We’re Living Through The Morton Downey Jr. Presidency

morton downey jr with american flagThese are odd times.

Regardless of which party you support, we can all agree that politics as usual has been upended in Washington and in many parts of the country. Voters have thrown surprising levels of support to complete outsiders (Donald Trump) or fringe figures (Bernie Sanders) who had never before been taken seriously as political forces.

A serious problem with today’s political climate, however, is the amount of rage which drives the conversation, at the expense of realistic, detailed proposals to address serious issues. Donald Trump leads the way there, as he shows little interest in public policy debates on healthcare, taxes, or anything else, and only wants to be seen as “winning” by his supporters.

This all reminds me of an episode we’ve been through before, when a loudmouthed blowhard tore up behavioral norms and enjoyed huge success in the media.

For a while there, it looked like Morton Downey Jr. was going to take over the TV world.

The Morton Downey Jr. Show

For those of you who don’t remember, Morton Downey Jr. hosted a talk show in the late 1980’s which enjoyed a sensational run on syndicated TV. Downey broke all the rules regarding civility and decency on American television, and opened up new terrain for the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich to explore.

He yelled, he berated those he disagreed with, he rolled up his sleeves and chain-smoked with abandon as his audience roared their approval and begged for more.

Just see for yourself:

So is this the path we’re heading down as a country?

Has civil discourse descended into the gutter, with political discussions forever breaking down like an audience fight at the Geraldo Rivera Show?

Perhaps not.

As flashy as Morton Downey Jr.’s rise was, his fall was swift and relatively quiet. The show’s run lasted just under two years, a blip on the radar of TV history, really. On the way down it was pushed out of the way by The Arsenio Hall Show, an utter reversal not just in terms of diversity but civility as well.

Sure, you can still find shows that link back to Downey’s style in various corners of the media market, which is a much broader and specialized business than it was 30 years ago. But it has fallen far from the heights it enjoyed back then.

There’s hope that just as TV viewers back then grew tired of the yelling and screaming, our American voters of today will begin to ask for leaders with adult solutions to adult problems.

Will the cheap thrill of rage politics wear off by the 2018 mid-terms? That’s the big question facing both parties over the next year.

Fake News vs Media Bias: A Citizen’s Guide

“Fake News” has been a hot topic this election season, as bizarre stories have motivated citizens in the voting booth and beyond (witness the “Pizzagate” gunman). Faced with a firehose of supposed news stories from a variety of sources, it can be hard to separate the good from the bad at times.

The bigger problem, however, is that too many Americans use this excuse to immediately reject any news report that doesn’t support their views, by calling into question the honesty of the source. In their minds there is no difference between a professional news organization which takes an editorial stance, and another media outlet that spins pure fiction.

Just try posting an anti-Trump article on Twitter from the New York Times or the Washington Post, and see how many “fake news” replies you get. Go ahead, I’ll wait!

The “Fake News” Cop-Out

This “fake news” retort is nothing more than a cop-out, plain and simple. If you dismiss serious news organizations as “fake news”, then what media outlet could ever be trusted?

It’s easier to do that, I suppose, than honestly examine the source of a given story and think about where editorial bias might factor in.

An informed citizen considers the source of a story and makes a judgment about it without necessarily throwing the whole thing out. Is the outlet you’re reading favoring one side or the other? Maybe you need to check that story from the other side of the divide to get an idea of what they are thinking, and come to your own decision.

Media Bias vs Fake News Infographic

I recently found the following image on Facebook (you can find the explanation and updated image here, thanks to @torrHL on Twitter for the tip), and it illustrates this issue quite neatly.

Basically, any of the groups above the “Meets High Standards” line try to get the underlying facts in a story right. Failures do happen, but when they do the organization owns up to the mistake and tries to do better in the future.

Below that line, the game is all about attracting visitors in bulk. Particularly in the bottom left and right corners, where you find the most shrill partisan outlets, sensational half-truths are put forth on a regular basis to fire up their readership.

Where do your favorites fall in here, and do you seriously consider content from both sides of that “Mainstream” line?

My personal favorites are the Economist, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Recently I’ve enjoyed watching Bloomberg News, I’m not sure exactly where it falls on this chart but I’d put it more to the “Complex” side than other TV news. I’m also warming up to both The Atlantic and The Hill.

How about you? Speak up in the comments below and let us know where you find the good stuff!

Fake News vs Media Bias infographic