Conflict journalism as meal ticket: Why consumers of news deserve to know the financial interests of those framing it


The same national media that bent over backward to normalize Donald Trump is now falling over themselves to try to Trumpedo Biden.

This is because the beltway media - reporters, commentators, publications, and 'news' stations - knows that conflict journalism sells, and in an age when everything is dictated by "going viral" on social media, conflict journalism sells a lot. Just like we all slow down on the freeway to observe the scene of a car crash even though all that achieves is a traffic jam, conflict journalism sells subscriptions even without any news value.

By constantly creating and elevating strife, Donald Trump - and Trumpism - created a particularly profitable age of conflict journalism for the beltway press, but it is important to note that Trump is as much a consequence of conflict journalism as he is the cause of it. Throughout Barack Obama's eight years in office, the media reveled in magnifying leftist antipathy to President Obama as much as the right's revulsion of him.

The surprise of the 2016 presidential campaign wasn't that Donald Trump won, but that Hillary Clinton was able to get 3 million more votes than Trump despite the authoritarian left, a foreign power, and the domestic media working in unison with the alt-right to defeat her.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, the media amplified the leftist uprising against Hillary Clinton (and broadly, against the Democratic party) led by Bernie Sanders even though mathematically speaking, Clinton defeated Sanders easily and early in the primary. That did not stop the beltway press from promoting Bernie Sanders's sexist smear of Hillary Clinton as a corrupt politician because she gave paid speeches, while utterly ignoring Sanders's real scandals, ranging from profiting from an attempted nuclear waste dump near an impoverished Latino community, his subservience to the gun lobby, or the fact that he was a deadbeat dad for years.

It certainly did not stop the press from following that up in the general election campaign with Wikileaks, But-her-emails, and other non-stories promoted by Donald Trump while doing precious little to vet Trump himself, whose campaign was under investigation by the FBI for collaborating with the Russian attack on our democracy.

Now they are doing it again. Sure, the media wasn't particularly fond of Donald Trump naming them the "enemy of the people." It didn't please them when Trump threw daily tantrums aimed at dismantling American institutions, including the free press. But the beltway press did not mind the constant eyeballs that crisis earned them, and they know that they do not need Donald Trump to kick around when they can rely on their own capacity to manufacture strife where none exists to do keep their meal tickets punched.

And so we are back this weekend to being outraged that a woman gave speeches and charged money for them. In a Politico story being blown up in social media by hungry far-left hyenas into conjecture about corruption, Janet Yellen, the first woman to have chaired the Federal Reserve and President-elect Biden's choice for Secretary of Treasury, it turns out, gave some speeches and made some money by charging for those speeches. It also appears that other Biden appointees, including Secretary of State-designate Anthony Director of National Intelligence-designate Avril Haines, also committed the unforgivable sin of being compensated for working in the private sector.

The information, all gleaned from public financial disclosures filed by Biden's designees, is being presented as having the potential to create conflict with "progressives", which has become a beltway codeword for the congregants of the Church of Bernie. Why? Clearly, the implication is that Biden nominees making money from the private sector, especially by giving speeches, which for some reason is qualitatively different from Bernie Sanders making millions by writing books, is prima facie corruption. Also, for some odd purpose, it is outrageous and corrupt for non-Bernie worshipping liberals to give speeches to Citigroup, but perfectly honorable Bernie Sanders to use notorious anti-semite and nativist Pat Buchanan's publisher.

To make matters worse, some of the "journalists" on what Robert Gibbs once famously and accurately referred to as the professional left promoting and defending the sensationalism of the Politico story themselves command a pretty penny for speaking, in addition to making quite a comfortable living. A speech by Sam Stein, a contributor to MSNBC and editor at the Daily Beast will run you about $10,000, maybe a little less if your event is virtual. Hanna Trudo, just for being a political reporter, picks up a cool $5-10K a pop for each speaking gig.

More in-demand and experienced media personalities can make significantly more. To take a cross-section of political ideology, people like Bob Woodward, Van Jones, Anderson Cooper, and Laura Ingraham all command $100,000 or more in speaking fees, which is perfectly in line with Yellen, at the pinnacle of her field, earning $1 million from nine (9) speeches to Citigroup that seems to have caught the fancy of the... shall we say... cheaper 'journalists.'

With no reporting on any actual unethical or corrupt behavior by Yellen or any of the other Biden appointees, it sure is looking like the Professional Left is merely stoking a story for clickbait and to raise their own profiles so they can punch their own meal ticket here rather than doing their journalistic jobs.

How, precisely, do we know that the people informing us about the ethics and potential conflicts of interest of public officials are themselves performing an ethical service that is not motivated by their own meal tickets? Defending the dramatization of the story, journalist Judd Legum says that "actual and potential conflicts-of-interest of Biden nominees should be scrutinized," and to be sure, they certainly should be, but at this point, the American people also need to know about the actual and potential conflicts of interest and corruption issues about the beltway media, given that they have proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that we can't just take their word for it.

So here's a proposition: national beat reporters, editors, and show hosts who work for large news publications and stations (say with more than 2 million combined monthly views/reads across all channels, including social media channels), as well as the corporations that own those publications and the executives who control those corporations, ought to complete financial disclosures akin to those required of members of Congress, top administration officials, and federal judges. These reporters, editors, show hosts, corporations, and corporate executives should also release their personal tax returns annually.

Highly visible reporters, editors, hosts, media channels, and media corporations have a highly influential role in the lives of everyday Americans by framing the news for our consumption. Often, their framing defines issues in the public consciousness and plays a consequential and even at times determinative role in shaping legislation, regulations, and elections. Yet, we know next to nothing about the financial motivating factors that may shape the views of these powerful individuals. There is no system to hold them accountable. There should be.

That might run into issues with the First Amendment. The Constitution is clear about the freedom of the press, and it is unlikely that Congress has the power to compel disclosures from the media, except to the extent that the law already requires certain disclosures from public corporations. But certainly, it does not have to be compelled by Congress. It can simply be instituted and enforced by the media organizations themselves, and anyone refusing to abide by it would simply lose their ability to work for the large outlets in what could be called a Coalition for Transparency.

Surely, no self-respecting journalist currently running after what they are so concerned may be "potential" conflicts of interest or corruption in the Biden team could be opposed to a little sunshine on their own finances. Surely, there are no 'potential' meal-ticket reasons to elevate inuendoes rather than actually investigating and reporting on whether there is any actual corruption. Surely, they are epitomes of ethics and virtue who would never push a story for its potential (there's that word again) to cause conflict rather than its actual news value. Surely they have nothing to hide. 

Right?