The Listening Post

US elections and the media: How did we get here?

We explore how a lack of regulation and absence of a strong public broadcaster has impacted the coverage of US politics.

In this special edition of The Listening Post from New York City we explore how a lack of regulation and absence of a strong public broadcaster in America has affected the coverage of US politics.

As the 2016 presidential election campaign heads into the home stretch, many Americans are accusing their news outlets, particularly on the broadcast side, of not just reporting on the race for the White House – but actually affecting the outcome, through their commercial agendas, prioritising ratings and revenues over journalism and responsible reporting.

So how did we get here? Measuring the totality of media coverage over the entire presidential campaign – the content, the tone, the ideology – is near impossible. But what we can do is examine structural issues in the broadcasting landscape that are unique to the United States.

First, America’s regulatory requirement for editorial fairness is almost non existent. Broadcasters in the US can be editorially and ideologically biased whether Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left.

The second thing that sets the US media apart is that unlike every other advanced country in the world, America does not have a publicly owned broadcaster provided with the resources – the budgets – to actually compete with privately owned media outlets. So broadcasting in the US is almost entirely corporate-controlled.

We examine the corporate domination of the American airwaves, the ratings and profit imperative related to that and the effect that that has on media coverage and public discourse.

Talking us through the story are: Dan Rather, former anchor, CBS Evening News; Cenk Uygur, host, The Young Turks; Amy Goodman, host, Democracy Now!; Nicholas Lemann, dean emeritus, Columbia Journalism School; Robert McChesney, communications professor, Illinois University; Janine Jackson, programme director, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting; Daniel McCarthy, editor, The American Conservative; and Patricia Diaz Dennis, former Federal Communications Commissioner.