“As newscasters reported in painstaking detail about the intricacies of a politician’s body language or outfit, 3.2 million Americans lost health insurance in 2017. Only 39 percent of Americans can afford a $1k emergency. And 41 million Americans are hungry.”
One of the headlines from New York magazine earlier this month said it all: “Trump Forgets Words to ‘God Bless America’ at Fake Fan Rally.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what the media chooses to report on. Who can forget NBC’s fixation on Kellyanne Conway’s decision to sit on a couch with her knees tucked and shoes off during a meeting at the Oval Office? Then there was the series of CNN pieces about Samantha Bee attacking Ivanka Trump on Twitter. Sometimes, it seems that events such as these are all the media wants to talk about.
The question is: why does any of this matter when it comes to the real issues Americans face on a daily basis?
There’s an argument to be made that it doesn’t, and that these pieces gain unwarranted attention, while the truly important matters go unreported. During the 2016 election cycle, while the media remained stuck on then-candidate Trump’s antics, 12.7 percent (or 43.1 million Americans) lived in poverty. Currently, homelessness is increasing for the first time since 2010. Yet, these are not the issues that get on camera.
Instead, news outlets have emphasized frivolous pieces about President Trump, infighting in Washington, and petty political squabbles and debates over attire and decorum. The problems boils down to one word: entertainment. The media is trying to entertain us, rather than drawing our attention to the issues that matter most in our country.
And it becomes all the more interesting when examining media sources that skew towards the left, such as CNN and MSNBC, among others. Those on the left of the political spectrum claim to desire greater equality among people of all races, genders and socioeconomic classes. The 2016 platform for the Democratic Party, for example, lists protecting civil rights and fighting economic inequality as some of its most important issues.
Shouldn’t journalists who identify with the Democratic Party, and presumably agree with at least some of their views, be working towards those goals too? Drawing attention to these Democratic values is a responsibility that should fall, at least to some small degree, on liberal news anchors and journalists. A study in 2014 showed that just seven percent of journalists identify themselves as Republican, and Democratic journalists outnumber their Republican counterparts by four to one. However, instead of using their wide number of platforms to advocate for better conditions for Americans, they focus more on the outrageous, the transient, and the laugh lines.
At the same time, newscasters and executives who work for these left-leaning outlets are making big bucks from the content they put out: content that avoids the biggest issues in society. Megyn Kelly, anchor for NBC, is set to make $69 million over a three year contract. CNN’s Anderson Cooper makes $12 million a year. Rachel Maddow of MSNBC makes an annual salary of $7 million a year. The list goes on and on.
And it’s not just the commentators; executives are cashing in too. James Goldston, head of ABC News, claimed that Trump had, “single-handedly shaken up journalism, he has reinvigorated journalism. It feels like a new golden age.” Managing editor of The New York Times, Joseph Kahn, said that the President has been “very good” for the news industry and that they call it the “Trump bump.”
While news outlets are a business like any other and seek to make a profit off these entertaining stories, their hyperfocus on trivial matters and meaningless instances of name-calling have a dangerous side effect. The media is creating a smokescreen effect by diverting our collective attention from the difficult conditions so many Americans face. This distraction, in turn, leaves the issues that cause the greatest suffering in our country unsolved.
As newscasters reported in painstaking detail about the intricacies of a politicians’ body language or outfit, 3.2 million Americans lost health insurance in 2017. Only 39 percent of Americans can afford a $1k emergency. As of 2016, 41 million Americans face hunger.
The people impacted by these problems are not going to get any relief if we continue to ignore them. As gatekeepers, media outlets have control over which issues get exposure. Instead of making a sport out of analyzing the President’s Twitter feed, left-leaning news sources need to think hard about the stories they’re publishing and truly advocate for the citizens they claim to care most about.
Grace Eppinger is a summer intern at Merion West.