These things are nothing else if not predictable. The mainstream media spent months chasing ratings and page views by insisting that the Arizona election audit debacle was going to cause unspecified “danger” or “damage” even though it was clear all along that nothing would come of it and zero minds would be changed. Then on Thursday the audit nonsense ended with a whimper, predictably having no impact of any kind.
So what did the media do? Did it admit to having been wrong for hyping the audit debacle? Did it apologize for manipulating the audience for ratings? Of course not. Instead, the media did what it always does whenever the public is finally about to figure out that one of its big scary ratings-driven non-stories isn’t real: it ratchets up the doomsday hysteria in order to cover its tracks.
Pundits, on MSNBC and on Twitter, suddenly declared on Friday that we’re somehow more screwed now, because… well, insert whatever scary doomsday 2024 election scenarios you can think of. The Washington Post took things even further, declaring on Friday that we’re suddenly in a “constitutional crisis” and that Donald Trump absolutely be the 2024 Republican nominee, and… well, you know.
None of this is anything new. The media literally exists to generate ratings and page views and the revenue that results from ratings and page views. So of course it pushes whatever ratings-driven doomsday narratives it can latch onto – and once the audience is finally in a position to figure out that the narrative never was anything, the media covers its tracks by inventing a new reason why the audience should be scared shitless and remain tuned in. But at this point the media isn’t even being subtle about it.
As consumers of political news, at some point you have to be the ones to step back and realize how severely you’re being manipulated. People who work at major media outlets were literally sitting around this week and saying “The Arizona audit is going to fizzle on Friday, so what doomsday hysteria narratives can we roll out that day to keep people scared enough to stay glued to the screen?” It’s that ugly.
The real shame of it is that if we allow the media to spend the next few years paralyzing us with doomsday narratives and keeping us glued to the screen out of fear, then we’ll lose track of the fact that we’re supposed to be fighting and winning – or even that we can win at all – and we’ll end up not putting in the work required to win.
These phony ratings-driven doomsday media narratives are not “vigilance.” In fact they’re the opposite of that. Vigilance is when you keep an eye on what’s going on, and put in the work required to steer things toward the best outcome possible. Staring paralyzed at a screen is how you lose elections, because it means you’re not out there convincing people to support and vote for your side.
It’s a real shame that whenever we receive good political news, such as the Arizona audit crashing and burning with no real impact on anything, we’re never allowed to celebrate it. We’re never allowed to feel good or try to build momentum from it. Instead the media instantly ratchets up the doomsday hysteria, in the hope of scaring us with some new ratings-driven ghost story, so we won’t notice that the last ratings-driven ghost story turned out to not be real.
But ultimately, the media needs you – and it knows it. If you decide you’ve had enough of these calculated ratings-driven doomsday narratives, and you’re simply not going to sit back and consume those ghost stories anymore, then the media will have to adapt to what you want in order to continue getting ratings from you. Step one is to stop rewarding the media for trying to keep you tuned in by scaring the hell out of you with endless lamenting about “danger” and “damage.” You’re not being vigilant by staying glued to that crap; you’re being gullible. I beg of you to be more scrutinizing before falling for every ratings-driven doomsday narrative that the media rolls out; you’re the only ones who can force the increasingly embarrassing mainstream media to change for the better.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report