Neal Gabler writes about why and how the corporate news media has turned politics into professional wrestling: “The far more grievous crime is what the media have been doing to our politics for decades now – something for which Trump just happens to be the chief beneficiary.
“Nearly 60 years ago, the historian Daniel Boorstin in his seminal book ‘The Image’ described a society in which things were increasingly staged expressly for the media without any intrinsic merit of their own – things like photo ops, press conferences, award ceremonies. He labeled these ‘pseudo-events’ because they only looked like real events, while being hollow inside. And Boorstin defined pseudo-people too – people whose activities, as he put it, had no intrinsic value either. He called them ‘celebrities,’ and he defined them as people who were known for being well known.
“Politics would seem a far cry from the pseudo, if only because it determines real things with real effects, namely how our country is governed. But almost from the time Boorstin was writing, the media had been growing increasingly bored with traditional politics. The media, after all, were in the business of getting an audience, not educating it, which is why campaigns began to assume the contours of movies, and why personalities began to overshadow policies. Still, campaigns retained some grain, however small, of seriousness. Issues were debated. Party ideologies were contrasted. Qualities of leadership were dissected.
“Until 2016. If the media were spoiling for a pseudo-campaign, they finally got their wish this year at the point where all the usual trimmings and frivolities of a campaign moved to the center, and the center disappeared. Another way to think about it is that a pseudo-campaign is all about itself and not about the presidency. Just look at the horse race aspect, which has long consumed 95 percent of our election coverage. Trump is the horse-race candidate, expatiating on little else besides his lead in the race. But let’s be clear: Donald Trump did not create this situation. He is its heir, and simply the most gifted practitioner of the pseudo-campaign.”
The prescient playwright Paddy Chayefsky anticipated it decades go in his 1976 film ‘Network.” His deranged anchorman Howard Beale laughs and says: “But, man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We’ll tell you anything you want to hear; we lie like hell. We'll tell you that, uh, Kojak always gets the killer, or that nobody ever gets cancer at Archie Bunker’s house, and no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don’t worry, just look at your watch; at the end of the hour he's going to win.
“We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in *illusions*, man! None of it is true! But you people sit there, day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds... We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality, and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you! You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even *think* like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name, you people are the real thing! *WE* are the illusion!”