In my rather strange media career, I have had the chance to do interviews with some rather high-profile newsmakers in some sticky situations. While my weekend podcast discussion with conservative/libertarian talk show host Glenn Beck was not the most publicized that I have ever done, it may have been the most fascinating and important.
If you care even a little bit about our dysfunctional media machinery and broken national dialogue, I urge you to listen to all forty minutes of it. If you do, you will be way ahead of many of those who commented on it.
I figured that, of the many potentially headline-worthy moments in the unusually frank discussion, the most click-freindly subject would be Glenn criticizing former Blaze host Tomi Lahren, saying that, if it had been up to him, he would have fired her from his network on the first day he met her. It’s just impossible for the media to resist the catnip of a male media star taking on a young hot babe (heck, even TMZ picked it up).
I obviously get how the business works, and that is certainly a legitimate news story which deserved some coverage (it is, after all, part of why I asked him the question). There was SO much more of note in the interview, however, and it seems like most people even missed the ball even when they weren’t distracted by the pretty cheerleader on the sideline.
The more serious takeaway appeared to be that Beck was taking on his “side” of the political divide and was attacking President Donald Trump, for whom he did not vote. Some on the “right” have tried to use the interview to show that Beck is now somehow a liberal media pawn to be used in their war to take down Trump. Anyone who bothered to listen to the whole interview would know that this was simply not remotely true.
In fact, I don’t think Beck even directly criticized Trump even one time, despite me giving him numerous opportunities to do so. It was clear to me that Beck is bending over backwards to give Trump every chance possible to succeed, but while also standing on conservative principles in an effort to keep him and the movement at least somewhat honest.
In reality, one of the more extraordinary moments in the discussion came when I ask him who or what surprised him most about how the “conservative” media has reacted to Trump, and he went into a detailed description of how he was shocked by his OWN failure to read his audience. Good luck trying to find another media superstar to publicly admit something like that.
Beck also took on both the right and left-wing media equally in how they have handled Trump. Ironically, everyone only seeing what they want to see from his comments is a perfect example of why it is that hardly anyone trusts any media outlets which aren’t on their “side.”
This is the subject, which to me, was by far the most significant of the interview, and one which I wish had received even just a little bit of attention. Around the 23-minute mark (just after Beck discusses almost shutting his down empire after the election), we articulate the fundamental news media conflict of our time: Popularity vs. Truth.
Because, thanks to massive fragmentation, the business model of most news media outlets is so strained, if not totally broken, the pressure to do stories which are “popular” has never been greater. Making matters worse, thanks to the Internet, it has never been easier for the whole world to see which stories are “popular,” and which are not.
It is basic human nature that people will think something is better if it is perceived as “popular,” so “popular” stories end up getting shared exponentially more while unpopular truths get routinely ignored. People will also gravitate far more towards a story which makes them feel better about themselves (in other words, one with which they agree) than one which might challenge their firmly held beliefs.
All of this has created a “Perfect Storm” which has caused the news media to routinely blow stories in very significant ways. The popular narrative always wins now, and the truth often gets left in the dust.
In the case of opinion journalism, this phenomenon is even stronger. I once had USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who I once considered a very close friend, tell me that she knew her opinions on the “Penn State Scandal” (about which I know literally about 1,000 times more than she does, and therefore knew she was wrong) were right because they were very “popular.” I almost vomited.
This is why Trump has put “conservative” media members with a conscience (there are at least a dozen of them) in such a horrible bind. The Trump cult has ZERO interest in any sort of information or opinion which doesn’t fit their worship of their hero. While these zealots don’t make up all of the audience of the “conservative” media, you simply can’t succeed, or even survive, on a major broadcast outlet without them, and the evidence is clear, as Beck revealed, that they will leave you if you significantly criticize Trump.
This is exactly how we got the complete joke that Trump sycophant Sean Hannity has become.
The most frustrating thing about all of this is that I don’t currently see a solution. Selling the truth about Trump to conservatives is like attempting force a kid to eat broccoli when there are always several different flavors of ice cream within their arm’s length.
Interestingly, Beck says he may have an answer to this conundrum, but you would have to listen to the whole interview in order to learn more about that.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.