The Media Supplied the Kindling

…and most of the fuel for the political phenomenon and conflagration that is Donald Trump. And it all goes back to ratings.

Let me explain. Quite a number of books and articles by reputed scholars and others that point out – despite the troubles in the U.S. and elsewhere – that we still live in the most prosperous time in human history, with the longest average life-spans and best health, and a far lower percentage of people living in extreme poverty or dying from violent causes. That doesn’t mean life is perfect, only that for most people, it’s a whole lot better than at any other time in human history. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence, despite the statistics, a majority of Americans feel that things are getting worse.

While there’s no doubt that this is true for some people, the fact is that in any dynamic society, things are getting better for some people and worse for others, and in the last decade, middle class earnings haven’t increased, or depending on the definition of middle-class, have actually declined a few percentage points, which is significant if it’s your income. But… compared to a generation ago, things are a lot better. And the vast majority of people suffer less from infectious diseases and from sicknesses caused by environmental factors.

Yet there are huge segments of the population who talk and act as if the United States is on the verge of collapse, despite having the largest economy in the world, the most powerful military force the world has ever known, and a high-tech industrial base that no one else can match.


Because every news program, as well as social media, is permeated with problems and disasters, tales of violence and killings, disaster after disaster – and this has become even more prevalent in the last fifteen to twenty years. And this media-blitz does nothing to put this in perspective. Yes, we have terrorist attacks, but so far this year the total casualties in the U.S. are in the low hundreds, if even that high. We kill over 40,000 people on the highways in a single year, and there’s pressure in many states – as in my own state of Utah – to increase the maximum speed limit. Our freedom to “bear arms” results in over 300 million firearms and over 13,000 deaths a year… and we oppose any further gun controls – but the country is going to hell in a handbasket because a handful or two of Islamic or other terrorists kill a few hundred people?

Modern media technology can tell us of bombings and natural disasters anywhere in the world in minutes, when in the past, people didn’t find out for weeks, or even years, if they ever did at all. This contrast makes the past seem so much safer than the present, when in fact, the opposite is true.

Unhappily, this decades-long media diet of gore, violence, and disaster has created a public belief in how bad things are – and Donald Trump has used this to great advantage in stirring up fear, distrust, and anger. What’s most amazing to me is that the fact-checking outfit Politifact has stated that 70% of Trump’s statements are either mostly false, false, or blatantly outrageously false, yet most Americans don’t see matters that way. By comparison, only 28% of Hillary Clinton’s statements fall into the mostly false, false, or blatantly outrageously false category, yet most people think the two are in the same general range of untrustworthiness. And that, I submit, is because of the media slant on the news in general, that is, “bad is good, terrible is better, and the worse it is, the better for our ratings.”

And, one way or another, we’re all going to pay the price for the media’s gorging on disaster and despair in order to fatten their bottom line, not that my observations, or all those of the scholars who’ve studied the matter in far greater depth than the media or Donald Trump, will persuade many people after decades of commercial brain-washing.

17 thoughts on “The Media Supplied the Kindling”

  1. Tom says:

    Agreed .. but I have to ask. If the citizens get the government they choose, do they also get the media they want?
    How can we recognize the problem and tear down what we have created and feel a need for?
    I get my “news” by reading the ticker tape at the bottom of the TV screen when “the news” is on: and then, invariably, I have to search the on-line newspapers for news which I consider worth finding out about. This is the case in the USA, but also now in other nations cities around the globe, when viewing the local TV stations “news”. Even the BBC ‘sells’ news rather than (like Big Ben, ponderously) reporting news.

  2. John Prigent says:

    ‘If it bleeds, it leads’. We can’t expect the media to stop following that system. The bleeding can include stories about celebrity break-ups, popular TV shows, etc, etc – anything that will provide a headline to attract casual readers. ‘Good news’ stories are often ignored unless they provide an opportunity to snipe at someone unpopular such as a forecaster who failed to prophesy a fall in unemployment or a rise in GDP, and therefore called for measures that ‘the people’ don’t want.

  3. R. Hamilton says:

    For either candidate I’ll have to hold my nose, even more this time than most. But for Hillary, I’d have to be in full sensory deprivation, paralyzed, and with someone moving my hand to push the button.

    Anyone that wants the southern invasion to proceed with no more hindrance than now, cannot have my support. Doubtless most that come here are great people and all, but it’s still NOT in _all_ our interests to have large numbers of poor and minimally educated people coming here; and having laws that exist but are ignored, does even more harm.

    Will Trump solve that, or anything else? Probably not. But the same could be said for whatever Hillary promises. Having tapped into the frustration with many things (particularly illegal immigration), Trump will have to at least _try_.

    If a mere career civil service employee (non-appointed) had ever done _half_ of what Hillary has done, they’d have lost their job, been tried and convicted, and never held a clearance again. If anyone on the right (nominally, at least) had done 1/10 of what she’s done, the media outrage would have been monumental.

