change for those who were expecting the usual soothing pabulum; the media elite were simply not ready for a candidate in the Republican primaries who growled rather than groveled. Jeb Bush was much more their soporific cup of lukewarm tea, and his early exit from the campaign trail should have been a pretty clear warning that this election was going to be very, very different.

It did not help, of course, that Donald Trump’s default campaign setting was to attack, slash, and destroy those who stood in his way. For example, women who found—and still find—Donald Trump’s manner and words disturbing have good cause to feel this way. Trump sometimes reminds me of drunk guys in bars who carry on to everyone about how great they are in bed—you, sir, doth protest too much. No matter the circumstance, perhaps it would be better for Mr. Trump to exhibit the least bit of restraint and discretion. What goes on in your head—particularly when you are President—need not always come flapping out of your mouth or end up posted on Twitter.

However, Hillary Clinton and her supporters in the media and elsewhere fell right into the trap of confusing Trump’s seemingly troglodyte style with the substance of what he was actually doing: putting together an unprecedented coalition of disenchanted voters who were sick of being told that everything that was screwing up their lives was being done for their own good. He spoke directly and effectively to those who were tired of being ignored by policy elites who had built their lucrative careers on parsing the peculiar pathologies of those who work, worship, and want a soda larger than 16 ounces (even if it’s unhealthful) after a hard day.

This election was their chance to tell the smirking Ivy League jerks who tell everyone how to live their lives to go to hell—and a great many obviously did just that.

So what does this mean for the editors and news directors who were wiser than us all—yet totally clueless about what was happening right up to Election Day? I suspect it means that they have just written their own professional obituaries unless they are willing to welcome a wider variety of viewpoints onto their editorial pages and news shows.

Continuing to feature the usual credentialed and cloistered suspects who can’t seem to fathom the possibility they might be dead wrong will do nothing to broaden your audience or promote an open discussion of the many difficult issues now facing our nation. Changing this ossified mode of operation will cause a meltdown among those who cannot distinguish the difference between journalism and advocacy, but it might be the only remedy available if you are a newspaper or cable network that wants eyeballs and advertisers instead of a dusty spot in a museum exhibit sometime in the very near future.

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