Seldom do I write two columns on the same theme, but CNN has offered up consecutive pieces by Stephen Collinson that set an example. His opener in today’s piece;
“The unmistakable message of Liz Cheney’s downfall is that Donald Trump will be a dominant figure in the Republican Party — and by extension American life — most likely for years to come.”
Two days ago, it was;
“With its cultish devotion to Donald Trump, the majority of the Republican Party is choosing a wannabe-autocrat over the political system that made the United States the world’s most powerful nation and its dominant democracy.”
Okay, we get it—there’s gold in them thar hills
I confess to being a ‘follow the money’ guy when I see the news taking a strange turn. Two recent events pretty much prove that out. The first was watching China become the military threat du jour immediately after Biden decided to close down the Afghan war. The second caught my eye about a week ago.
TV news ratings, online readership plunges during Biden’s first 100 days. Broadcast and cable news ratings, along with website traffic, are all taking a hit in the post-Trump era.
On average, 1.3 million household viewers were watching MSNBC in the last week of January, shortly after Biden took office. For the week ending April 25, that number was 868,000. At CNN, those figures went from 1.2 million to 749,000.
Prime-time cable viewership is also down across the board. In the same time comparisons as the full-day ratings, CNN has lost 792,000 viewers, while MSNBC is down 788,000 and Fox is short 348,000.
Neither the military or the media are new to the money game
One way or another, the media is as old as the Guttenberg Press (1450) and our famous Military-Industrial Complex dates back seven decades. Neither of them lasted that long by ignoring the laws of profit and loss.
But it’s the second example that concentrates my interests at the moment. Siccing Stephen Collinson on Trump as CNN’s attack dog is the perfect example of buying back those lost readers, while keeping your mainstream-liberal creds at the same time.
It’s a delicate dance
Yes indeed, some would say a dance with the devil. But it’s eyeballs we’re after here and, in modern media, eyeballs are the Faustian currency that keeps the machinery running.
Controversy, bordering on conspiracy-theory, is what brings viewers and viewers (as Facebook well knows) are the key to advertising revenue. There has been no politician in American history to rival Donald Trump in the controversy-game and media both left and right got addicted to the sugar-high.
We all know the horrors of children on a sugar-high and, sadly, adults show all the same symptoms. From Pentagon Generals to Media CEOs, they all go into detox-shock when the candy box nears empty.
Today’s sugar-high, brought to you by Walt Disney
Walt built Disneyland as an adult fairy-tale, where taking the kids was the man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit’s excuse for being a kid again himself. Disney and post-WWII America waved goodbye to hard-times, bread lines, rationing and the mundane realism of everyday life. Being entertained became (and still is) the new reality.
That lesson was learned during the Great Depression. Enormous gilded movie palaces were built, with stars in the ceilings and golden statuary. For a nickel you could leave your sweltering flat and watch grandeur and opulence in air-conditioned comfort. Everyone had a nickel, no one had air conditioning and the profits rolled in. Both the palaces and Fred Astaire are gone now, but the lesson remains. And the lesson spells cash in the bank.
Give ‘em what they want or someone else will
MSNBC, FOX and CNN got the message in 100 days and what they want is Trump being Trump and the world dropping its jaw.
Stephen Collinson, who once knew better and once wrote better, likely had the note from the managing editor land on his desk. That’s conjecture on my part, but someone was going to get the call and (perhaps) Collinson drew the short straw.
He’s better than that. We’re all better than what we settle for. But that doesn’t mean we don’t settle.
Image Credit: SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES