It has been said that a lie travels around the world before the truth can get its pants on. Sadly, that adage has never been more apparent than during this election cycle. Mercifully over, it produced two deeply flawed Presidential candidates whose respective relationships with the truth were casual at best. In a normal world, an objective mainstream media (MSM) would have called them to account when they invariably misspoke, and the American people would have been better informed about the character, temperament, competency, and leadership of both.
Instead, we were treated to a press that mostly acted as a propaganda ministry for the left, the pervasiveness of their bias revealed by hacked emails and documents made public. Ironically, by glossing over Hillary Clinton’s serious scandals, they had zero standing when they reported on Donald Trump’s more numerous, but arguably less harmful, gaffes. The "fair and balanced" alternative to the MSM, however, is not without fault. Perhaps for ratings, perhaps for fear of hurting the GOP candidate, they went full cheerleader on the right. In the name of shilling for "their" preferred candidates, all of them threw off even the veneer of objectivity, flooding the daily news cycle with fluff pieces supporting one candidate and takedowns of the opponent.
Unfortunately, journalism has long since been replaced with "infotainment," where opinionated pundits produce more jokes than facts and consumers walk away with the illusion that they are informed on important issues. The death knell for the media’s credibility came on election night. In true "Dewey Defeats Truman" fashion, flapping heads on every network predicted a Clinton win. Such was not the case.
What has emerged is a thoroughly discredited fourth estate with a favorability rating somewhere between catching a venereal disease and getting hit in the face with a tack hammer. More Americans than ever before are now aware of the inherent bias of the media; the far left certainly "felt the Bern" of the MSM colluding with a Democratic establishment to put their thumb on the scale for Clinton. The anti-Trump Republicans saw Fox News Channel follow suit.
Where the danger lies
Nobody trusts the government. It’s seen as overbearing, incompetent, expensive, and scandal-ridden. Nobody trusts the education system. It’s churning out coddled snowflakes incapable of dealing with reality and saddled with debt for degrees they can’t use. Nobody trusts the church. They’ll never shake the child sex scandals or attempts to cover them up. Nobody trusts the markets. The game is rigged by the banks or the crony capitalists or the special interests, depending on who you talk to. The one entity charged with keeping them all honest has been exposed as a fraud. When nobody trusts any of our civic institutions anymore, what happens?
From a philosophical perspective, without a proper reference point for the truth, our society is in danger of falling victim to extreme cynicism, leading to tribalism, devolving to fatalism, and ending in cataclysm. This has profound national security implications for America.
First, we become more susceptible to disinformation, misinformation, and manipulation from entities, both internal and external, that will negatively impact strategic decision-making. We’ve already seen what happens when an administration is obsessed with responding to the 24 hour news cycle and conducts foreign policy via hashtag. With social media and the internet increasingly intertwined with our lives, this phenomenon will only increase, leading to an environment where terrible decisions can be made at lightning speed. We all know that when you rush, accidents happen. Not a big deal when you stub your toe hopping out of bed in the morning. Huge deal if you are misinterpreting Chinese movements in the South China Sea or Russian military exercises near the Baltics.
Second, espionage. Without a credible, objective, and trusted guarantor of institutional accountability, nobody knows what is true. While the rise of alternative media allowed the people to circumvent the traditional media, it is a double-edged sword. It has lessened the power of the MSM, but unverified rumors and "fake news" are now being reported as facts. Doubt in traditional media is being exploited to steer eyes, clicks, and inevitably, dollars to new media outlets that have no accountability or lack sufficient journalistic integrity.
Intelligence services find such an environment ripe for exploitation, leveraging that doubt to their own ends in the form of spoofing, false flags, malware, phishing scams, etc. Further, expect more Bradley Mannings and Edward Snowdens and "Fat Leonard" scandals. With faith in our institutions crumbling, disenchanted individuals may increasingly ask why they should risk their necks to continue to prop up a corrupt and dying system.
The media has its work cut out for it. Credibility, once lost, is incredibly difficult to regain. But regain it they must, one unbiased article at a time. Bottom line, without the lodestars of accountable government and objective media, America risks losing her bearings and sailing blindly into stormy seas.
Greg Archetto is a former State Department and Defense Department official who specializes in security cooperation issues in the Middle East. He was also foreign policy advisor to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in 2013-14. He has a BA in Political Science from Rowan University, MA in Public Policy/Administration from Rutgers University, and a MA in National Security/Strategic Studies from the US Naval War College. His previous publications are featured at conservativereview.com, humanevents.com, dailycaller.com, dailysurge.com, Foreign Area Officers Association Journal, and his personal blog, www.thereasonablerepublican.com.