How Today’s Media Fails Us

As I have frequently noted, at the very root of America’s–and the world’s–current dysfunctions are the failures of today’s information environment.

How we behave–as friends, as parents, as voters, as humans–ultimately depends upon our understanding of the world we inhabit. And that understanding, that view of what constitutes reality, is a product of the information we access and trust. In the United States–the society with which I am most familiar–the human family confronts two massive informational challenges: bias (both intentional and not) and fragmentation.

Unfortunately, there is little we can do about the Internet’s fragmentation of media sources, which allows citizens to occupy distinctly different realities. When the voting public accesses “alternative facts,” the incoherence of public opinion is understandable.

The failures of traditional media sources are especially troubling, both because they add to the incoherence and because they are the result of mistaken notions of journalism’s most important function–which is to provide an accurate description of the subject matter, irrespective of who or what that accuracy benefits.

Jennifer Rubin is one of the pundits who has been clear-eyed about the persistence of a journalistic worldview that prevents otherwise reputable news sources from avoiding a distorted equivalency.

After missing the significance of the MAGA movement in 2016, innumerable mainstream outlets spent thousands of hours, gallons of ink and billions of pixels trying to understand “the Trump voter.” How had democracy failed them? What did the rest of us miss about these Americans? The journey to Rust Belt diners became a cliché amid the newfound fascination with aggrieved White working-class Americans. But the theory that such voters were economic casualties of globalization turned out to be false. Surveys and analyses generally found that racial resentment and cultural panic, not economic distress, fueled their affinity for a would-be strongman.

Unfortunately, patronizing excuses (e.g., “they feel disrespected”) for their cultlike attachment to a figure increasingly divorced from reality largely took the place of exacting reporting on the right-wing cult that swallowed a large part of the Republican Party. In an effort to maintain false equivalence and normalize Trump, many media outlets seemed to ignore that the much of the GOP left the universe of democratic (small-d) politics and was no longer a traditional democratic (again, small-d) party with an agenda, a governing philosophy, a set of beliefs. The result: Trump was normalized and a false equivalence between the parties was created.

There was a reason Fox News chose “fair and balanced” as its (highly misleading) slogan: most Americans–including too many students of journalism–have been acculturated to believe that “balance” is fairness, that exhibiting similar respect for all sides of an argument is an essential element of reporting. This has led–as one wag put it–to a reportorial stenography that faithfully reports person A’s assertion that it’s raining and person B’s that it isn’t, when what the reporter ought to be doing is looking out the window to see who’s right.

As Rubin noted,

Even as Trump shows his authoritarian colors and his rants become angrier, more unhinged and more incoherent, his followers still meekly accept inane assertions (e.g., convicted Jan. 6, 2021, rioters are “hostages,” magnets dissolve in water, wind turbines drive whales insane). More of the media should be covering this phenomenon as it would any right-wing authoritarian movement in a foreign country.

The proliferation of propaganda sites facilitating confirmation bias is troubling enough, but as Rubin writes, the problem with disinformation is compounded when mainstream outlets spend “far too little attention on why and how MAGA members cling to demonstrably false beliefs, excuse what should be inexcusable conduct and ignore Trump’s obvious and growing mental illness and decline.

Outlets should routinely consult psychologists and historians to ask the vital questions: How do people abandon rationality? What drives their fury and anxiety? How does an authoritarian figure maintain his hold on followers? How do ideas of racial purity play into it? Media outlets fail news consumers when they do not explain the authoritarian playbook that Trump employs. Americans need media outlets to spell out what is happening….

The race between an ordinary democratic candidate and an unhinged fascist is not a normal American election. At stake is whether a democracy can protect itself from a malicious candidate with narcissistic tendencies or a rational electorate can beat back a dangerous, lawless cult of personality. Unfortunately, too many media outlets have not caught on or, worse, simply feign ignorance to avoid coming down on the side of democracy, rationality and truth.

