President Barack Obama put fact-free media outlets on blast this past Thursday at an innovation conference in Pittsburgh, saying that America’s “wild, wild west” media environment has destroyed any potential for common ground and debate by allowing previously marginalized conspiracy theorists a broad platform.
According to the AFP, Obama stated that citizens need to be able to sift through the lies and distortions in order for democracy to work.
“We are going to have to rebuild within this wild-wild-west-of-information flow some sort of curating function that people agree to,” Obama said. “There has to be, I think, some sort of way in which we can sort through information that passes some basic truthiness tests and those that we have to discard, because they just don’t have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.”
“That is hard to do, but I think it’s going to be necessary, it’s going to be possible,” Obama added. “The answer is obviously not censorship, but it’s creating places where people can say ‘this is reliable’ and I’m still able to argue safely about facts and what we should do about it.”
Obama’s presidency itself has been scarred by politically-motivated, ill-founded scandals such as the birther movement.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has started hiring staff from right-wing media outlets, such as Breitbart’s Stephen K. Bannon as his campaign’s chief executive and Fox News’s Roger Ailes as an informal campaign advisor. Ironically, Ailes was forced out of Fox News following sexual assault allegations.
While this kind of media environment may have now reached its nadir, it’s been trending downward for three decades. In many ways, the trouble began in 1987, when the Reagan administration’s FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine, an FCC policy that required broadcasters to present issues of public importance in way that was honest, equitable, and balanced. The doctrine stayed dead, despite a reinstatement movement, during George H.W. Bush’s presidency.
Finally, when Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law, the small minority of the world’s most powerful media companies were allowed to extend their power even further. Corporations could now own media across all platforms, consolidating different voices into one while still not being legally required to present issues in an equitable manner.
Thus, 30 years ago, 50 companies controlled about 90 percent of the media. Today, 90 percent of the media is controlled by just six companies.
Next, take a look at the intersection of sexism and journalism in the age of social media.