Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Media that Cried Wolf

Whether or not you supported our new president elect, one thing I think we can agree on is that the mainstream media lost its relevance in this election.

In my opinion, big media has long overstepped its bounds, and rather than reporting matters as they are, take it upon themselves to try and shape the opinions of Americans. This dates back to the yellow journalism period, where William Randolph Hearst and others whipped up a war, essentially to sell newspapers. (“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” – William Randolph Hearst, January 25, 1898.)

In this election, the media dug up every disgusting thing both candidates ever did, and fabricated more besides. By the time we went to the polls there were no good choices. The problem is, they'd been doing that since the Reagan era. Having screamed that the end of the world will happen if candidate X is elected every election cycle for 30 years, the media effectively cried wolf. Over and over again.

The age of terrorism as we know it today is also an example of outsiders manipulating the media by giving it what they want reported in a way that the media can't ignore. The last age of terrorism, the late 80s, (Anyone remember Pan Am 103, which was bombed over Lockerbie, Scotland?) really only subsided with Chernobyl and the fall of the Soviet Union drawing media attention away. In truth, the threat of terrorism is real, but the average person in the U.S. has the same chance of being crushed to death by furniture as being killed by terrorist activity. To whit: in 2015, according to's digest of the state department's country report on terrorism, 28,382 people died worldwide due to terrorism. In America, that's 9 days worth of car wrecks. But terrorism makes the news, it keeps people glued to tv sets. It keeps them afraid, and it sells advertising time. Again, the media cries wolf.

Well, we might actually have a real wolf on our hands. If even a little of the stuff Trump is alleged to have said is true and represents his real opinion (always a good question with him) he's a disgusting human being and should never have been a serious candidate. But guess what? The traditional media, having said the same kinds of things about every presidential nominee for 30 years even when they weren't so bad, was roundly ignored.

And then there was the polling.  Some months ago, having been bombarded with survey robocalls, I signed our house phone up for NOMOROBO (I'm old, I still have a house phone.) The silence has been deafening. We got literally dozens of one-ring calls, which indicate that NOMOROBO has intercepted a telemarketer, a robocaller, or presumably a political pollster, since we heard from only one or two of them through the whole cycle, despite being in a swing state. I have to wonder if any of the polling companies' secret sauce statistical crunching accounts for the people who just hang up on them.  According to the New York Times, a given poll has to call 20,000 numbers to get a 1000 person sample. You're no longer sampling a random sample in that. You're sampling 1 in 20 people who either want to talk to pollsters or don't have the technical savvy to stop them. The results of this inaccuracy was, along with the Democratic party's rigging itself against Sanders (and whatever else you and I disagree on, surely we can agree that Wasserman Shultz deserves a jail sentence for that.) with the assumption that Clinton could win, and the ongoing assumption that she would win, despite her numbers never being better than the margin for error.

So where does that leave us?

Big media is now valueless in the quest for understanding what's going on in this country. Any trust we had left for them has been shown to be undeserved. On the face of it, it's been replaced by the vast gossip mill that is the internet, but the key difference is that if you lie on the internet, it's even less likely you'll be called on it, or that anyone will hear about it if you are. The noise to signal ratio is too great.  ( tries, and appears to be reasonably balanced, whatever the shrieking political monkey sites tell you.)  It's an interesting problem, since our very constitution was predicated on the idea that a free press will keep the people informed so we can make intelligent decisions. Big media is not a free press (they have corporate agendas), and while the internet is a free press, it's also an irresponsible one. In the era of the media that cried wolf, I don't know what happens next. It's reasonable to expect that we will adapt, we'll learn to filter the internet as we did the news before it. (Some of us have been filtering for decades. It's the new people who seem to be more gullible.)  But all I can say at this point is this: Donald Trump will be our president, like it or not. (Yes, he is your president, just like Obama was //theirs//. Like it or not.) That's our political process. We'll see how he measures up to the media's caricature of him. I predict that nothing much will happen, to be honest.  The same political gridlock that paralyzed President Obama will do the same for Donald Trump. But whatever happens, we certainly cannot and should not rely on big media to tell us. It's now incumbant upon each of us to find trustworthy sources of news, and to listen, and then think for ourselves. We should probably have done this years ago. Now we have to. Big media is dead.


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