What does the election of Donald Trump say about users of the media? At our next Trinity Unplugged, the ABC’s Religion & Ethics commentator Scott Stephens will explore what the media’s fascination with Trump says about ourselves.
During his candidacy, Trump was like manna from heaven for the media: Trump and his scandals consistently delivered mainstream coverage of his campaign millions of clicks and his presidential campaign itself hundreds of hours of free airtime. While the media doubtless believed that Trump was so unelectable that the disproportionate attention it showered on him was benign, little did they realise they were being played. Trump both understood and exploited the pressures on the media in a click-and-share economy better than any politician in recent times.
Now, during his presidency, the very media that aided and abetted his rise to power cries foul over the corrosive effect of so-called “fake news” and promotes serious journalism as the indispensable custodian of democratic principles. But this simply will not do, for mainstream media companies themselves have created the conditions of possibility for the emergence and indistinguishability of “fake news” by their sensationalist framing of stories and promiscuous intermingling of news with entertainment, trivia and sheer banality – all in the name of pandering to what ‘works’ on social media. To put it bluntly, “fake news” is only possible because of the tabloidization of news in general. The problem isn’t fake news, but feckless news.
Trump has quickly become a kind of political fetish, a convenient scapegoat for the more systemic malaises in and of our common life. But such a diversionary alibi only has purchase because the modern media has long lost the capacity to produce and nurture clear-sighted civic sentinels like Edward R. Murrow, who famously reminded his audience in 1954 that Joseph McCarthy’s rise and reach wouldn’t have been possible without the complicity of the public and the press: “He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it – and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves’.”
Speaker: Scott Stephens
About Scott: Scott Stephens is Editor of the ABC’s Religion and Ethics website, and specialist commentator on religion and ethics for ABC radio and television. He presented two series of the critically acclaimed “Life’s Big Questions” program for Compass on ABC1, and has been guest presenter of Conversations with Richard Fidler on ABC local radio. Before joining the ABC, Scott taught theology, ethics and Semitic studies for many years.
Date: Monday 5th June
Venue: Trinity College Queensland, Level 1, 60 Bayliss St, Auchenflower QLD 4066
RSVP: Please RSVP via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with number of attendees and contact information.