Degradation of the US Mainstream Media from Reagan to Trump

Ronald Reagan took the oath of office as the 40th President of the United States of America on January 20th, 1981. Since
then, the world has fundamentally changed in so many ways. One place where you can see the change, though not necessarily change for the good, is in the mainstream media. For example, when Reagan took office CNN was an infant, the internet had not yet been brought to the general public and the term “fake news” was not even a term, let alone a term which has shifted to common usage. Let’s go on a journey from the 40th US President to the 45th US President to try and understand why there has been degradation in the US Media in this comparatively short period of time.

However, before we start on that journey let’s try and take a “helicopter view” of the issues and try and understand some of the issues that are in play here. They include

· Consolidation – In 1983, according to the Media Reform Information Centre, The US mainstream media was controlled by approximately fifty corporations. Since then, mainly through a process mergers and acquisitions, the number of players started to reduce so that by the year 2000, getting towards the end of the Clinton Presidency, the number of major players
had reduced to six. Deregulation had also played its part in this. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 which was signed into law by President Clinton also played a part in this as the Act did, amongst other things, promote media cross ownership. This meant that you could own TV, Radio and Newspapers all in the one market. The consolidation process continues to this
day with the attempted acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T which is subject to litigation by the Department of Justice.

· The Rise of the 24-Hour News Cycle – Prior to the birth of CNN news was broadcast by networks such as NBC, CBS and ABC with bulletins held nightly around 6.30pm or thereabouts. Enter CNN which was started by Ted Turner and gave it’s first broadcast June 1, 1980. CNN, in its formative years when it was the only 24-hour news player, was able to focus on issues of significant issues to the nation including the Challenger Disaster, the First Gulf War where they broadcast from inside Iraq and the crisis in Somalia in 1993. The passage of the Telecommunications Act in 1996 led to the CNN monopoly coming to an end when they were joined by MSNBC which is jointly owned by Microsoft and NBC and Fox News which is, of course
owned by News Corporation.

· Politicization – There is a convincing argument to suggest that the media has become more politicized than objective. This can be seen particularly with Fox News where it’s show “Fox and Friends” is reportedly a favorite of President Trump’s. Other Fox Commentators such as Sean Hannity are also proud to wear the conservative label and put a spin on the events of the day.

· Fake News – The “Fake News” phenomenon, the attacks on media outlets who report a
position or point of view that the Administration disagrees with is also
political. The best example of this can
be seen in the extraordinary response by then White House Press Secretary Sean
Spicer in response to reporting on the crowds at Donald Trump’s inauguration.

· Influence of Social Media – Social Media Platforms, particularly Twitter
have a lot of influence on mainstream media. Both Donald Trump and Barack Obama have used Twitter albeit in diverse
ways. The claims that Barack Obama was
not born in the USA, the so called “birther movement” gained traction on Social
Media.

So, what has all this change
meant for standards and quality in the US Mainstream Media. While Journalists are human beings and are
liable to make mistakes, there are more corrections to
stories being publicized now than before. The specific task of “fact checking” of stories is also being done which
means that the facts may not have been checked in the first place.

Yes, there has been lots of
change in the US mainstream media but not necessarily for the better. In my view there has been degradation.