By Helen Gibson
Both Marvin Kalb and Joseph Hayden argue that the quality of journalism declined in the 1990s. Kalb contends that the technological revolution and the changing business context of journalism “have transformed the news business from one tied to public trust to one linked to titillation and profit.” (p.253) Hayden contends that the growing emphasis on scandal stories in the 1990s compromised journalistic standards and eroded public confidence in the media. He also contends that Presidential scandals can enhance a President’s popularity while diminishing respect for him in the long term. How does the political rise of Donald Trump confirm or contradict the perspectives that Kalb and Hayden advance?
The fact that journalism changed during the 1990s is almost indisputable. This is a point made by Marvin Kalb and Joseph Hayden in their respective works, “One Scandalous Story” and “Covering Clinton.” More focus on presidential scandals and “infotainment” over hard news, an influx of new technology and changing business models have all led to this change, and I think it’s had an impact on American politics and the American people.
For one, I think journalists have become so focused on every little piece of news and every move the president makes that it’s perhaps become hard for the public to focus on what’s really important. I recall one conversation I overheard this summer between two of my coworkers. One coworker was talking about the latest news in the Trump campaign-Russia collusion controversy. The other coworker basically said he didn’t care. He said he felt like he’d been so overwhelmed by news outlets’ constant stream of stories about the topic that he couldn’t keep up anymore, and this made him just check out completely.
I don’t necessarily think this is the best way to handle an overflow of news and information. But it also is probably symptomatic of how many Americans feel. And I do think this anecdote points to a larger problem in journalism and news media.
It seems like we are paying too much attention to certain stories and not enough attention to others. I don’t mean to say the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia is insignificant by any means. It certainly is important. But such a heavy focus on all things Trump may not necessarily be serving the public’s interest in the best way.
I’m reminded something we read at the beginning of this semester — News Coverage of Donald Trump’s First 100 Days — which showed that “President Trump dominated media coverage in the outlets and programs analyzed, with Trump being the topic of 41 percent of all news stories — three times the amount of coverage received by previous presidents. He was also the featured speaker in nearly two-thirds of his coverage.”
In a way, this reminds me of the way journalists covered the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. According to a source Hayden quoted in his analysis, the Associated Press’ Washington bureau had 25 reporters working on the Lewinsky scandal and “moved” over 4,000 stories pertaining to the scandal in 1998 alone. This seems excessive, at best. Yes, these stories are important, but I think the news media could do a better job at covering them while covering a wide and diverse range of news that better serves the American public.
For better or for worse, I think Trump’s rise in politics is at least partly due to many Americans feeling like they’ve been “left out.” In other words, I believe many people have felt that major American institutions, such as government or the news media, no longer serve them or speak to what they think is important. Perhaps this is part of the problem.