An unfortunate albeit well-known fact within the cable news industry has become increasingly apparent to audiences in Donald Trump’s America: Not many TV producers—or their advertisers—truly care about presenting the facts. They'd rather see a fight.
The majority of audiences nationwide prefer a brawl to a lecture, too—at least according to the latest ratings for cable news outlets like CNN and Fox News. Les Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS, said the Trump campaign "may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS" during an investors’ conference in San Francisco last year, and that the billionaire real estate mogul’s presence in the jam-packed race was a "good thing" for television.
Mainstream news networks have since seen a resurgence of popularity throughout the 2016 presidential election and beyond, as familiar TV faces and monotonous political pundits have been replaced with occasionally far-right, loud-speaking and other controversial figures who always appear ready to throw down or die on a lonely hill.
Thursday's contentious talking point of the day on CNN came from Trump surrogate Jeffrey Lord, who compared the new president to "the Martin Luther King of health care." The deficient statement was immediately rebuked by Democratic activist and counter-pundit Symone Sanders, who was forced to steer away from the ongoing health care debate to remind viewers: "Dr. King was marching for civil rights because people that looked like me were being beaten, dogs were being sicced on them, basic human rights were being withheld from these people merely because of the color of their skin."
But Lord isn't alone. After Trump fired his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, the embattled political commentator found his footing at CNN where he was offered a gig soon after. And who can forget Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, who was given a seat at multiple news outlets’ tables, despite her repeated blunders, misstatements and blatant falsities.
Instead of bringing expert analysts into the discussion in the final days of the election, outlets were reporting on unfounded accusations against the Clinton campaign while racing to secure last-minute interviews with internet sensation Ken Bone, an independent voter who rose to viral stardom by asking a question during one of the presidential debates. Bone continued to add to the conversation by sharing his life story with several news outlets, as well as revealing just what made him wind up wearing his bright red sweater to the formal event.
It's no coincidence the election of Trump came with a second wave of bold and brazen guests taking over the airwaves. Advertisers say the national climate surrounding politics has called for a tectonic shift from focusing on the most important stories of the day to what will get the most reaction and online engagement.
"Every so often you have to reset what is the aspirational goal the public has with regard to the products we sell," Harris Diamond, CEO of the ad agency giant McCann Worldgroup, told the Wall Street Journal following Trump’s historic win.
Despite the apparent hunger for nonstop action and polarization on television newscasts, many have come out in opposition to the new state of television under Trump.
The only problem is, some advertising agencies aren’t bothered by the ongoing distortion of reality. If the question is what will it take to stop giving airtime to the most controversial folks that can be found, the answer would be when people decide to finally stop watching.
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