I worry that as we focus on Russian bots on Twitter influencing elections, we’re ignoring a bigger threat to democracy and the political process right here at home: the proposed merger of Sinclair Broadcast Group with Tribune Media Company. I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that in politics, little things can become big things. The unexpected can become the undoing before you know it, and truth trails behind. In 2000, it didn’t matter Al Gore never actually said that he invented the internet. People came to believe he did. It became a character distorting meme. Impressions are created at a digital pace in politics, often when you’re busy fighting the daily fires of rapid response and feeding the beast of today’s message and tomorrow’s news cycle.
So just think what a Sinclair takeover of local television news could do to the American political process. Democratic voters know not to take anything they see on Fox News without a giant grain of salt. But imagine what happens if your local news broadcasts are hijacked by partisan messages, even subtle acts of political sabotage. It would be handing Donald Trump the ultimate weapon of mass distortion, and with it the power to help choose Democratic nominees and mortally wound electable candidates before they even get out of the gate.
I’m not bashing the idea of partisan media (blogger, mock thyself) but once upon a time we had MORE media, period. You had your local party newsletter but you also had a couple of local papers and the radio station and nobody felt like they had to chase whatever came out of the wingnut puke funnel.
Traditional nonpartisan news should never have let Fox in the door. Maybe it would have happened anyway, with the amount of money being thrown around, but I can’t help thinking legitimizing Fox, going on the defensive, bending over backwards to display some kind of false-equivalence-masquerading objectivity and give Republicans’ hurt fee-fees every consideration hastened the decline. As did stupidity, laziness and greed.
Now we have academic panels on Facebook and fake news that are just as dumb as the academic panels on blogger ethics and Who Is A Real Journalist On the Internet, and it’s monumentally frustrating because we’re still looking at the wrong things. Where is the MONEY? Where does it come from? Where does it go? And most of all, who benefits?
You look at who’s benefitted from the consolidation and right-wing purchasing sprees of the past 20 years — it ain’t the public and it sure as shit isn’t liberals. It’s Republicans, and the farthest right of the Republicans at that, to the detriment of public understanding, civil discourse, and even Republican voters themselves. That should be a bigger story than Russian Twitter bots, or somebody saying fuck online.