Bill Clinton Liked It Better When There Was Less Competition In The Media
Former President Bill Clinton described MSNBC as “our version of Fox,” but more interesting than that comparison is Clinton’s views on the evolution of media in general.
He considers all this new political and news content made possible by mediums like cable and the internet to be a bad thing:
The existence of so many news channels and media outlets, Clinton said, “has contributed to less actual reporting and a louder, more contentious, more divisive public discourse, highlighting conflict, sometimes falsely.”
“I also think that the diffusion of the media has complicated things. For example, I was just watching — I don’t know if you heard what I said in the other room — I was just watching MSNBC, and they had a woman that used to work for me and a couple of other people on there, and they were talking about the Republican primary. And I was laughing. I said, ‘Boy, it really has become our version of Fox,’” he said in the piece in the February issue, which culls from interviews done on November 30 and December 16, 2011.
Clinton makes it clear that he sees the problem as too much competition between media outlets:
To make a profit in today’s media world, news organizations have to push so much content, and punditry trumps reporting in terms of attracting viewership, Clinton noted.
“And I say that because think of the economics of running cable channels,” he said. “Suppose you and I bought a cable channel, and he [pointing] bought another. You know that to make a living out of it, you’ve got to get about eight hundred thousand viewers for all your major programs. So you can get eight hundred thousand, and you won’t be as wealthy as Fox, but you’ll do okay.”
Back when there were just the Big Three television networks, “there was enough competition that everybody could keep each other honest,” he told Esquire.
“And now if you get a slice that’s that small and still viable — and you know it’s not like when we just had NBC, CBS, and ABC. That’s all there was. Everybody had enough market share that they knew would guarantee some comfortable level of profit,” he said. “And yet there was enough competition that everybody could keep each other honest, and when the Vietnam War came along, they could send fifty-five-year-old reporters to Vietnam for extended stays. They could afford to have correspondents in Europe to report. Correspondents in Asia.”
Saying there’s too much media is like saying people have too many opinions or too many perspectives or too many choices. How can these be bad things?
Maybe it’s not surprising that someone who was once a national leader would think less reporting, less opinionating, is better. After all, the fewer the media outlets, the easier it is to control or manipulate the media. When the power of the media laid in fewer hands, it was easier to influence. Much like government is better when power is distributed, the media is better when it is distributed.
Once, during a speech at the Philadelphia City Hall in 1993, Bill Clinton jokingly told a group of protesters that “one of the things wrong” with America was that “everybody gets a chance to have their fair say.”
His comments were taken as a joke at the time. Who knew he was so serious about it?
People like Clinton are often fond of reminiscing about some by-gone golden age of unbiased, principled journalism and more civilized public debate. I can tell you that this era never existed. Journalists have always been biased. Politics has always been a nasty game fraught with hypocrisy, fraud and back-stabbing.
The only difference between now and then is that Americans are more engaged in it, thanks to the democratizing impact of the internet and other technologies, than they were before.Tags: bill clinton, blogging, internet, journalism, Media, media bias