On the December 27th edition of NBC’s Sunday morning talk stalwart, Meet the Press, Matt Bai, national political columnist for Yahoo! News, did something that members of mass market media rarely do. He took responsibility on behalf of the profession for helping to create a political monster that only grows nastier and more powerful. I’m speaking, of course, of Donald Trump. Bai observed of journalistic culpability in Trump’s ascent:
“We treat presidential politics and politics in general like a reality show and we have for years…We literally treat our candidates as contestants on a game show to be voted off or vote on.
And I think there’s a cost for that and the cost is that you set up a platform where someone like a Donald Trump can come and exploit it very handily, because he is the perfect reality show candidate. And I think at this point there is this symbiosis with the media and Trump…I think we did a great disservice to the country.”
Although it’s far too late to coax the Donald back into his cage, the honesty was refreshing. The novelty appealing. But you know what? The mass market media has done society a lot of damage this year beyond stoking the flames of Trump’s burning narcissism. And not all incidents are as well known as the sycophantic pursuit of the Republican’s “shocking” soundbites. Here are three other stories on which the media spectacularly failed to do its job of informing and educating the public.
The San Bernadino Shooters
Did you think I was going to expound on the rush to judgment without facts, the failure to investigate the proliferation of weapons as a component of this tragedy? I certainly could but instead let’s talk about what writer Kia Makarechi of Vanity Fair labeled “one of the most bizarre moments in cable-news history.”
On December 4, reporters from MSNBC, CNN and CBS ransacked the suspects’ apartment – with the cameras rolling. As these “journalists” rifled through baby clothes, documents and rugs to produce non-breaking news, more reputable network employees sought to distance themselves from the debacle. Makarechi writes, “CNN’s Anderson Cooper described the footage his network was showing as ‘truly bizarre,’ and a security expert on the network said, ‘I am so shocked I cannot believe it.'”
The Miss Universe Pageant
Alright. For most of us, this was more amusing than painful, but it underscores the increasing laziness of reporters and television hosts. Is it too much effort to fact check the card right in front of your face?
On December 20, Steve Harvey announced that Colombia contestant Ariadna Gutierrez Arevalo had won the crown, when in fact the winner was Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach of the Philippines. Beyond immediately embarrassing himself, the women and supporters from both countries, Harvey has heaped shame on his profession across a number of platforms. A fellow colleague who continues to monitor the fallout observed:
“The scandal just keeps worsening. In his apology tweets, Harvey misspelled ‘Colombia’ and ‘Philippines.’ The incident spawned tons of conspiracy theories that the ‘accident’ was instead a cynical ratings driver. And the memes…oh the endless, hilarious memes.”
There are so many 2015 options here, a number of them featuring the walking ignorance that is Raven-Symone. As my aforementioned colleague offered, “The bitches at the table always have issues. The fact that the show is still on is ridiculous.”
But for the sake of brevity, let’s go with the universally reviled comments that co-hosts Michelle Collins and Joy Behar directed at the nursing profession. Apparently it was a tough year for all things pageant-related, as well as for journalists thinking on their feet. After languidly responding to Collins’ suggestion that caring for the sick is “not a real talent,” Behar defended herself by protesting that she was “just not paying attention.” Now don’t you feel better?
2015 was another year lacking in mass market media integrity across a wide swath of issues, big and small. But I started, and will end this column, with Matt Bai’s public Trump mea culpa. Maybe the holiday season has me feeling extra charitable, but perhaps the former New York Times Magazine correspondent will start a trend. We’re on the cusp of an important election year that requires less sensational rummaging and intellectual laziness, with a lot more journalistic responsibility.