    For that, I’ll hold my nose and put up with Trump being brash and offensive, and perhaps no more competent. Heck, I almost _like_ Trump being offensive; at least he’s not holding back much, unlike those who are only insufferably rude when there’s no camera or microphone around.

    1. Tom says:

      “If a mere career civil service employee (non-appointed) had ever done _half_ of what Hillary has done, they’d have lost their job, been tried and convicted, and never held a clearance again. If anyone on the right (nominally, at least) had done 1/10 of what she’s done, the media outrage would have been monumental.”
      I keep on hearing and reading this statement but have yet to see or hear legal proof of anything to convict Mrs. Clinton of, not only by the FBI but any other than a kangaroo court (aka lynch mob).
      Got proof of wrong doing of a criminal nature regarding Mrs. Clinton?

  4. Kathy says:

    “… NOT_in_all_our interests to have large numbers of poor and minimally educated people coming here” just illustrates what Mr. Modesitt just said. For two hundred years the US has been skimming the cream from the rest of the world — the people with the drive and gumption to abandon everything familiar and immigrate to a new and potentially terrifying life in a new culture and country. Most of the illegals we have today take jobs no native born American would touch with a ten foot pole (the price of meat, for example, would be even higher without the illegals accepting minimum wage or lower in the meat packing plants; not to mention picking our fruits and vegetables for a pittance). And the last thing they want to do is call attention to themselves by trying to get on the welfare roles.
    Since all of us — including the Amerinds by the way — are at least the descendents of immigrants, I think we need a way for illegals to easily become legals so we can keep skimming the cream

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      No, I think we need to stop feeding the parasites we already have that expect to get a welfare check for doing NO work rather than doing menial work, if that’s all they’re qualified for. And use lethal force if they riot. Any job that needs doing is honorable, even if the pay is poor; and nobody that can work when there is such a job, should be paid to do nothing. Deprivation is _supposed_ to motivate self-improvement and climbing the career ladder, not an excuse for subsidizing the underclass.

      Moreover, we do NOT need to overload our infrastructure to handle millions more, nor to clearcut more forests to fill them up with people.

      There may be a FEW areas like agricultural workers where we need more low-skilled workers, but if that’s all they’re qualified to do, they aren’t worth making citizens, certainly not until they earn it with a decade or so of paying taxes and receiving ZERO benefits, AND after they attain some qualifications (English, literacy, high-school equivalency) to integrate into society as something better than slum dwellers. AND if they followed the law in how they came here in the first place. Otherwise, they’re just foreign invaders, who should be sent back, in body bags if they resist.

      Even in the high-skilled areas, there are a lot of where it’s not a shortage, just employers trying to undercut the labor market. Now I’m no fan of labor. the little guy deserves to be exploited until he has something more to offer; but when you have high end tech workers training their replacements who are a bunch of H1-B visa holders, and it’s not to fill vacancies but to cut costs, that’s just _wrong_.

      Again, I’m sure that poor people all over the world (or those trying to escape violence or oppression or whatever excuse they have for coming here) are mostly wonderful people, and if they had an education and spoke English reasonably well, they might well be wonderful citizens…IF we needed to imbalance the planet by having everyone come here. We really don’t though, we don’t even need all of the top 0.00001%, but only a FEW in specialties that are critically short; we ought to take down that annoying poem; with no territorial frontiers left, huddled masses aren’t even good cannon fodder or dog food, let alone otherwise worthwhile to admit.

      1. JM says:

        I’m curious as to why you have such a strong opinion on this.

        You seem to think that immigrants would be able to get welfare. Wouldn’t they have to become U.S. citizens for that? And to do that wouldn’t they have to admit that their not here legally?

        Personally I prefer open immigration. Though I am undoubtedly biased. Most immigrants I meet are the cream of the crop, and many, many years ago both sides of my family crossed the St. Lawarence (on foot during winter) to get into America.

        Pardon my poor grammar.

        1. R. Hamilton says:

          We have had many excellent immigrants from all parts of the world. But we have also had plenty of criminals fleeing legitimate justice, as well as people who were not criminals (except in coming here in violation of our law) but had insufficient education, skills, and ambition to exceed their parents and themselves, to become anything more than an underclass; and Mexico in particular is quite willing to dump their problems on us, and receive all the remittances that the immigrants (legal or not) that do find work send back to their families in Mexico. Indeed, there are some there, perhaps even some in official positions, that would welcome overwhelming us with such numbers that they could reclaim the territory they lost to us (California, southern Arizona, Texas, at the very least).

          Rights may be the metaphysical inheritance of all humans everywhere, but as far as our government should be concerned, it’s foremost responsibility is to those who are already its citizens; everyone else has rights by courtesy, not entitlement, save for the due process of a hearing before they’re deported, to make sure they really are illegals. And as such, immigrants should be kept out as potential or competition unless, on a case-by-case basis, their immigration is clearly in the best interests of the nation as a whole, not just of their relatives already here, or political parties looking for new voters, businesses looking for cheap labor, unions looking for a new disaffected class to recruit from, etc.