Humans can only form opinions and base behaviors on the information they rely upon. When that information is unreliable– or simply wrong– “do the right thing” becomes meaningless.


  1. Speaking of media coverage, I was talking with an Indy friend recently. I asked her if she could name the Democrat who is running for Governor, US Senator or US House of Rep for us. She could not. Neither could I. Both of us watch TV news daily. Something is wrong with that.

  2. The false equivalency of presidential candidates trump and Biden is not exhibited on CNN and MSNBC as far as I can see. I think news organizations – and I don’t view FOX as such – at first struggled with trump’s continuing outlandish behavior but quickly realized what he was doing and reported the facts surrounding it all. The MAGA folks undoubtedly view that factual reporting as biased, but I think it impossible not to sound that way under the circumstances, reporting the misleading, disingenuous, malicious untruthful facts that overwhelm any trump activity. It stands to reason that those who rely only on FOX for news could and would come to very different conclusions than those of us seeking the actual facts of what is transpiring in American politics. Unfortunately I don’t see those FOX viewers making any changes to their viewing choice, and can only hope the numbers are on the side of (little d) democracy this fall, despite the fact that more folks get their “news” from FOX than any other source. VOTE!

  3. “Humans can only form opinions and base behaviors on the information they rely upon.”

    And the information we rely upon has inundated us with Donald Trump which has made him our current reality and making him and his unreal reality as normal and acceptable.

    patmcc; I am aware of Jennifer McCormick as the Democratic nominee for Indiana Governor only because of Sheila’s post. The same with Destiny Wells being the Indiana Democratic Attorney General nominee. We are not being reminded often enough of President Joe Biden’s successes since taking office but we know of his speech gaffs and tripping over sandbags. Overshadowing even those reminders is Trump’s reference of Hannibal Lector being “a wonderful man”, MTG’s many lies and insults and Lauren’s vaping and giving her date a “hand job” in the theater.

    A reminder of an old popular song: “We need to ac-cent-uate the positive, e-lim-i-mate the negative, go with the a-firm-a-tive and don’t mess with Mr. in- between.”

    Happy Memorial Day; also known as Decoration Day for decorating fallen military graves which is actually on May 30th. We can also hope we enjoy a safe 500 Mile Race Day.

  4. Thank you for your insight on current events. It would help me to understand how things are evolving if you would include the date with your posts.

  5. Jennifer Rubin is usually on point. Some journalists do seem to get it. Nicole Wallace refuses to show tfg live, but she does show him later if he’s done or said something unhinged, which he does pretty much every day.

    I recently reposted a myth buster meme that gives the truth about the economy. I got immediate feedback from one of my right wing friends, demanding I tell the truth. I haven’t seen her response to my reply, but I’m guessing she’s going to block me.

  6. There are two things at work here and now that the Union cannot afford.

    One is a Presidential candidate who lies constantly and magnificently like Trump.

    The second is an electorate who follows blindly.

    Both have been created by entertainment sources disguised as news.

  7. Rubin gets published in the WaPo because her opinion resonates with the East Coast Democrats. Nobody, and I mean nobody, reads the WaPo anymore. I never see it cited, and no one respects their journalists.

    The NY Times editorial staff has blanketed their journalists’ demands on what they can say and what they can’t. We get leaked emails from disgruntled journalists to their peers all the time. The lies about Israel and Gaza are a perfect example. They told journalists how to cover the college campus protests as well.

    I could go down the list and provide one example after another, but most on here will ignore it because it doesn’t register in their left-wing echo chamber, as indicated by the first five posts. 😉

    The narrative is controlled by the government in every respective country on Earth. Nobody is getting the truth anymore. It’s why Israel forced American politicians to ban TikTok. Our youth weren’t buying Israeli propaganda like their elders. They could see the videos live from Gaza and reach their own conclusions. The decisions rendered by the ICC and ICJ were confirmation they are on the right side of history and the media is lying to them. They equally despise Trump and Biden and all of their state and federal representatives, who are all owned by the oligarchy and Israeli PACs.

