The Lost Power of the Press02-05-2023
Louis Menand asks what happened to the power of the press? Prior to the protests and riots around the 1968 Convention in Chicago, most of the public trusted the press. Today, the press is abhorred. Menand argues that the culprit is simple: it is the breakdown of a white, liberal, internationalist mainstream ideology that united the government and the press for decades in the 20th century. With the rise of real polarization—one might say with the reflection of the plurality in the country coming to be reflected in the institutions of the country—the press could no longer convince Americans that its institutional bias was objective news. This loss of credibility began with the coverage of the Vietnam war, Menand writes, and it has its culmination in the full-on politicization of the press during Donald Trump’s presidency. He writes:
The press wasn’t silenced in the Trump years. The press was discredited, at least among Trump supporters, and that worked just as well. It was censorship by other means. Back in 1976, even after Vietnam and Watergate, seventy-two per cent of the public said they trusted the news media. Today, the figure is thirty-four per cent. Among Republicans, it’s fourteen per cent. If “Democracy Dies in Darkness” seemed a little alarmist in 2017, the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021, made it seem prescient. Democracy really was at stake…. The power of the press, such as it is, is like the power of academic scholars, scientific researchers, and Supreme Court Justices. It is not backed by force. It rests on faith: the belief that these are groups of people dedicated to pursuing the truth without fear or favor. Once they disclaim that function, they will be perceived in the way everyone else is now perceived, as spinning for gain or status.