Maddow: ‘The Country Hates the Press’
Rachel Maddow's contention that conflict, not calm reflection, attracts audiences drew little disagreement from a Harvard audience she spoke to Sunday. But some held out the hope that new technology will let more responsible voices be heard.
Maddow, host of MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," told an audience Sunday night gathered at the University's Institute of Politics Forum and convened by The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, "The country hates the press -- not some of it. All of it."
She said the nuts and bolts journalism of truth telling and reporting facts in context doesn't work commercially. What does, she said, are comments that can be portrayed as a "clash" or a "smackdown." She said that her ratings spike when she trashes conservative journalists.
She called this nothing new. "Exclamation points sell" and always have.
"Now it's websites and it used to be broadsheets." She said it's futile to lament this. "The press has changed and is still changing, it doesn't disappear." And she said that a variety of websites have replaced the "voice of God" of the mainstream media and that the best, most journalistic of these are the most read.
In a Monday panel discussion, former ABC News anchor Charles Gibson, said people don't hate the press but "are hungry for information they can trust." He said that although the business model for over-the-air networks is unsustainable, "people aren't rushing to cable."
Predicting that the half-life of cable is very short, Gibson predicted that there will be "an infinite number of voices through the computer. The question is whether they'll be more responsible voices or more narrowcasting -- where you have to yell the loudest."
William Greider, national affairs correspondent for The Nation and a former Washington Post correspondent and editor, said the mainstream media doesn't exist as a business model.
"I don't know what will follow but I say, 'Hurrah.' We're at the apex of the technological revolution." He said digital media would reinvent how Americans communicate with each other.
Susan Milligan, a veteran New York Daily News and Boston Globe political reporter, said journalists shouldn't "pander to the hyper-political element. The country is less partisan than it seems." But when "everybody has a [media] voice people have to shout more loudly."
Milligan said politicians' and journalists' pettiness are equally damaging to democracy. The media enables this by focusing constantly on the battle, on the 2012 campaign. There's no pressure on lawmakers to actually govern."
Mindy Finn, an online political consultant who helped run Mitt Romney's presidential campaign and Scott Brown's senatorial campaign, said people out of the "Industrial Age" don't understand the new information technology.
Noting the perennial question of how to attract audiences with verified news, she said, "We'll get there."