I started out my professional life as a journalist, trained in it, and came to New York City for that purpose. Specifically, a print journalist since I wasn't pretty or nice enough to get on TV. My hero's were "investigative reporters," who broke the stories that changed the world, of course. I wound up with jobs at places like Metalworking News, and Graphic Science Magazine, but that was okay. At least I got to learn my craft. Later I'd switch to creative writing, which became my life long pursuit.
I learned enough to understand what "standards" are in the media and "accountability." It was unthinkable to publish a fact that wasn't checked, even if it was the number of screws a company manufactured. Without an editor's approval nothing was published. That's one reason it's been so shocking to see what's happened to the media, especially since the advent of cable news and the internet, where there's little if any accountability. The other bedrock principle of reporting, especially in the murky waters of politics and opinion, is objectivity. I fear that's also taken a terrible beating, to such a point that millions can no longer see it's been lost.
I don't think it takes a journalist, however, to see that some sources no longer have any pretense of objectively reporting the news. The days of Edward R. Murrow, John Chancellor, Howard K. Smith, Huntley/Brinkley, and Walter Cronkite are over. The criteria used to select the news has changed. Rather than stories that affect everyone, the stories most often told today are the most sensational, appealing to the biases of certain segments of the populace. It's called "tabloid" journalism, since that's what it was considered in the era that came before--gossip.
The new breed of anchors are more like mercenaries hired to see how much money they can make--for themselves and their employers. What used to be a noble profession has become a run for the bucks. Some are much worse than others. Any sense of responsibility toward the standards that were once universally accepted no longer apply. What once united us, a common perception of the world based on shared values, has now become a source of divisiveness. Stories are deemed "newsworthy" for no other reason than demonizing the other side. If it hadn't actually happened, it'd be hard to imagine since it destroys credibility. An attack on one personality becomes the basis for an attack on another, or a justification for whatever lies and deceit they engage in.
A scholar of the media could precisely specify when and how exactly it happened, noting the step by step transition. The most obvious development was the creation of Rupert Murdoch's Fox "News." It's purpose since the very beginning has been to scare people and they've been very successful at it. Murdoch introduced the dissemination of facts in the service of commentary, rather than commentary in the service of facts. Innuendo has taken the place of analysis. He discovered how to do it in Australia, perfected it in Britain, and didn't waste any time putting together his army in the US. I really wonder if anything in the last say thirty years equals it for sheer impact, regardless of anyone's personal politics.
In my take, what happened next is more of the media followed suit by also replacing news with commentary and sensationalist programming, confirming bias, rather than reinforcing the values that show the best in us. The war was on. Indeed, some pay more attention than others to fact based reporting, but it supports an ideology and populist sentiments. The "news" today is more like a sporting event where the fans root for their team. Any semblance of good sportsmanship is long gone--and that has now spread through every nook and cranny of the land.
Another loss is our knowledge of international news. Our obsession with ourselves is such that few Americans have any idea what's going on in the world. We have to turn to other sources, such as the BBC. It's no wonder xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, and isolationism are taking over--the same factors that devastated Europe in the last century. The chances of history repeating itself are increasing, despite all the technical advances that make communication so much easier.
It was only a matter of time before a sufficiently unscrupulous candidate appeared to exploit the warring tribes, like so many others, declare the opposition "fake" and thereby bond himself to his followers. If history credits Trump with anything after the smoke clears that'll be it. He couldn't have become president otherwise. The stage was set and he took it over. Nobody did more to put him in power than Rupert Murdoch. By playing one side against the other, he rallies his troops, receives the admiration he requires, and turns many into believers for whom he can do no wrong, even if that includes allowing a foreign power to interfere in our elections, and sovereignty, and get away with it--a tribute to the power of the media--all the while waving the flag,
In my discussions with many Fox viewers, they've been most successful in convincing them their survival is at stake. Somebody is conspiring to get them, even if they don't always know who, or won't admit who they think it is. They're taught America is no longer a safe place for them. The normal boundaries of propriety have been breached. They've been spoon fed a narrative that explains all his excesses--horrific acts of contempt they'd never accept otherwise. That explains their abject loyalty--the bane of moderates and liberals--jealous in their search for the perfect candidate. Since the opposing media is the object of their derision, there's little if any likely hood the national conversation will return to greater civility, rather than less. It's a reality better accepted than swept into the corner. The future will be affected no matter who gets onto the stage next.
The biggest test for this sinking ship is the midterms. After two years unlike any seen before, will the alliance created by Trump, Fox, Limbaugh, and similar outlets prevail, or has all the screaming and shouting scared off those who haven't taken sides--said to still be the majority of the electorate? How much longer will they sit self-righteously above the fray? Due to gerrymandering, a Republican senator represents 2.51 million people, the average Democrat represents 3.65 million. According to the calculations of Christopher R. Browning, Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina, writing in the 10/25/18 edition of the New York Review of Books,
The fifty senators from the twenty-five least populated states--twenty-nine of them Republicans--represent just 16 per cent of the American population, and thirty-four Republican senators--enough to block conviction on impeachment charges--represent states with a total of 21 per cent of the American population.
It will take a 7 to 11 point margin to achieve even the narrowest of majorities in the House of Representatives--a wave of remarkable proportions. Because it happened to Obama doesn't mean it will happen to Trump. We know the polls are not of much use at present. They certainly missed in the presidential. Voters, no longer trusting our institutions, respond to the pollsters with denial. The attitude seems to be: "since nobody else is telling the truth, why should I?" Adolescent irresponsibility has become the norm. The grown-ups, Mr. Cronkite and his peers, are no longer in the house. Nobody has come forward with anything close to their stature to take their place. Americans would probably not pay any attention to them even if they did.