Now don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely no straight-line comparison, but it’s like good ol’ Mark Twain said: History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
Let’s start with a look at the birth of cable news. Ted Turner and Reese Schonfeld were the first to offer around-the-clock news with the launching of CNN. That was in 1980, the CNN dominated its all-news niche for years in a growing cable television industry.
Then in 1996, Rupert Murdoch introduced Fox News and put Roger Ailes in charge. It appealed, by design, to a conservative audience, because a lot of them didn’t like CNN’s perceived liberal bend.
I say “perceived” because I really don’t remember if I considered CNN a liberal news outlet back in its early day, but it at least grew into one. In today’s politically and culturally climate, CNN is perhaps as far left as Fox is to the right — with one huge exception: Fox has been caught intentionally misleading its audience, thereby violating a basic tenet to ethical reporting — tell the truth, even if your audience doesn’t like it.
I’m referring, of course, to recent revelations that Murdoch and others at Fox intentionally misled their Fox News audience regarding the fact-based reality that Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. According to documents released by Dominion Voting Systems, which is suing Fox over its deceitful coverage of the election results, Murdoch admitted to essentially endorsing false election claims being made by Trump and his surrogates, just to keep Fox’s viewers tuned in.
As far as I know, CNN has never done anything this monumentally egregious in his history on air. Turns out, the media industry is a big part of the problem, only it’s not the liberal mainstream media. It’s conservative media.
• • •
And speaking of history, allow me to return to the rhyme, from a little more than a century ago. That’s when Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst went head-to-head as the media moguls of their day.
Pulitzer got started in the newspaper business first, by buying the St. Louis Dispatch in 1878 and, a few years, later, the New York World.
Hearst took over his father’s newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, in 1887, and a few years later he bought the New York Morning Journal.
A great historic newspaper war got underway — a battle for dominance in the nation’s largest market, where the phrase “yellow journalism” came into the American lexicon.
As a student of history and follower of modern journalism, I mainly remember Pulitzer’s newspaper platform, found a quote from Pulitzer himself:
“I know that my retirement will make no difference in its cardinal principles, that it will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent, never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”
Years ago, I clipped those words out of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and kept it as a reminder of the kind of journalism I wanted to promote, and still do. It’s a tough one to live up to, but I try.
What I remember about Hearst is that he practically started the Spanish-American War in 1898 by himself, with a steady drumbeat for war through his newspapers, and helped ruin hemp as a competitor to trees — he had a lot invested in the timber and papermill industries, so he used his newspapers to demonize hemp and its cannabis cousin, marijuana.
As for the Spanish-American War, it helped to feed his political ambitions, and he sold a hell of a lot of newspapers with his war cry.
Hear any rhyme in this?
Tom McDonald is founder of the New Mexico Community News Exchange, which distributes this column statewide. He’s also editor and publisher of the Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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