The Corner

Politics & Policy

Talk Radio, Cable News, the Mainstream Media, and the News Revolution

In the hubbub over Trump’s attack on the media, we sometimes forget that Barack Obama et al. customarily went after talk-radio and cable-news conservatives — whose job, after all, was opinion journalism — as biased, whereas Trump went more after news-gathering organizations who deliver the news under the pretense of straight reporting.

Who has suffered from this ongoing media crackup?

Not conservative opinion journalists on television and radio. The role of talk-radio and cable-news outlets is to interpret the news, and they continue to do that well from a conservative point of view.

But are the mainstream news outlets — AP, Reuters, CNN, the New York Times, the Washington Post, etc. — commensurately doing their quite different jobs?

Hardly, given the epidemic of fake news passed off as disinterested reporting, the hysterias about the Russians, the smearing of officials like Jeff Sessions, or the collusion to undermine the Trump administration in general.

What we are witnessing is an utter inversion in the supposed way the media works. Whereas the task of a Rush Limbaugh or Tucker Carlson is to offer cogent analysis from a more conservative viewpoint on the news of the day, a supposedly disinterested media cannot be relied upon in the same degree to do their quite different job of reporting the days’ events.

Or is the implosion of the mainstream media even more revolutionary?

Opinion journalists are better reporters of the day’s events than are today’s reporters and far more skilled and up-front editorialists than the now common front-page editorialists of the major newspapers and network news who masquerade as journalists.

Whereas in the past, the Left deprecated these alternative-media outlets, they have steadily gained stature for their unapologetic transparency, while the mainstream has lost it. Most of the major journalistic scandals of the last few years — the Podesta WikiLeaks trove, the JournoList revelations, the Brian Williams debacle, the Candy Crowley debate subversion, the “fake but accurate” Rathergate mess, the Fareed Zakaria plagiarism allegations, the Jayson Blair fraud — were characteristic of supposedly high-brow progressive journalists and media operatives.

Ben Rhodes bragged how easily it was to create an “echo chamber” among supposedly know-nothing reporters, most of whom he assumed worked for the flagship media organizations. But anyone who listens to or does interviews with conservative talk radio knows that there is constant give and take with sometimes angry callers, efforts to keep Trump and the conservative Congress honest, and often outbreaks of civil war among conservatives. If controversies over the delays in the House over Obamacare repeal and replacement or the deficit implications of the Trump agenda are any indication, I doubt Rhodes’s counterpart in the Trump administration could herd opinion journalists and conservative reporters to create an echo chamber in the manner the Iran Deal was passed off.

The Trump administration’s efforts to highlight these non-mainstream media sources in news conferences is not so much revolutionary as reactive: Most Americans trust radio and cable far more than they do the New York Times, which lost its reputation for fair reporting, but did not gain anything in the bargain by doing poor opinion journalism passed off as reporting.

We are in an entirely new age. When drivers listen to local or national talk radio, they assume that the host, often without a BA, is more informed, astute, and reliable than bylines from the echo chamber of Columbia journalism MAs.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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