It’s been a rotten several weeks for the mainstream media. MSNBC Alec Baldwin lost his job after calling a photographer a “c***sucking f*g”‘; now he’s been followed to the scrap heap by Martin Bashir, who said someone should “p*ss” and “s***” in Sarah Palin’s mouth. CNN, meanwhile, is cutting back on its news content and instead focusing on entertainment-oriented content like Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. “We also want to broaden what people can expect from CNN,” boss Jeff Zucker says, explaining that the network needs “an attitude and a take.”
Online, it’s been a tough week for outlets like BuzzFeed and Huffington Post, both of whom were hoaxed on a fake Twitter story from The Bachelorette producer Elan Gale. That prompted commentator Andrew Sullivan to label BuzzFeed an organization without a “journalistic soul.”
And over at Politico, lead reporter Mike Allen is under fire for an alleged “payola” or “pay-for-play” scandal. As John Nolte has pointed out, Erik Wemple of the Washington Post “made a very convincing case that in his widely disseminated Politico Playbook email newsletter, Allen is allegedly giving paying advertisers the additional bonus of positive coverage and publicity boosts disguised as news.” Sullivan called the Allen revelations “whoredom.”
These problems aren’t outliers. They are indicators of a deeper problem with the mainstream media: its one-side-only business model is failing, and its alternatives are rife with holes.
When it comes to the print and television media, it is obvious that the center cannot hold. Advertisers have been moving their dollars to more and more cable networks and online outlets, fragmenting budgets. Meanwhile, these same media outlets have been unwilling to reach out to the non-leftist side of the aisle, alienating conservatives entirely to Fox News, talk radio and conservative websites.
That leaves these print and television media with one alternative: skew toward entertainment. MSNBC and CNN have chosen to do so in varying ways, with MSNBC focusing on more and more radical opinion content in order to outflank CNN, and CNN moving toward more pure entertainment content to compete with outlets like Food Network, Lifetime, and TLC.
Both of these strategies are bound to fail. There’s only so much market on the radical left, and in embracing it, MSNBC has completely left behind any journalistic aspirations it may once have had, leading to the Bashir-Baldwin conundrum. And as for CNN, it will be difficult to take seriously James Earl Jones proclaiming “This Is CNN” while watching Bourdain eat local foods and chat about pop history.
Things aren’t much better on the internet. When it comes to internet journalistic outlets, two competing models have arisen: the advertising/payola model, in which clients pay for stories, and the entertainment model, in which journalism is a loss-leader while entertainment is the big moneymaker. Both of these possibilities, as Politico, Huffington Post, and BuzzFeed have learned this week, undercut their central aspiration to serious journalism, even if they bring in big traffic and big cash.
And so the mainstream media flails. For a while, these outlets have been able to avoid war with one another by uniting around worship for President Obama – and the popularity of President Obama, in turn, has provided a cohesive float for all of them. But as Obama sinks, the media are dragged down with him. After all, their boat is already full of holes.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.