Commentary

Each afternoon around 3 p.m., national news anchors and commentators at corporate media get dressed up, go through their hair and make-up routines, and practice their lines, preparing to deliver their versions of the day’s news events. 

More often than not, these news reports are slanted with their own subjective framing and commentary. After all, the media business is competitive. News programs have market positions to protect, their audience segments to appeal to, their candidates to help elect, and their corporate interests to assert. 

Under the glow of bright studio lights, introduced by dramatic music beds, and framed by colorful graphics, some of America’s media pundits may think of themselves as being something close to rockstars, a class of cultural elites who are uniquely qualified to interpret reality on a daily basis and preach their views for the masses to follow.  

Most are not thought leaders, per se, as they rarely have much probing insight to offer. Rather, their role is to tell you what to think—to stir controversy, when desired, and to provide a daily diet of sound bites, with the hopes that you, the audience, will digest them and speak them back when called upon. 

For previous generations, the mainstream media was a legitimate oligopoly. It effectively owned or dominated its respective channels of distribution–whether that meant broadcasters owning a portion of the limited electro-magnetic spectrum, or print media owning large printing presses and a fleet of delivery trucks.

Yet, in today’s highly crowded and fragmented media landscape, spawned by the Internet and endless digital bandwidth, that oligopoly has evaporated. Yes, corporate media machines continue to churn, just as they always have. However, now they do so amid a different reality, one in which a very important ingredient is often missing: the audience. 

As “mainstream” media no longer holds dominance over its channels of distribution, and no longer lays claim to the captive audiences and revenues that used to accompany that dominance, those audiences have dwindled.

This is why it has become nearly impossible for corporate media to dictate the narrative around one President Donald Trump, as frustrating as it may be for them. 

Take as an example MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who, on one of her better evenings, will capture an audience of 450,000 evening viewers. Joe Scarborough, who offers a carefully crafted voice of conscience during his morning show, yields a daily audience in the 200,000—250,000 range

Now consider that every time President Trump finds a few moments of downtime and pulls out his smartphone to post on Twitter, he sends a blast to nearly 64 million followers. If the president decides he’s feeling cagey and wants to tweet something a bit controversial, it is certain that a number of media will then pick up his message and make a story out of it. 

By the time President Trump’s tweet has finished pin-balling across the Internet, he may very well have reached an audience of over 70 million, 80 million, or even 90 million people. 

Mainstream media can certainly put out their own spin on the subject, as often they do, but it becomes difficult to win a public shouting match when the opponent has a megaphone that’s 15 or 20 times bigger. 

Is Trump’s Twitter following any barometer for his popularity?

There may or may not be a direct correlation between the size of a politician’s Twitter following and that politician’s popularity with voters. Twitter may appeal more to people of one demographic rather than another, and it does not provide a balanced sample. However, if Twitter serves as any barometer whatsoever for Trump’s popularity, Democrats should be concerned. 

Of the leading candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has the largest Twitter following of 9.6 million, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden, with 3.7 million followers, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), with 3.07 million followers. 

Corporate media, assuming it maintains a liberal slant, as expected, can only make up a small portion of that difference.