          That doesn’t preclude improving the organization and resources of the process, so that those who are worth letting in don’t have to wait for years stuck in a bureaucratic quagmire; but any such streamlining should INCREASE rather than neglect vetting both for potential threats and for those that simply aren’t worth letting in.

          Let me be crystal clear: I have no problem with people of all colors; I don’t even pay attention to that, and I’ve been proud to work with people whose parents came from just about everywhere over the years. What I have a problem with is those who don’t want to learn English, don’t want to pursue an education sufficient to help them into the middle class, want expanded benefits of any sort, or have some sort of ideological anti-western hangup. We need western capitalists that would rather starve than become a public burden. Some of those don’t come from western countries; goodness knows, quite a few come from places like India, which is fine. But if they don’t value individual rights, liberty, and, with respect to government, self-sufficiency (nothing wrong with voluntary mutual assistance, but it won’t tolerate parasites), then I see no reason to welcome them, and if they were born here, I wish they’d leave.

          Maybe socialists, non-western nativists, and other such sorts, are human beings too, but they can darn well be human somewhere else.

  5. cremes says:

    Do we have more liberty today than we did 50 years ago? No.

    The country may be richer, but it is not freer.

    Politics by the Uni-party, of which Hilary is a member in good standing, has made us less free. I include Republicans including St. Reagan (pbuh) in that list.

    If we elect Hilary, we get the whole coterie of Clinton sycophants along with her. Politics as tribal identity will get stronger. There will be fewer checks on her power. The country will be less free after her reign.

    If we elect Trump, he will be scrutinized unlike any other president before. He’s essentially a Kennedy/Johnson Democrat but the political Overton Window has shifted so far left that his utterances are portrayed as those of a racist, bigoted narcissist. (I wouldn’t actually dispute his narcissism but all politicians, including Hilary, are equally vulnerable to that charge.)

    Print out all of our laws and regulations on regular paper and stack them. Compare the stack heights for the years 1950, 1960, etc through 2010. That stack has never gotten shorter.

    I’m hopeful that Trump will shrink that stack. By how much I can’t say, but even a freeze would be a win for freedom and liberty loving citizens.

    The media didn’t create the need for a Trump-like candidate. Our own fecklessness over the years did that job by continually voting in worse and worse representatives. We are reaping what we have sown.

  6. Andreas says:

    I’m so glad I’m not an American right now. I know my president is corrupt, but his harm is contained, I hope the same will be true if Trump wins…

  7. Chad B says:

    2 BIG reasons for the change.

    1. News is all about money now, and it’s become a 24/7 form of entertainment.

    2. News has become more polarized, and people tend to watch the news that reinforces the views they already have. Instead of being forced to look at things from a different point of view, our own views are just being reinforced. This is leading to a rise in extremism.

    1. Shannon says:

      You’re right on the mark. The question I have is: how do we encourage people who consume only news that reinforces their views or who only congregate with people of like mind to broaden their horizons? The people of the US deserve the lack of liberty they get for not paying attention to life outside their own socio-economic bubble.

      1. R. Hamilton says:

        Supposedly google tailors its results to the individual, insofar as they’re logged in or it has tracked the IP address. Privacy aside, while that can be convenient for some purposes, for news it runs the risk of reinforcing one’s existing views to some degree.

        duckduckgo supposedly does not do that, and takes privacy far more seriously – although IMO it’s not yet quite as effective, and features beyond entering words to search for are different enough that existing search skills won’t entirely carry over.

  8. Wine Guy says:

    The rise of talking heads that tell us what the news “means” instead of merely reporting what happened is part of the problem. It used to be that the newspaper reader or the TV viewer could exercise some of their own discernment and judgement about the actual news… now we have to use it to sort out the wheat from the chaff (or signal from noise, if you prefer a more modern analogy).

    Since there is little actual news and mostly only “info-tainment,” I see little reason to watch TV / read the internet pages / listen to the radio. Old fashioned newspapers seem to do best and then I can mostly ignore the editorial page.

    But then again, I’m a reactionary old codger who gets irritated when people tell me what I think and how I feel because they feel the need to pigeon-hole me into a certain demographic.

    1. R. Hamilton says:

      IMO even the newspapers seem to largely neglect the principle that reporting and editorial should be clearly separated; not that it was ever anything but an oft-ignored ideal, but that so many reporters are such ideologues that they think they’d do more harm to tell a story straight than to inject their ideology – that somehow their job is to shape opinion and ultimately events, rather than simply report them.

      1. Tim says:

        There was a BBC radio programme tonight which debated whether reporting extremist events aided terrorism. One argument was that a lower level of reporting would starve the extremists of publicity.

        Another was that journalists want sensational pictures to make their name. Both were rubbished by the senior press people.

        Roman arenas were packed with audiences wanting ti see shed blood. Things have not changed.

        For myself, I remember the Falklands War where I was avid for news. I could argue that I was concerned about my country, but I wonder. In hindsight, it was entertainment as noone I knew was involved. So, mea culpa.

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