What does it look like when the news media decide that it is more important to entertain rather than inform? Unfortunately, to find out, you need only to turn on your television or browse your favorite news sites. It seems that when the media aren’t trying to influence us, they are attempting to distract us with stories about issues that ultimately do not matter.
CNN’s resident anti-Trump conservative S.E. Cupp recently criticized the media’s coverage of the Democrats vying for the presidential nomination, arguing that they are fixated on “dumb plotlines.” Although Cupp was complaining about how the coverage was helping Trump, she touched on a reality that transcends the presidential race. On her show, she said: “The media is talking about Amy Klobuchar’s salad comb? A former prosecutor [Kamala Harris] has to defend her record of prosecuting criminals?”
Cupp continued: “As long as the media keeps zeroing in on these dumb plotlines and as long as Democrats spend the next year talking about the things most Americans don’t prioritize, and as long as candidates sound more like they’re running for president in 1950 Russia instead of 2019 America, Trump’s got this one in the bag.”
The journalist may be correct in her assessment about the media’s impact on the 2020 election, but what if their obsession with “dumb plotlines” has more profound ramifications?
Dumb Plotlines Are All the Rage
Let’s be clear: The press has always used sensational reporting to attract and keep its audience. But over the past few years, reportage has become something far worse. Both progressive and conservative media are guilty of jumping on “dumb plotlines” to appeal to consumers. They are moving toward news entertainment rather than balanced reporting and thoughtful commentary. If this trend continues, it will create a less-informed public.
Every day, news sites publish a lineup of articles that largely focus on petty Twitter feuds with a healthy dose of outrage porn, while ignoring the important news of the day. First, they entice you with a snappy clickbait headline; then they keep you tantalized as they breathlessly recount the latest story that often doesn’t deliver what the headline promised.
If you’re lucky, these outlets sprinkle into the mix some relevant details; but for the most part, much of what is published on the internet and reported on the airwaves more resembles a tawdry political gossip column than hard-hitting journalism and analysis.
On the left, journalists fill pages with TDS-driven content, reminding their base that anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders is a vicious bigot who longs for the return of the Third Reich. Of course, this is only when they don’t have enough material to manufacture the next Russiagate bombshell. On the right, you might see article after article obsessing over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) latest live stream. And if you need a break from good ol’ AOC, you can always find out which conservative pundit DESTROYED a rabid leftist on Twitter.
Admittedly, many of these stories can be humorous and entertaining, and there is nothing wrong with a modicum of amusement. But the oversaturation of such reports has turned the news into a bad reality television show. More importantly, it compels the public to focus on red herrings while important current events go almost completely unnoticed.
So why is the news is moving away from journalism and toward entertainment and outrage? The answer is obvious. In the words of rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs that were stolen by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), “It’s all about the Benjamins.” This content generates clicks and ad dollars more effectively than quality reporting and insightful commentary.
Will There Be a Backlash?
It is important to note that consumers of news media incentivize this style of journalism by engaging with and clicking headlines that screech outrageous claims with loaded language. Power words such as “crush,” “slam,” and “destroy” are now used as tools to encourage clicks by the unwary reader.
Luckily, a few outlets on both sides report on issues that matter. You may not always agree with the analysis, but at least they provoke thought. In time, the pendulum might swing back toward real news as the public grows weary of intellectual junk food. But until then, it appears the public is stuck scouring the internet for high-quality content.