"The function of private media is to make money for the people who own the media. It is a business," Sanders said.
- Over his four-decade political career, Senator Bernie Sanders has been an outspoken critic of mass news media.
- In a 1988 speech, Sanders described how it's virtually impossible to meaningfully discuss substantial political issues in 30-second sound bites, and how the consolidation of news outlets makes it harder for alternative views to reach the public.
- Surveys show that America's trust in mass media has been declining for years.
Media consolidation<p>Three decades later, Sanders said: "In 1983, the largest 50 corporations controlled 90 percent of the media. Today, as a result of massive mergers and takeovers, six corporations control 90 percent of what we see, hear, and read [...] These powerful corporations also have an agenda, and it would be naive not to believe that their views and needs impact coverage of issues important to them."</p><p>The consolidation of media companies was accelerated by changes to the Federal Communications Commission, with two major deregulatory shifts that occurred under Reagan and then Clinton, whose administration passed the 1996 <a href="http://www.commoncause.org/research-reports/National_050905_Fallout_From_The_Telecommunications_Act_2.pdf" target="_blank">Telecommunications Act</a>. That law raised the cap on the number of local news stations and newspapers media corporations could buy.</p>
Fewer Americans trust mass media<p>What also adds to the homogeneity of news media is shrinking revenues and a trend toward click-bait content. Big Think's Reuben Jackson <a href="https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/news-media-consolidation" target="_blank">recently noted</a>:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"One effect of the contraction of the news industry is that journalists are networking with fewer peers and sources. In one <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2056305120926639" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently published study</a>, "Sharing Knowledge and 'Microbubbles': Epistemic Communities and Insularity in US Political Journalism," researchers from the University of Illinois explore the extent to which groupthink bias is increasingly being built into the content we consume."</p><p>These factors may help explain why Americans' trust in news media is declining. A <a href="https://news.gallup.com/poll/321116/americans-remain-distrustful-mass-media.aspx" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2020 Gallup</a> survey found that six in 10 Americans have "not very much" trust (27 percent) or "none at all" (33 percent) trust in mass media. It's not a new trend: Gallup notes that trust in mass media hovered just above the majority level until 2005, and since it hasn't risen above 47 percent.</p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.
Confirmation bias is baked into the DNA of America, but it may soon be the nation's undoing.
- From America's inception, there has always been a rebellious, anti-establishment mentality. That way of thinking has become more reckless now that the entire world is interconnected and there are added layers of verification (or repudiation) of facts.
- As the great minds in this video can attest, there are systems and mechanisms in place to discern between opinion and truth. By making conscious efforts to undermine and ignore those systems at every turn (climate change, conspiracy theories, coronavirus, politics, etc.), America has compromised its position of power and effectively stunted its own growth.
- A part of the problem, according to writer and radio host Kurt Andersen, is a new media infrastructure that allows for false opinions to persist and spread to others. Is it the beginning of the end of the American empire?
The 20th century was marked by waves of pro-democracy revolutions. Now, the future of democracy looks uncertain.
- A recent paper examined the status of democracy among the world's countries.
- The paper outlines three key indicators showing that democracy is generally declining worldwide, and it lists several potential reasons for the decline.
- Surveys indicate that nearly half of U.S. citizens are dissatisfied with how democracy is playing out on the national level.
