Despite outspending the world in elections, U.S. voter turnout is historically low because of media’s focus on the interest of the elite, says University of Illinois Professor Robert McChesney
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. Donald Trump, or the Donald as the media has dubbed him, is dominating headlines in broadcasts all over the country after his announcement that he’s running for president. Even after he was widely condemned in headlines for his June remarks accusing almost all Mexican immigrants of being drug dealers and rapists, Trump is leading in the polls. A new poll from Public Policy Polling has billionaire Donald Trump at the top of the crowded field of Republican party presidential contenders, with 19 percent of Republican voters supporting him. In his most recent media stir-up, Trump toured the U.S.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas to discuss immigration. Here’s what he had to say. DONALD TRUMP: There’s a huge problem with the illegals coming through. And in this section it’s a problem, in some sections it’s a massive problem. And you have to do–you have to create, you have to make the people that come in, they have to be legal. The reason I won with the Hispanic vote, and I win all over with the Hispanic vote, is because they know I’ll take jobs back from China, I’ll take jobs back from Japan and every other country that’s killing us. I’ll bring the jobs back. And you know, the Hispanics are going to get those jobs, and they’re going to love Trump. And they already do. DESVARIEUX: Here to discuss the role of the media in Trump’s ascendance is Bob McChesney. He’s a professor of communications at University of Illinois. Thanks so much for joining us, Bob. Bob, why does Donald Trump get a platform? Is it because he’s rich, ridiculous, or a bit of both? ROBERT MCCHESNEY, PROF. OF COMMUNICATIONS, UNIV. OF ILLINOIS: Well, first of all it’s because he’s a billionaire. So he can buy his way in if he wants to. He can purchase as many ads as necessary. And if you can buy a lot of ads or purchase your way in you’re guaranteed a place at the table. Secondly, his opinions are for the most part the opinions of the upper class in this country. They’re the elite opinions for the most part. So they get clear sailing. He doesn’t antagonize the usual filter that would have weeded him out if he were a socialist or something. And then third and finally he is a success in commercial entertainment. He’s a successful entertainer, and he knows the conventions and practices to draw attention to himself like very few other people do. So it’s really a cocktail of those three things, and you need all three to explain why he is getting the attention he’s getting now. DESVARIEUX: Do you agree with this argument that if the media did not pay attention to Trump that he wouldn’t be polling so high? MCCHESNEY: It’s hard to say, because the media and Trump are so closely aligned that it’s a totally hypothetical issue. You know, perhaps if he had no coverage whatsoever or if he got, say, the sort of coverage Bernie Sanders gets, which is hardly anything at all, perhaps his [inaud.] would be a lot lower. I think you could make that case. But Donald Trump is exactly what the corporate news media look for in politics. He’s a dream for them. And they love nothing more than to not only cover him but then to cover sort of the outraged response of responsible politicians responding to his latest ludicrous or wild claim. DESVARIEUX: If you were in that newsroom would you say, let’s cover Trump? Do you think he’s newsworthy? MCCHESNEY: If I were in a newsroom, I would say–I would definitely say he’s newsworthy, but I would, I’d want to cover actually the basis for Trump. I’d want to cover his wealth, and why he can buy his way into the election. I would want to cover the immigration issue in a much more substantial manner, use it as an entree to a very serious and important issue rather than have it be a barstool, sort of, brawl, that really–a lot of heat and almost no light. But I would also want to stand back if I were in a newsroom and say, we’ve got very serious issues in this country. What exactly are we trying to do with regard to educating people and informing them as they make decisions about what sort of government we’re going to have in the coming years to deal with these problems? And if we’re treating, covering Donald Trump as it’s currently being covered, which is largely as an extension of [arel]. We shout, is that of really much value? It’s great for commercial ratings for news. I think that Fox anticipates the August 6 debate will have the highest ratings in the history of debates, maybe ranking with presidential debates, and certainly primary debates. It’ll be the highest ever. So they love this. I mean, these are commercial enterprises. They’re out to make money. This guy is jigging up the ratings for them. This is a gift from heaven. Plus, he’s someone who doesn’t actually touch on any serious challenges to the status quo, so he’s ideal for the sort of trivial show business they enjoy doing. DESVARIEUX: That’s so interesting, because he sort of puts himself out there as this maverick that is challenging the status quo. And there are those in the news business like Dan Rather, of CBS–former CBS evening news anchor. And he’s come out saying that we’re not covering him enough, and that we should actually be covering him even more and giving him maximum coverage. Let’s take a listen as to what Mr. Rather had to say. INTERVIEWER: Dan, if you were in those positions right now, how much coverage would you be giving Donald Trump? DAN RATHER: I’d be giving him the maximum coverage. American politics, presidential politics, it’s in no small way theater. And Donald Trump is a center star, whether you like him or dislike him, or have no opinion. DESVARIEUX: So Bob, doesn’t he have a point that if he’s doing so well in the polls, shouldn’t we be covering Trump to the max? MCCHESNEY: Not necessarily. I think he’s getting ample coverage. I’ve yet to meet anyone besides Dan Rather that thought he was being under-covered. Whether the coverage is very good, I don’t know. But at the same time, using polls exclusively to determine or largely determine who gets coverage is an interesting idea. It apparently doesn’t apply on the Democratic side, where Bernie Sanders gets extraordinary limited amount of coverage relative to his performance not only in polls but it’s about public speaking events, even on so-called liberal channels like MSNBC, the most obscure one point in the poll Republican like Bobby Jindal or Rick Santorum’s getting one-on-one interviews, but Bernie Sanders can barely get in to talk to the intern in the waiting room. So I find that whole argument sort of contradictory and full of loopholes. DESVARIEUX: Okay. What about this argument that this is a reflection of how the line of what is acceptable in the media has really degenerated? And in other words, the media hasn’t really taken this role as being responsible in terms of not promoting racist hate speech. What do you make of that argument? MCCHESNEY: Look, I think Donald Trump is exactly what you would expect in a system where money controls everything. Where a running–you know, we spend 30,40 times more per voter in our elections than Germany does. Or Norway, or most other democracies. Ten or 15 times more than the closest one to us. Yet we have the lowest voter turnout in the world. Our elections are a farce. They go to the richest people. And the content in our news media that covers our election is almost all the sort of trivia that would be completely compatible with an authoritarian society. It’s gossip, it’s nonsense, it’s innuendo. It’s basically how successful the candidates at spinning voters. Not actually the content of their messages. Donald Trump is the central casting candidate for this world. He is exactly what they want. And the news media thrive on this they’re hardly antagonistic toward it. So nothing abut this should surprise us. This is the logic of, culmination of dollarocracy. DESVARIEUX: I hear you, dollarocracy. Well, that’s why people need to support the Real News. We need independent media. I’m just putting a plug out there for my own station. But Bob McChesney, thank you so much for joining us. MCCHESNEY: My pleasure. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on he Real News Network.
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