Media on Media

A prescient piece by The Atlantic

Why America Hates the Media”


The Atlantic capped an astonishing week of political news coverage in America by recommending “Why Americans Hate the Media,” a James Fallows treatise on the subject from 1994.  

“Everything in public life is ‘brighter’ and more ‘interesting’ now,” Fallow writes in the first of several passages that could easily be intoned today. “Constant competition from the weekday trash-talk shows has forced anything involving political life to liven up….even the Sunday-morning shows have put on rouge and push-up bras.”

The rise of infotainment predates Fallows’ piece. The early ’90s were chock full of it, culminating in the OJ Simpson trial, which Fallows references, captivating the nation for months on end. But Fallows emphasizes the extent to which that poison had infected the once-serious and duty-bound political press corp. 

“Squabbling replaces dialogue.” “The…issues don’t matter except as items for politicians to fight over.” And even the most respected journalists don’t blink at taking a paycheck from special interest groups to speak at their rubber chicken dinners. 

Fallows goes on to describe the vast chasm that these changes carved between smug journalists and the distrustful public they’re meant to inform. That distance could be felt, painfully, this past week as so many voters wondered why so many in the media were demonstrating concern around President Biden’s age for the first time. 

“I’m wondering what so much of the public heard that our highly trained expert analysts completely missed,” one person told Fallows 28 years ago. 

“The media establishment is beginning to get at least an inkling of this message,” Fallows concludes while citing yet more problems plaguing media today:

“Through the past decade discussions among newspaper editors and publishers have been a litany of woes: fewer readers; lower ‘penetration’ rates, as a decreasing share of the public pays attention to news; a more and more desperate search for ways to attract the public’s interest. In the short run these challenges to credibility are a problem for journalists and journalism. In the longer run they are a problem for democracy.”