Message for Media: Stop Drinking the Bleach and Overwhelming the Public

Julie Hotard
8 min readMay 7, 2020

Have you ever stopped to consider what a large influence media wield in our elections? Right Wing media and mainstream media pretty much chose our president and Congress for us. Right Wing media lied to get Trump elected. Mainstream TV gave him billions of dollars of free coverage during the 2016 campaign. Social media companies allowed lies to be spread through their networks.

You may not be aware that New York Times and Washington Post both published excerpts from the Hillary Clinton hit job book Clinton Cash as though it were the truth. I’ve further described how this happened here.

Media have a lot more influence on us than most editors or TV producers would admit. At the present time, for example, many of us are stressed about our political situation. Media are definitely making the stress worse.

Media affect us through our emotions. For example, Right Wing media aim to get people to vote Republican. How? Right Wing media cause people to feel afraid of Democrats, angry at them, disgusted by them, and superior to them. As the eye opening film The Brainwashing of My Dad illustrates, this approach works to change minds.

How can Right Wing media get people to feel these emotions? One way is to hire paranoid, resentful, rageful or narcissistic people — people who are naturally afraid, angry or condescending.

Trump is often pretty angry and condescending — a good match as a candidate for Right Wing media. It’s easy to see why Trump has a natural affinity for Right Wing TV hosts like Sean Hannity.

Emotions are contagious — especially when they come from a trusted source, and especially when they are targeted at people sitting in front of the blinking lights of the TV screen or the Internet. Aggressive or attractive people on TV load up the sitting ducks with beliefs and emotions.

The Internet has taken most of the revenue from traditional media companies. How? By making people feel emotions. Social media make people feel connected to relatives and to real or imaginary friends.

But the internet also makes people feel empty, numb or afraid. For example, some people check their Instagram or Facebook feeds every ten minutes — fearing they’ll miss out on something. People may then feel empty when unable to use the internet. People keep returning to these mixtures of good and bad feelings.

Media trigger feelings of amusement, to get good ratings for TV shows or clicks for articles. Neil Postman wrote about this problem in his 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Since then, the problem has only gotten worse. With Trump as president, the entertainment has turned into gallows humor or gallows entertainment.

There are some excellent journalists in mainstream media. There are also many who passively follow the habits of others in their field. Media folks may feel safer and more comfortable by practicing the familiar habits of their media institutions. But those habits make news consumers feel less comfortable.

Here are some kinds of distress that mainstream media folks accidentally trigger, in the process of following ingrained habits: Overwhelm, anxiety, disorientation, burnout and helplessness. But who wants to feel more of these things?

How do mainstream media trigger so much distress? Our unusual times are a factor. In the past, it made sense to report the views of “both sides” of the political spectrum, and to report whatever the president said, as “news.” Doing this right now destroys truth and democracy.

Trump’s communication methods fit exactly into what Steve Bannon once described as the plan for Trump’s campaign: “Flood the (media) zone with shit.”

Bannon’s plan works easily. Since media report what the president says as “news”, media outlets end up reporting large quantities of lies.

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at NYU, has been one of those leading the charge to try to get media not to carry Trump’s lie-filled press conferences live, and to report useful information instead. I highly recommend reading his blog, Pressthink.

Some TV stations have used chyrons below the screen to fact-check the president during his press conferences. People watching these shows no longer get overwhelmed simply by Trump’s lies. They now get overwhelmed by Trump’s lies, plus all the fact checks of Trump’s lies. That’s better but still not good.

I’ve written before about how I think media ought to focus on what affects the lives of citizens greatly.

Matters that are likely to severely affect the health or welfare of large numbers of us soon should get top priority. Another high priority category should be corruption that is likely to destroy democracy soon — like massive voter suppression or vote manipulation efforts.

For example, if Trump and the Republican party decide to allow the Post Office to go bankrupt and thus to become privatized, this would be a voting system issue. That could give control of Vote by Mail ballots to a private company — likely a GOP donor. Privatization would make our already bad electoral situation worse. Trump has just appointed one of the top Republican fundraisers who is a top ally of Trump’s, as Postmaster General. Media need to keep a close watch on him.

If you aren’t fully informed about election system issues, I highly recommend watching Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections

Current news is now a chaos treadmill. A lot of liberal leaning TV and radio shows lead to obsessive worrying, discouragement and empathy burnout in their audiences. There is only so much information humans can take in and process.

Many journalists act as if news consumers need to be alerted to every small mistake Trump and his administration make in governing — as if each one is an emergency that citizens must respond to soon. It isn’t.

Please be sure you are sitting down before you read this paragraph. The unpleasant reality is that in our system of government, if a con artist gets elected president and is supported by a con artist Senate, there is not much ordinary citizens can do — at least not before the next election season. Some judges or other government employees can halt or change bad actions. There are some measures the House of Representatives can take, and citizens can pressure them to do so. But ordinary citizens can’t do a lot.

The sad truth is that in our current situation, the con artist president gets to lie, cheat, steal, fill the courts with judges loyal to his party, lavish taxpayer money on his donors. He gets to destroy our institutions of government, our environment and our democracy — for his full four years in office. Fellow con artists in the Senate can keep the Con-Artist-in-Chief from experiencing accountability.

Activities such as begging Senate Republicans to put party before country have been a complete waste of time. Almost all have been immovable in their support for Trump.

We need to help each other to face this truth, so we can release unnecessary stress and find the energy we’ll need to Get Out the Vote for November. That will go better if our heads are not clogged with every trivial lie by the Trump administration.

Here’s a happy song to help us focus on voting Trump out.

The most constructive political actions we can take now are to release our distress and to calm down enough to focus well on getting out the vote for November, and for any state or local elections before then — and on any other few matters we can influence — such as free and fair elections. We can spend the time we used to spend on excessive following of the news, on recreation and relaxation.

Here are some ways to release distress that work for many people.

In summary, the way mainstream media have covered Trump’s constant lies, has caused us to feel as if there’s a five alarm fire in the house every day — AND that we are in a position where we can extinguish it right away. That’s not the case.

Some media folks think news consumers want to hear every word spoken by the Trump administration. Media folks may think citizens want to focus endlessly on news — as if we spend our days finding, hearing, seeing and reporting every bit of news we can find.

But we don’t. That’s what REPORTERS do — not news CONSUMERS. Reporters act as if the rest of us are just like them. We’re not. Many news consumers spend our days doing totally different work. Some news consumers have lost jobs and may feel anxious or sad about it.

And what are our top desires? Our needs are NOT to fill our heads with trivial lies. We need to find out about news that’s important for civic life. Some of us may need some encouragement or help in participating in our communities. Inspiration, motivation and upliftment may be welcomed by some of us too.

Trump’s meandering thoughts about whether we ought to drink bleach to prevent or cure COVID-19? Those are not welcome.

News should inform us. It shouldn’t overwhelm us, exhaust us, discourage us, or make us constantly angry. We need to feel encouraged and motivated to take whatever few constructive political actions we can take during these dark times.

Humans are distractible. We are easily pulled away from focusing on what’s important, even when democracy is at stake. The Internet, and media in general, have been mostly worsening our distractibility. That’s not what we need.

So how about it, media folks? Do you want what you do for a living to make people feel chronic stress that worsens their health? To make I make people feel alarmed, outraged, doomed and helpless to do anything about it? Or would you like to make a U turn here, and give us some help, so we can focus on essential matters instead?