Back before Al Gore, peace be upon him, gave us the internet, I maintained quite a few magazine subscriptions. National Review, The New Republic and The Atlantic were on my list from the time I was a teenager. I would cycle in others like Harper’s, The New York Review of Books and even Granta and Ploughshares. I spent many a night drinking at the pub where the later was founded.
Now, I have exactly zero subscriptions. I take what I can get on-line and there’s so much on-line I see no reason to pay for it. The fact that I can, with a few clicks, catch up on the news in Borneo or check in on the doings of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow and his fight against hooliganism is truly a miracle. Educated men of a century ago would be gobsmacked by the amount of detailed information I can include a single blog post.
There’s a downside to this wonderfulness. In the olden thymes, my subscription meant something to the people running those magazines. They needed it to pay their writers, so it was important to the writers as well. Today, these publications have no reason to care about me or my opinion of them. They just need to generate enough traffic to show their donors, who don’t care about me either.
In other words, as the financial relationship has changed, the intellectual relationship has changed. These publications are now on-line and they don’t have a direct financial link to their readers. Instead, they depend on wealthy donors and support from the massive nonprofit establishment. The result is an operation like National Review went from appealing to readers to lecturing them.
A similar thing has happened with TV news. In the olden thymes, the three networks were certainly preachy and biased, but they also had to get viewers and that meant keeping it between the ditches. The batshit insanity of a MSNBC would never be permitted. Those fruitcakes were relegated to local access and shortwave because no one could afford to indulge them.
That all changed with cable. MSNBC gets $0.70 per cable household per month, whether anyone watches or not and is overwhelmingly not. That means they collect $70 million per month even though no one watches. Fox, CNN, ESPN et al have similar or better deals. When you get a billion dollars for just showing up, you can indulge in just about any sort of reckless behavior you want, even letting mentally unstable lesbians host a primetime show.
The cable rackets have had another impact. They rely on writers and bloggers out of the Commentary Industrial Complex. Fox hires boys and girls from National Review and The Weekly Standard to be guest on shows. MSNBC hauls in people from progressive publications. PBS uses the NY Times and Washington Post as their farm system.
Put it all together and we now have a mass media that is not only unresponsive to its viewership and readership, but also openly hostile. The old periodicals that used to peddle ideas and culture to the public now lecture the public on behalf of the managerial class. The low-brow mass media of television can now indulge all of the excesses of progressive fanatics, making sport of anything and everything normal people find useful.
The worst part of this is that unplugging and dropping out has no impact. Until tens of millions of households unplug from cable TV, these media operations are immune to public discontent. Cord cutting will have some impact, but most people will never take that step. The massive nonprofit industry will keep on financing the news and opinion operations. Rich guys like Carlos Slim and Jeff Bezos will backstop big news sites.
The North Koreans are fond of installing loudspeakers in villages to blast propaganda to the masses. In America, they install them in your living room and your pocket. The communications revolution was supposed to threaten the media monopoly of the prior age. Instead, it has created a special force, shock troops, who man the megaphones on behalf of the managerial class.
I suspect that much of what’s going on in the Republican primary is due to a realization that the people on talk radio, Fox News and your favorite news site are not playing it straight. Not so long ago they were explaining why you had to hold your nose and support Romney, because winning was too important for principles. Today, they are saying principles are too important to vote Trump, even though he is looking like a winner.
One of the things I’ve noticed in my life is people seek to break free of the transactional life. Retail is looked down upon, I think, because people naturally hate the clarity of it. When you sell direct, you have to do so in a way that people like. Every lost sale is an indictment of you and your product. It’s why the toughest, smartest guys in most business are the sales guys. They have no illusions about themselves.
The media has sought to break free from the retail relationship. Selling ads based on circulation and viewership is a daily confirmation of your worth, or lack thereof. The result of this drive, on the one hand, has been the thoroughly corrupt cable TV market where content providers get a free shot at your wallet.
On the other hand, a massive, taxpayer subsidized nonprofit system has been created to fund writers, newspapers, journals and even academics. Look around a think tank and these people are calling each other “fellow” and “resident scholar” as honorifics. It’s no wonder C-level joke writers like Jonah Goldberg have developed massive egos. Everyone calls him “fellow” down at the institute!
Back in the 1990’s when newspaper circulations were collapsing, I read a story about a paper in Dayton Ohio. They hired a consultant to tell them why they were losing customers. The consultant pointed out that their food section was running stories on haute cuisine while their readers ate hamburger helper. In other words, the product sucked so people stopped buying it.
That’s much tougher in the current moment. The product certainly sucks, but people are not dropping TV in big numbers yet. Similarly, the tax-exempt rackets face no threat from Congress. There are plenty of billionaires willing to finance papers like the NYTimes and Washington Post. Maybe the only response is for voters to support the candidates the media hates the most.
Trump – Cruz 2016: They are as much fun as chemotherapy, but they are what you need to fight the tumor that is the media.