Media Dependency – 2017

Concerning national publications, Eliana Johnson describes How Trump Blew Up the Conservative Media. Her observation on this point has local relevancy (both about and apart from Trump). Here’s Johnson’s key observation:

“For the 89 percent of Republican voters who cast ballots for Trump, their backing represented a departure from many of the principles that have animated the American conservative movement for six decades. Today, those voters remain broadly supportive of the president personally, and as a result, insiders say, the conservative media have been increasingly pulled by a tractor beam that demands positive coverage of the president regardless of how far he wanders from the ideas they once enforced. Producers and editors have been faced with a choice: Provide that coverage or lose your audience.”

That’s spot on.

It has local meaning, too: nearby publications either tip-toe around Trump, or avoid the subject entirely.

Consider what that means: these publications are too timid to address the most significant political development (toward a nativist authoritarianism) of contemporary times.  It’s not for or against for them, it’s head down, eyes averted, let me be your buddy.

This weakness may be financial (‘please, I’ll not say anything that might make our few over-charged, under-served advertisers complain’) or emotional (‘please, I’ll keep quiet about a major political development so that I can ingratiate myself with others’).

Either way, it’s not worth publishing on those sad terms. No one has to discuss, let alone cover, political issues. If a publication does cover politics, however, and skirts these issues, it’s not truly covering politics.

The noted English philosopher Adam Ant beautifully explained the terms of a good life in his 1982 masterwork, Goody Two Shoes:

We don’t follow fashion
That’d be a joke
You know we’re gonna set them, set them
So everyone can take note, take note

One stays true to one’s convictions.

The Revolution, Abolition, the defense of the Union, civil rights: those great moral & political causes called for more than faint hearts and a faltering step.

A few national publications have been invigorated in opposition to Trump, and a few nativist ones have profited in support, too. For many others – both local and national – an existing, difficult media environment is doubly constraining now.

The way forward requires (1) financial independence (or at least diversification) and (2) the confidence to express one’s views clearly and firmly. Indeed, the latter makes the former more likely. This is a key point: one lives better – in the deepest, fullest sense – this way.

A publisher’s policy that begins with distance and detachment, and ends with diligence, is incomparably better than living one’s life in constant servility to national or local pressures.

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