The Problem With Our Media Is Extreme Commercialism
Donald Trump’s victory revealed fundamental flaws in America’s core institutions, especially its media system. While television news, professional journalists, and social-media platforms are all under scrutiny, too much of this criticism focuses on symptoms rather than deeper pathologies. Instead, we should seize this opportunity to draw attention to systemic problems in our media and push for structural alternatives.
But first, we must be clear about the central problem. Much of what ails our media system stems from its extreme commercialism. The always-controversial Trump was irresistible for ratings-driven news outlets, and their endless profit-seeking helped legitimize a dangerous politics. While it’s tempting to blame audiences for lapping this up, this coverage didn’t just reflect popular demand. Media are beholden to their owners and to the advertisers who pay them.
Trump’s screen-to-screen exposure during the campaign provided bait to capture advertisers’ most coveted product: our attention. To keep our attention, media must entertain us. And Trump delivered—especially for media’s bottom line. As CBS CEO Leslie Moonves infamously stated: “[Trump’s candidacy] may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”