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A Tale of Two Realities: Media Splits on Trump Trial

Awaiting a verdict in search of a crime.

by | May 30, 2024 | Articles, Media, Opinion

Economist Thomas Sowell wrote, “If people in the media cannot decide whether they are in the business of reporting news or manufacturing propaganda, it is all the more important that the public understand that difference, and choose their news sources accordingly.” It’s a dilemma that has come to the fore with the trial of Donald J. Trump. The Fourth Estate appears irreconcilably riven between two realities that bear no relation to one another. And in the middle waits the patient audience, desperately seeking even a flicker of truth.

No One Wants to Be Stupid!

Credentialism is likely the only socially acceptable veneer of elitism. Indeed, careers are built and fortunes are made in the media world by being the guy or gal “in the know.” And yet Trump’s criminal trial – with ramifications that make it potentially one of the most impactful in modern history – has exposed what many have long suspected: The experts don’t really know a whole lot.

The left and right sides of the news media are determined to sell their opinions to a less-than-trusting public. Its denizens bemoan how any clear-thinking individual could possibly determine that the former president is innocent or, on the other hand, guilty. It seems that a number of talking heads have staked their credentialed reputations on calling this jury verdict.

Of course, should the jury ultimately rule the opposite to their prognostications, the credentialed class will dismiss it as the wrong decision. As gamblers are wont to say, “You’re only as good as your last hand.” The mercurial public tends to remember losses over wins.

Skin in the Game

What has become increasingly apparent is that the two sides of the media divide are unofficial surrogates for their chosen presidential candidate. On the left, dealing a conviction blow to Trump would allow President Joe Biden to campaign that his opponent is a felon and deserves to be in a jail rather than the Oval Office – a clarion call that will certainly be echoed on the front pages of many once-esteemed news outlets. On the right, a guilty verdict will be used to declare that Trump is the victim of political persecution.

The Fourth Estate appears to have forgotten its role as a recorder of events and instead finds itself in desperate need to ensure its own relevance by shaping the narrative to its own benefit, presenting its own version of reality as the absolute truth.

Who are the victims in this game? The consumers of news, who are owed honesty over agenda.

Media in Memoriam

An ailing press, stuck in the dead space of irrelevance between social media and political apathy, was revitalized by the presidential run of a well-known New York real estate developer and erstwhile TV reality star. Trump gave them headlines, purpose, and a raison d’être unthinkable prior to the internet age.

President Trump brought the nation’s media back from the brink, but the cost was bifurcation: a split system that reveled in or reviled each utterance of the 45th president. Now, each side must provide its audience with the red (or blue) meat it craves. The problem comes when that meal no longer satisfies and when the guy or gal “in the know” no longer appears to be an expert. Well, that’s the equivalent of a funeral.

As the Fourth Estate and a nation await a verdict, one can just hear the dirge of lamentations in the distance, cresting the hill where rhetoric meets reality.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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