Take Hillary Clinton, who said back in 2011 that America is “losing the information war” and even went so far as to say that Al Jazeera is the only “real news” handle in the business.
“Al Jazeera has been the leader in that are literally changing people’s minds and attitudes. And like it or hate it, it is really effective,” she said.
She pointed to China and Russia, not exactly known for their freedom of press, as good examples of media that manage to push their message overseas with English outlets. Even the Taliban controls the news in Afghanistan, so why aren’t we the same?
“In fact viewership of al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it’s real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you’re getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners,” she added.
Though at the time her State Department tried to disseminate “real” information through social media, she lamented that overall, the U.S. media complex has fallen behind.
“We have not really kept up with the times,” Clinton argued.
“We are in information war and we cannot assume that this youth bulge that exists not just in the middle east but in so many parts of the world really knows much about us. I mean we think they know us and reject us, I would argue the really don’t know very much about who we are,” she said.
You might find yourself in agreement with a lot of these points. After all, wouldn’t it be great if the talking heads who tell us what to think just went away in favor of hard news reporting like the good old days?
But the argument may be a bit short-sighted. Most major news networks, including MSNBC and Fox, do in fact provide bipartisan, hard news coverage for a majority of their programming. Pundits are usually relegated to the weekends and primetime. The thing is, pundit news, as much as we all claim to hate it, is what’s popular with audiences. That’s the stuff that is “literally changing people’s minds and attitudes.”
The real problem here seems to be a confusion between what the news does do and what the news should do.
If we’re talking about the “good ‘ol days,” then the mainstream media would inform first and challenge second. It exists as a fourth, independent branch of government, confronting discrepancies and dichotomies in the political world and holding our elected officials’ feet to the fire.
The blogosphere and other independent news handles have emerged as an alternative to the mainstream, and they do exactly that, even if they are also deeply entrenched in partisan concerns.
Hillary Clinton’s comments are dated, so she may not feel the same way any more, but if Al Jazeera America works the way she wanted it to in 2011, it sounds like we risk a washout of independent journalism in favor of some sort of monopoly viewpoint. Even if you could argue that that’s a good thing, how long would it be before the only name in news compromises itself and falls subject to the same problems the mainstream has? The problem by then, of course, is that it’s already the monopoly.