13 Nov 2016

US media a 'disaster area', says academic

From Sunday Morning, 7:08 am on 13 November 2016

University of Texas professor of journalism Robert Jensen says the US media has served the American public poorly in this election, and in elections past. 

The corporate commercial media that kind of reflects elite consensus, that's not just a function of this election, it's been the case for the better part of the last century.

When that is the case the media misses other points of view, Prof Jensen says.

Robert Jensen

Robert Jensen Photo: wikicommons

"They not only missed the rise of a kind of populist right wing, a white working class we're told was fed up with elite rule, it also to a large extent missed the importance of the Bernie Sanders campaign it constantly downplayed a real deep desire for a left critique of contemporary power as well." 

But also got things right, he says.

"It reported on Donald Trump often in a very accurate and informed way, and the fact that the popular culture might have gone a different way that isn't the fault of the media that's a comment on the political culture in the US."

Deeper questions have to be asked of the US media culture, according to Prof Jensen. 

"Polling isn't journalism, polling is not news gathering, its not meaningful data gathering, journalism can't be reduced to number crunching."

He hopes one outcome of this election is people just stop paying so much attention to polling.

He worries that the country is moving further to the right, a process that has been happening for three decades.

"Relative to other industrial societies [the US] has always been extremely right wing, but it's even moved more dramatically in the last three or four decades. It's especially troubling in the US given people are not only talking about conservatism but of neo-Fascist uprising."

And he isn't surprised incidents of open racism have broken out post election.

"If you elect a president who has made white racial resentment the keystone of his campaign, if that happens in a country that has never really successfully dealt with its white supremacist history it's not surprising the more violent sections of society are going to take action."

 "The US even if it had elected Hillary Clinton would still be a white supremacist country."

He says the American public has never been well served by its media.

"If journalism means a good-faith attempt to provide accurate information to the public in  timely manner, the cable news channels barely rate as journalism. The cable talk shows are not only theatre, but an increasingly destructive kind of theatre, they're counter productive to a democratic society. So media more generally is a real disaster area in the US.

 "My concern is television and websites that are not only overtly ideological but are detached from any meaningful notion of democratic practice. They are a bizarre combination of ideology and commercial imperatives and they are not serving the American public well."

And that is a worry for the wider world, says Prof Jensen.

 "What ever happens here doesn't stay here its going to bleed out into some potentially very dangerous policies world wide."