Corporate Media Won't Save Democracy
A small handful of major corporations control the major media outlets. That's a problem for democracy and Democratic priorities
Late last week, CNN White House reporter John Harwood called Donald Trump a dishonest demagogue pushing dangerous conspiracy theories about the election. While the commentary was more strident than one normally hears on the cable network, it was accurate.
Hours later, Harwood announced he was leaving CNN — reportedly with a few years remaining on his contract. Harwood’s departure follows the firing of Brian Stelter for being “too partisan.” As one anonymous CNN employee told the Washington Post’s Jeremy Barr:
People are freaked out. It almost feels like there’s a pattern. Is there a purge going on? They seem to be sending a message: ‘Watch what you say. Watch what you do.’
These recent moves caused a degree of panic among many. What if CNN’s new owners want to turn the network into “Fox lite?” What would that mean for a democracy trying to survive against a flood tide of Right Wing disinformation and propaganda? While I am skeptical that CNN will go full MAGA, the initial signs are troubling. At best, we are likely to end up with major cable networks less willing to call out MAGA Republicans and more willing to accommodate a dangerous threat to democracy.
What’s happening at CNN is high-profile, but it’s a much broader problem. And it speaks to why Democrats must stop relying on traditional corporate media to deliver our message to our voters.
Democrats are conditioned to see the media as an essential element of our democracy. Throughout the Trump years, we viewed the New York Times, Washington Post, and CNN as bulwarks against MAGA extremism — potential saviors of our democracy. We clung to the hope that the media would take down Trump, just as Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein took down Nixon. The more Trump attacked the “Fake News,” the more Democrats supported the traditional media with our eyes, clicks, and dollars.
In the end, this sentiment was born of a deeply naive view of the media.
Don’t get me wrong. The Freedom of the Press is an essential ingredient for democracy. And important, impactful, paradigm-shifting journalism still continues at home and abroad. But what’s happening at CNN is a painful reminder that these major journalistic outfits are not non-profits nor public benefit organizations. They are assets held by major corporations. ABC is part of the Disney Corporation. NBC is owned by Comcast. Jeff Bezos bought the Washington Post with the equivalent of the change you’d find in your couch. Politico was recently acquired by a German billionaire who reportedly sent an email stating:
Do we all want to get together for an hour in the morning on November 3 and pray that Donald Trump will again become President of the United States of America?
At the end of the day, these are businesses hoping to deliver profit on the balance sheets of larger corporations in response to shareholders.
This is exactly what is going on at CNN. As reported, the CNN purge is part of an effort to appease John Malone, a Right-leaning investor in parent company Warner Brothers Discovery. Malone said earlier this year:
I would like to see CNN evolve back to the kind of journalism that it started with, and actually have journalists, which would be unique and refreshing.
And Malone reiterated to the New York Times that he wants the ‘news’ portion of CNN to be more centrist.
New CNN head Chris Licht serves at the pleasure of Warner Discovery CEO David Zaslav, who needs to keep people like Malone happy. There are plenty of people at CNN with the utmost journalistic integrity who will do what they think is right. But the pressure from the top is going to be immense. It’s already having an impact. You can see some CNN talent auditioning in real time for the new CNN.
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