Can you imagine Walter Cronkite on Twitter? Neither can I.
Twitter is of course that vulgar platform where people send cryptic messages to their followers. The average length of a Tweet is 33 characters – one short, ungrammatical sentence. The platform was specifically designed for superficiality. It’s a place to be snide, snarky and self-promoting, not a place for reasoned debate or reliable information.
Twitter hosts “commentary” by the likes of Kim Kardashian who has 67 million followers and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who has 10 million followers. And CNN anchor Jake Tapper who has three million followers and has posted 227,000 tweets.
Yes, that’s right. An anchor of what used to be America’s most trusted news source promotes himself hundreds of times a day with cryptic, snarky Tweets. Many of those cryptic, snarky Tweets seek successfully to provoke cryptic, snarky Tweets in response by President Donald Trump.
Only 41% of the American public trust the news media. Approval ratings for the news media are lower than for the President and for Congress, A recent poll found with some irony that the most trusted news source in America is the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Lots of factors explain this catastrophic plunge in the public’s trust in their news, including many that aren’t the fault of the industry. Those include the Balkanization of news by the advent of cable and then the internet, the tribalization of politics and declining revenues resulting from advertisers shifting from advertising on the media to advertising on the internet where their advertising can be efficiently focused on their specific market. In today’s newsrooms, the kind of investigative reporting done by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein is non-existent because there’s no money to pay for it.
But some factors are indeed the fault of the industry. Journalism as an occupation has transmuted from a profession to report the news, into political advocates who spin it, usually in one direction. Journalism professors are overwhelmingly hard left, and like many on the left they believe that outcomes are more important than ethics.
Financial pressures on media companies have produced a race to the bottom as they pander to people who don’t really want news, but simply want their feelings reinforced. Indeed, many people actually get their news entirely from social media, where they read what “friends” have posted.
Social media companies themselves learned long ago to customize that “news” to appeal to each individual customer. That’s fine for a company selling clothes, but not so fine for a company selling news. It’s part of the reason the public is so politically divided. They literally see the world differently because different versions of the world are put in front of them by different news sources.
Ethical and responsible news reporters would resist the financial and career temptation to sink into that swamp. It’s one thing for opinionists to post a link to their opinion columns, as I do, but it’s altogether different for news reporters to reveal their bias and shallowness by posting snarky one-liners about current events they’re covering, allegedly unbiasedly. Can you imagine if judges tweeted out snarky one-liners about the cases they’re trying?
But alas, news reporters have not resisted that temptation at all. They revel in it, they count the clicks it produces, they enjoy the personal attention it generates, and they get rewarded for it by their venal bosses.
Walter Cronkite’s sign-off, “And that’s the way it is,” has been transformed by modern news anchors into “And that’s the way I want you to see it.”
People aren’t stupid. They know they’re being gamed. These overtly partisan reporters are ultimately destroying their careers by undermining their credibility. I will not mourn the destruction of their careers. They deserve that outcome. But they are also destroying their profession and their country. That, I will mourn.