The ongoing special counsel investigation report about the President and his administration, led by Bob Mueller, was submitted to the Attorney General last Friday. It was the biggest news story of the weekend and possibly the year. For the entire weekend several of these names trended on various social media platforms everyday (Mueller, Barr, Trump, Investigation, Report). Here’s the thing, this story contained no actual news at all. The actual report was not released to the public or to any politicians. This didn’t stop the mainstream media from creating a media firestorm surrounding the submittal of the report. With no official quotes from Mueller or his office and only one person having access to the report, several reports and articles started coming out strictly based on sources from the Justice Department. It was an all too common and depressing state of affairs for our current landscape. It was another uncomfortable reminder of how the 24/7 nature of social media has vastly warped and distorted both news and broadcast journalism where gossip and hearsay reigns supreme over legitimate news. Creating stories when there isn’t any and creating news about possible future stories, provides no true benefit to our society but it’s an absolute gold mine for website clicks and viewership ratings.
If you follow sports, then you are very familiar with the media landscape of TV pundits creating news out of nothing and sports writers turning some tweets into a major story because a biased source gave them some juicy details. Politics has turned into professional sports and both politicians and news networks are in on the game. In a NYTimes profile piece, CNN president Jeff Zucker even admits to mimicking the ESPN format to help build viewership for CNN and it’s been extremely successful. Zucker has been so successful at turning political discourse into sports style discourse that he’s even been rumored to become the new president of ESPN. This is often overlooked in conversations about our polarizing political landscape. With political bases turning into fan bases, that means our political leaders become these massively popular entities, who are above criticism, and voters become blind loyalists just like a fan base. Instead of constantly criticizing and scrutinizing all of our politicians for lack of policies that benefits our country, citizens are being fooled to do these things against each another and not to the people running our country.
Sunday, played out in sports fashion too. William Barr, the Attorney General, released a 4 page summary of the report, but not the actual report. Doing the same thing it did on Friday, several major new outlets created a new round of media firestorms by making sweeping conclusions about Barr’s summary, which again, is not the actual report. The blind loyalty of sports fans kicked in right away. Both sides of the fence, found vague sentences to hang their hat on and confirm the beliefs they previously held. Unfortunately, politicians realize how extremely beneficial this sports fan dichotomy is to them, so chances are the actual report may never be released. If it does, it’ll be hard to find any nuance in it. Meanwhile, the DCCC announced a new set of bizarre rules that aims to eliminate any intraparty competition. It was almost like a retaliation against primary winners like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who unseated well known Democratic incumbents. For those concerned with party fandom and our democratic institutions, it was a really bad weekend.
Ensuring the integrity of our democracy should be of the utmost importance but that seems to fade away as each day goes by. Rooting for “our teams” to win has taken center stage and the two dominant parties and our media pulls out all the stops to make sure we have enough pom-poms to cheer them on.
photo by Pat Drennan