    What’s truly mind-boggling to me is that our judicial system has decided that politicians can lie, and boy, do they ever. The better the liar, the farther they’ll go. Meanwhile, the audience sees the other guy’s lies, not theirs. It’s amusing to watch, except for the obvious path toward WW3 for which we are heading.

  8. Pete,

    All politicians lie. Why do you think politicians can’t be held accountable for lying, and that lying is allowed in the political realm. In politics, the truth can be a detriment, a detriment to accomplishing certain goals and bending societies will to support a particular dogma.

    Just because individuals are educated, doesn’t mean they are smart, it doesn’t mean they’re not willfully delusional!!

    When folks have sufficiently convinced themselves, through willful ignorance, feeling that the political or societal dogma they follow is the correct path, it doesn’t matter what is revealed later, because the path is their chosen alternate reality, or, a delusional righteous indignation.

    Media does not really change a person’s opinion, it doesn’t change their desired dogma, or which dogma to follow, it reinforces what they want to believe in their alternate reality. Right, left, center. It doesn’t really matter, delusional illusions are how they choose to live their lives. And they look for a permission slip. Just like the Donald was a permission slip!

    The factions of society are not really misled by information, because the information they choose, reinforces what they believe already. Everyone has to have or wants to have a grandiose opinion of their own personal belief. Believing or wanting to believe in a delusional illusion doesn’t matter. You could point that out till you’re blue in the face, and it still wouldn’t matter. People grit their teeth and jut their jaw stubbornly immovable from their dogmatic foothold in their alternate reality. Nero fiddling as Rome burned, or the band playing until the Titanic disappeared under the waves, That’s the mentality! And this just plays into the hands of the power brokers, those who wield their power for self enrichment and status. Intelligence is not a prerequisite, just because a person claims to be intelligent doesn’t mean they have common sense. That’s why these power brokers are burning their own house to the ground while they are inside. They can’t see beyond the tip of their nose. And those who worship these power brokers, these celebrities, these enablers, these permission slips, will all join along as society burns and slips under the waves.

    Once society and a person’s belief system is based on deception and lies, there is nothing left to rescue!

    Like in the movie Moonstruck when Olivia Dukakis character asked my men cheat, she already had the answer in her head, which was, “they fear death,” and she kept asking the question until Danny Aiello’s character said, because “they fear death!” That made her celebratory in her response! It’s what humans do!

  9. The propaganda from foreign governments that permeates our information environment is being used against us, to the point that the “useful idiots” in the MAGA wing of the GOP are mindlessly speaking it on the floor of the House of Representatives. Our enemies want t*ump in the White House for obvious reasons. It is the fear of American power that keeps China from invading Taiwan, and is what keeps Russia from running over Ukraine. If t*ump is re-elected, they will have no more fear of American power because all they will have to do is flatter him and he will know-tow to them so he can be another dictator.
    And, to patmcc’s point, I believe that the Democrat Party has abandoned Indiana, and I think it is a mistake. Many of my friends who are R’s are thouroughly disgusted with MAGA and disillusioned with t*ump, but Hoosier D’s suffer from learned helplessness and don’t bother to show up at the ballot box. If there was a genuine effort from grass-roots D’s in this state to “get out the vote”, we have an opportunity now to elect Democrats up and down the ballot.

  10. Uh, Todd; speaking of echo chambers. . . The fascist elements who have captured the Republican Party are not into debate of the issues. They instead put down the systems of government when confronted with what used to be “issues” in their quest for power. Thus when asked, for instance, about the inequality of taxation when some of their superrich donors pay none they reply that the whole system is corrupt and should be vanquished without responding to the issue presented while offering no alternative means of funding state and federal budgets, all of which may explain why this captured “party” does not have platforms anymore. Their leaders (Trump and Co.) have no plans for America other than further acquistion of power leading to dictatorship.