The Global Expansion of Democracy (1974-2019)
Credit: Diamond<p><strong></strong><span style="background-color: initial;"><strong>Democratic freedoms have receded: </strong></span>Four different scales that measure levels of democracy — <a href="https://freedomhouse.org/" target="_blank">Freedom House</a>, the Economist Intelligence Unit, and V-Dem's Liberal and Electoral Democracy indices — "agree that there has been a modest negative trend for the advanced Anglophone and West European democracies, a more substantial slide for countries in Latin America and the Caribbean above one million population, and erosion – but of widely varying extent – in Sub-Saharan Africa." Meanwhile, those same scales found significant improves in freedom among South Asian and former Soviet nations.</p><p><strong>Democratic breakdown has accelerated:</strong> The past five years have seen more democracies crumble than any other five-year period since the third wave of democratization began in the mid-1970s. During that same period, the number of nations that switched to democracy was the lowest it's been in decades.</p>
What explains the global democratic recession?<p>The paper notes that, while military leaders and revolutions have toppled past democracies, the past decade or so "has mainly been an era of civilian assaults on democracy." In other words, it seems as if a large share of citizens in democratic nations are — wittingly or unwittingly — supporting the erosion of democracy, at least as it currently exists.</p><p>Populist candidates, Diamond suggests, have been able to rise to power by "inflaming divisions and mobilizing the good, deserving 'people' against corrupt elites – the professional or 'deep' state and their effete, educated handmaidens in the other (liberal) political parties – as well as a host of alien threats, such as international institutions, refugees and migrants, and 'undeserving' minorities who really don't 'belong' in the country."</p><p>Noting there's no "master" explanation for the democratic recession, the paper outlines several potential contributors, including:</p><p><strong>The erosion of political norms and institutions</strong>: Autocrats tend to have an easier time gaining power when political parties are weak, citizens aren't committed to democratic ideals, the rule of law is weak, and there's a lack of horizontal accountability, such as independent courts and legislatures.</p><p><strong>International context:</strong> Amid the chaos and failures of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the world began to adopt a more "pessimistic view of democracy promotion." The 2008 recession had a similar effect. Diamond wrote: "If the world's most powerful democracy could spawn a financial crisis that almost produced a global depression; if the world's largest collection of democracies (the E.U.) could not manage its borders or accommodate the rising tide of refugees and migrants due to wars and revolutions, then maybe democracy was not such a great system after all."</p>
Comparison of Democratic versus other types of governments in 1977 and 2017
Credit: Pew Research Center<p><strong><span style="background-color: initial;">Russian rage and Chinese ambition</span></strong><strong>:</strong> Although the U.S. remains a superpower, these two "authoritarian projects" are working to undermine liberal values around the world by using "sharp power," which the paper defines as operating "in the shadows to compromise institutions," unlike soft power, which "seeks to inspire and persuade transparently though attraction and the power of example."</p><p><strong>Global socio-economic trends:</strong></p><ul><li>Social and digital media: Helpful to democratic movements in a sense, the rise of the internet also made it easier for bad-faith actors to spread disinformation and group hatred.</li><li>The economic shift from manufacturing to finance has accelerated wealth inequality, leading to class resentments and leaving nations vulnerable to populism.</li><li>The rise of China displaced workers in the U.S. and similar nations, "further aggravating social and economic insecurities and resentments."</li><li>The long-term impact of neoliberal economic policies: "In the United States, this freed up financial markets to engage in ever riskier and more speculative lending and financial transactions. The final element was the growing economic instability of this potent mixture – deregulation, digitization, financialization, globalization – resulting in the 2008 financial crash, which, since it originated in the U.S. further badly damaged the reputation of democracy, as well as the resources and political self-confidence of the United States."</li></ul>
Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images<p>Diamond concludes the paper by warning that the global community is "perilously close to and indeed have probably already entered what [<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_P._Huntington" target="_blank">Samuel P. Huntington</a>] would have called a 'third reverse wave,' that is, a period in world history in which the number of transitions away from democracy significantly outnumber those to democracy."</p><p>According to survey results, most people seem to <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2020/02/27/democratic-rights-popular-globally-but-commitment-to-them-not-always-strong/" target="_blank">value democratic rights</a>, yet more than half of citizens in the U.S., U.K., Japan, and France say they're dissatisfied with democracy. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean people want autocracy.</p><p>But it does beg the question: What kinds of leaders and governing styles will dissatisfied citizens be willing to entertain — or unwilling to resist — if democracy doesn't find a way to reinvent itself in the 21st century?</p>
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET today as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
Can voters really predict who will be a good leader? Malcolm Gladwell joins Big Think Live to discuss this how lotteries could, in theory, distribute leadership more effectively, from government elections, college admissions, and grant applications.