We got to this point -- meaningless talking heads on TV, Trump's candidacy, etc -- when TV news went from journalism to trying to become a profitable consumer business.
The transition didn't just happen this year. It's been goinf on since the 1970's, when movies like Network predicted that entertainment could replace fact-finding in the quest for viewers and money. Cable TV, with its demand for 24/7 news for CNN and other channels fueled the fire. So did Fox News, under Roger Ailes leadership to promote a conservative agenda instead of providing fair and balanced coverage. And the rise of the internet, and the competition to be first (instead of bring accurate). So here we are today, with an entertaining demagogue as the Republican candidate.
It's our fault. We in the media have spent decades turning the news into a consumer business that's basically indistinguishable from selling cheeseburgers or video games. You want bigger margins, you just cram the product full of more fat and sugar and violence and wait for your obese, over-stimulated customer to come waddling forth.
The old Edward R. Murrow, eat-your-broccoli version of the news was banished long ago. Once such whiny purists were driven from editorial posts and the ad people over the last four or five decades got invited in, things changed. Then it was nothing but murders, bombs, and panda births, delivered to thickening couch potatoes in ever briefer blasts of forty, thirty, twenty seconds.
What we call right-wing and liberal media in this country are really just two different strategies of the same kind of nihilistic lizard-brain sensationalism. The ideal CNN story is a baby down a well, while the ideal Fox story is probably a baby thrown down a well by a Muslim terrorist or an ACORN activist. Both companies offer the same service, it's just that the Fox version is a little kinkier.
When you make the news into this kind of consumer business, pretty soon audiences lose the ability to distinguish between what they think they're doing, informing themselves, and what they're actually doing, shopping.
And who shops for products he or she doesn't want? That's why the consumer news business was always destined to hit this kind of impasse. You can get by for a long time by carefully selecting the facts you know your audiences will like, and calling that news. But eventually there will be a truth that displeases your customers. What do you do then?