    The Supreme Court with their Sams and Clarences has fortified these new narcissists’ power grab with their gutting of Shelby and adoption of Citizens United with language almost as tortured as that peddled daily by Trump, not to mention their language in Dobbs, and years ago, Bush v. Gore, which triggered my resignation from that bar on grounds that the court was itself acting unconstitutionally.

    Since individual issues are met with corrupt systemic disapproval it is difficult if not impossible to debate Magas on the real issues of the day, including but certainly not limited to climate disaster vs. fossil fuel donations, so inter alia, what to do? VOTE!

  11. I wish that the major stations (minus Fox of course) would be able to join their financial and human resources and declare a state of emergency instead of competing with one another during this national crisis.
    But as long as the commercials determine the schedule and scope of the conversations – “we only have a minute left” (in a 24/7 news cycle!) and “don’t go anywhere” – we know that money is still more important than the pending apocalypse.

  12. wouldn’t it be cool if schools could teach critical thinking skills so more of us could view information and understand it in the context of history we know to be fact?

  13. “…narcissistic tendencies,” is a huge understatement. The man is run by pure, unadulterated (no pun) narcissism!
    JoAnn, there is another song that fits the situation out of “South Pacific,” about how “You’ve got to be carefully taught… to hate the people your family hares.”
    Bigotry, as above, has been the MAGA pulse all along. You know, all those mad, raping Mexicans coming down the escalator with tfg!
    Thank you Gerald.
    “Fair and balanced” was Fox’ first lie, and they’ve never stopped.

  14. I drove from Knoxville, TN, to Eastern South Dakota from the year two thousand to two thousand ten to visit my mother. During the drives, I would search for something to listen to on local radio stations. My choices were few, including music, local news and weather, and abundant religious talk shows. The religious talk shows spewed right-wing politics flavored with god’s blessing.

    These talk shows captured most of the radio time for rural and small-town areas of our nation, in short, red states. In my opinion, this radio time was devastating to the Democratic party. There was no opposition on the radio dial. Thousands of listeners were convinced that the best government was little or no government and that conservative politics was god’s will.

  15. Yes to the clearness of focus of Gil Hutchinson. I am glad to quote and will put up on my social media. Succinct and on point. Thank you Gil.
    “The false equivalency of presidential candidates trump and Biden is not exhibited on CNN and MSNBC as far as I can see. I think news organizations – and I don’t view FOX as such – at first struggled with trump’s continuing outlandish behavior but quickly realized what he was doing and reported the facts surrounding it all.”

  16. Todd, I’m not in an echo chamber. What I am is tempered and realistic. I see the problems in the Democratic party, but I’m a Democrat because so many different people with many different beliefs can be found there. I’ve been in the government and I know what it takes to get anything done, even the things that large majorities think need to be done.

    I do read WAPO and I watch a couple of shows on MSNBC, but I don’t get everything from those two sources. Mother Jones has been a long time favorite, as has The Kiplinger Report.

  17. Not only one of your best, Sheila, among many “bests,” but one of the most essential.

  18. Todd, your “they are all corrupt” schtick just shows that you have also been misled.

    It’s a fallacy of generalization. “The French are all rude.” In fact, they are not. And all politicians are not corrupt. And all of our media sources are not propagandists. And both political parties are not the same. These are lazy arguments and inherently fallacious.

  19. Amen to Over It’s comments. A number of years ago, an older brother and cousin of mine were railing about government and characterized those who work for the government as corrupt, lazy and inept. I reminded them that a young family member, a nephew, worked for the federal government. After completing his college studies in Public Health, he had taken a job with the Department of Health & Human Services. His role was to reduce the spread of AIDS in Africa.

  20. Jo Ann Green: You don’t know who the Democrats have nominated for Attorney General. You know only one of the two who are vying for that position. That anointment will not be made until July. And you should know who the Democrats have chosen for their nominee to the U.S. Senate. That was decided on May 7.
    However, wonderful Sheila may be, you should make the effort to have other reliable sources of news.

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