By Petr Svab
American corporate media are becoming increasingly disconnected from the concerns and aspirations of Americans. According to several media insiders who’ve explored this issue in depth, they have become subservient to the elitist political and corporate class, espousing values increasingly alien to the common man.
The recent firing of Tucker Carlson, formerly Fox News’ most popular host, is somewhat emblematic of the broader issue. Whatever led the network to fire him, it must have outweighed the preferences of its audience and even its immediate financial interests, noted Sharyl Attkisson, an independent journalist formerly with CBS News.
Attkisson speculated that whatever the stated reason was, Carlson was taken “off the stage so that he can’t be effective in 2024” in influencing the election result, adding that it’s not the first time she’s noticed this phenomenon.
“I think there’s been a trend of the news media making decisions contrary to its own financial interests, and that tells you there’s something else, or somebody else, calling the shots,” she said. “If not, then it would simply do the things that were journalistically appropriate and would make money or service viewers.”
“When they’re making decisions contrary to all of that, they’re serving interests to further a narrative on behalf of corporate or political interests.”
She said the digitization of media has allowed political and commercial power brokers to manipulate, infiltrate, and control the media landscape.
“It’s happened over the past maybe 20 years or so,” she said, adding that “they’ve figured out how to totally coopt the media.”
That goes beyond news outlets to include tech and social media companies that serve as digital news distributors.
“All you have to do is get your people hired there and start shaping those policies. And you’ve used very few resources and little money to be able to control this vast environment where everybody goes for their information,” she said.
It hasn’t been mere bias, she said. There’s been a relatively quick shift from news executives’ welcoming “off-narrative” stories to rejecting them.
“If you found facts that were contrary to what they wanted to expose, there were certain bosses that were stopping these stories. And that became really prevalent in the 2012 time period,” she said.
Individual reporters would quickly get the message.
“I have friends at The New York Times and Pro Publica and other places,” she said. “They understand what stories will not make it, will not get published in any prominent place. So they go in a different direction.”
Serving the narrative dictated from the top would ultimately supplant merit in determining career advancement.
“It’s not an accident that these people serve the interests and then work their way up because the media outlets have accepted their role as serving these narratives,” she said.
Yet 10–15 years ago, when she tried to convince her bosses and colleagues to reverse this trend and create barriers against such influences, she was met with little acceptance.
A major reason for the lack of resistance to such influences appears to be the viewpoint alignment between the media and the political elites.
News reporting used to be a low-paid working-class profession. With the professionalization of media in the 20th century, journalists made better for themselves, but seldom made it beyond the middle class.
The digital era decimated local press and sparked major consolidation. As a side effect, today’s journalists at major legacy outlets can easily work their way up to six-figure salaries, noted Batya Ungar-Sargon, deputy opinion editor at Newsweek.
“Journalists now do make good money and that’s because there’s so many fewer of them,” she said.
Journalists now often hail from the same schools and colleges, live in the same neighborhoods, and frequent the same cocktail parties as the political elites.
“The journalist class has become part of the elite and so they see the world through an elite lens,” she said.
For a time, news media could get away with some degree of elitism—even with a mostly middle-class audience—as the middle class would naturally aspire to the elite culture. That maxim, however, appears to have lost much of its power with the ascension of progressivism as the default elite ideology, together with various post-modern, Marxist, and even Maoist influences.
The ideology is instilling “hatred for basic middle-class values like siding with the victims of crime over criminals, or thinking that there are only two genders, or thinking that Dr. [Martin Luther] King was right and we should strive to live in a color-blind society,” Ungar-Sargon said.
It’s nothing new that the elite distances itself from middle-class values, she acknowledged, adding that could even be the definition of the elite.
Yet paradoxically, the values the elite have decided to shun “for the first time in American history are actually quite good and quite accepting of everybody and promote the belief that truly that we all should live in dignity because we’re all created in the image of God.”
It’s the ideas pervasive among the elites that are raising eyebrows, according to Ungar-Sargon.
“What’s trending now among the elites, the gender stuff, that’s just a very, very, very heavy lift for normal people,” she said.
“The aesthetics of the upper-middle class now are transgender aesthetics, that’s kind of what’s being elevated by brands. … To normal people who have not been to college where they’ve been taught that there’s an infinite number of genders … there’s going to be a fundamental break there.”
The progressive narrative on race, which emphasizes race in every conversation and context, sounds distinctly racist to ordinary Americans.
“That is the thing that they are the most horrified to be,” she said.
Moreover, the elite culture has turned intolerant, she said.
“If you sort of poke the bear and say things that the elites are not willing to hear, the response is so brutal,” Ungar-Sargon said. “They really try to run you out of town and run you off the airwaves and make it impossible for you to ever have your opinion again.”
That, in turn, has constrained artistic expression, in her view.
“All of the culture and art that’s being produced for the upper-middle class is just terrible. It’s just bad art, it’s bad writing. Because it’s all terrified of being judged by this amoral power-hungry upper-middle class that’s lost its way and lost its values,” she said.
The digitization of media has to some degree enabled legacy media outlets like The New York Times to survive despite increasingly alienating most of the population, she argued.
“In digital media, the premium is not on the breadth—how many people, how wide your readership is—it’s on the level of engagement of your core readers. How much they’re clicking. How many angry comments they’re posting. How long they’re staying on the page. And the most engaged readers are always the most extreme. And so The New York Times started catering to this affluent, elite, very woke, left, progressive group.”
It wasn’t always like that, she said.
“It used to be that what the elites wanted was to read a newspaper that their squash partner who was Republican was also reading,” she said.
“It would be embarrassing to an elite 40 years ago or 30 years ago to read a newspaper that was so biased in favor of their point of view.”
Over the past decade, however, the elites have become increasingly insulated and politically homogenous.
“That’s what The New York Times has become. So 91 percent of its readership now is Democrat. Because it’s insulting to the intelligence of Republicans to read it,” she said.
Most of the legacy media suffers the same problem to different degrees, she added.
“When only six percent of Americans are getting their voices heard in 96 percent of media outlets … that’s really bad,” she said.