This article first appeared on Medium.com
We like to blame. Not ourselves mind you, but we like to blame other people and things for whatever misfortune greets us. The more abstract, the better. It’s much easier to blame your audition failure on a lightning storm or Newt Gingrich than it is to blame it on your own lack of confidence or failure to prepare.
The role of president has become the biggest blame target. He’s basically our nation’s pin cushion. Because of that, you could never pay me enough to take the president’s place (and you probably wouldn’t pay me to do it, so that works out).
But second to the president in the blame game is certainly the… (upper case now) Mainstream Media. I’m not saying Sarah Palin started the assault with the clever-to-her attack on the “lamestream media” but she certainly brought it to the mainstream. Her ascendance and quick descent from the political world gave us one piece of legacy: Blaming the mainstream media for virtually all of our problems.
There’s a problem with the mainstream media blaming and it begins with the question…what the hell is the mainstream media?
So what is the mainstream media anyway?
It seems an obvious enough question to answer, but is it? Of course mainstream media implies media that is popular. I guess CNN is the mainstream media. But so is Fox News, Washington Post, New York Times, Bloomberg and so many others. Add in “content generators” like Huffington Post and Business Insider and you have a huge variety of viewpoints. Yet we continue to file them into the same group.
Why the mainstream media grinds everybody’s gears
You may have heard this complaint: The mainstream media doesn’t talk about the real issues, but instead posts stories about Pokemon Go and Kim Kardashian.
Well it goes something like that.
Usually what these arguments refer to are sites like Huffington Post orBuzzfeed or whatever clickbait news curation machine is killing it these days.
But these aren’t actually news organizations. As John Oliver so eloquently stated last week, these publications simply repackage news from daily newspapers. They seldom do their own reporting.
If we take a look at the real news creators, such as the Times or the numerous local papers, they do cover the important stuff. Do they screw up occasionally? Sure. The Times coverage of the Iraq War was atrocious in the early 2000s, with little challenge to the mistakes we would later acknowledge. But they’ve since provided in-depth coverage of the spiraling Middle East and the legacy that the war left behind.
The real problem with media
It isn’t the mainstream media that’s at fault for our public being uninformed; it’s the unmainstream that seems to do more damage.
Since the backlash against mainstream media, more people flock to niche sites like Alex Jones’ and his conspiracy-fest Infowars, as well as the endless supply of blogs by “investigative reporters” that basically just comment on stories first reported by the mainstream media that they hate so much.
This is where the influx of conspiratorial thinking is coming from and, by extension, the support for Donald Trump, who often sounds like an Infowarsarticle come to life.
As newspaper hemorrhage money, lay off their staffs and reduce long-term coverage of issues, such as the Spotlight team celebrated in last year’s Oscar winning film, we’re kicking them while they’re down.
Without these media outlets, we have no news. We have nothing to comment on, nothing to complain about.
I understand that the democratization of news can be a good thing. It invites alternate points of view that are shut out by media gatekeepers. However, we have to accept that while anyone can comment on political issues, it doesn’t mean that they should.
This is where critical thinking comes in; the ability to decide whether what we read is bullshit or not. And that seems to be a disappearing trait in our media-saturated society, where we accept clickbait articles at face value, as if the publication’s goals were to inform us rather than to increase revenue.
We are all to blame
The mainstream media casts a wide net in terms of ideology. Yet we cling to the belief that they’re all in cahoots with each other in order to satisfy some Manchurian Candidate fantasy conspiracy.
As if it’s not all about money.
There’s a reason why “mainstream media” outlets like the Huffington Postand Buzzfeed are popular and profitable. It’s because…wait for it…
They get lots of views.
Yes, they get lots of views from people. From people like you and I. These outlets that you hate so much exist because we keep going to them. “But I don’t look at that trash,” says everyone. Yet someone is looking at it. It’s the same argument against pornography. No one admits to liking it, yet it continues to rake in billions of dollars each year.
If we’re not supporting this crap, then who is?
As with most issues, the problem begins with us. Why do we keep electing a do-nothing Congress? Because we vote for them. Why do they keep putting out the same crap remakes and sequels? Because we’re paying money to watch them.
If we learn how to think, how to question, then perhaps we’ll find that the mainstream media is the best we’ve got.
Now let’s stop using that term.