Beware of Tabloid Politics

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By: T. Jeffersonian

Sensationalism is defined as the use of exciting or shocking stories and language at the expense of accuracy to provoke public interest or excitement. Sensationalism is a technique often used in yellow or tabloid journalism that present little or no legitimate well-researched information, instead uses eye-catching headlines to attract public interest. In addition to sensationalism, other yellow journalism techniques include exaggeration of news events and scandal reporting. All of these tabloid journalism techniques are only intend to generate higher profits.

The goal of any business is to make a profit. A profitable business is greatly benefited by an effective public relations (PR) campaign, designed to continually promote the business’ brand while keeping marketing costs low. The maxim, “any press is good press,” arouses controversy throughout the PR and media realm. Most PR experts denounce the maxim as a myth, but research indicates that negative media coverage helps meet business’ goals.

Former President Donald Trump is one of these said business leaders who would arguably agree with the maxim’s utility. A December 2016 Harvard Business School study attributed the Donald Trump 2016 Presidential Election victory to the overwhelming amount of negative media coverage. Like a real businessman, Trump dominated the airwaves because his behavior supplied the media’s never-ending demands for airtime. The Harvard study reported that since Watergate, the ordinary and expected no longer satiate the news media. The Harvard study explained that news today is preferable when laced with conflict and outrage. Trump delivered that type of material to both reporters and readers alike daily. Trump packaged news into easily digestible and deliciously controversial sound bites.

As a result, his message “Make America Great Again” resonated more with the nation than his opponents, Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger Together.” The Harvard study argued that the press’s real bias is not that it is more liberal or conservative, but that it is biased toward negativity. However, the negative bias inadvertently benefits Republicans because the media’s persistent criticism of right-winged government officials only reinforces the Republican’s anti-government messages. By highlighting what is wrong with the government, journalists inadvertently fan the flames of public anger, misconception, and anxiety, which astutely observant politicians use to their advantage. The study’s conclusion warns of increasing fraudulence when the media’s apparent focus is intently on negativity.

In his 1796 Farewell Address, President George Washington warned of said fraudulence. Washington warned of the dangers of sectionalism, arguing that the true motives of a sectionalist are to create distrust or rivalries between regions and people to gain power and take or keep control of the government. President Washington warned of political parties in a democracy, claiming that political parties create unfounded jealousies among groups and regions, raise false alarms among the people, promote riots and insurrection, and provide foreign nations and domestic interests with access to the government where negative, often self-serving political agendas can be served against the people.

Even after the Trump administration era, we continue to see sensationally negative politics. Donald Trump may have lost the 2020 Election because of “Trump Fatigue;” however, politicians continue to engage in sensational, negative politics as a quicker means for branding and recognition. We can see this behavior in both parties, as tabloid political stories will always pique the public’s eye. A

favorite tactic that politicians like to employ is the utilization of sound bite-size data released to the public with zero context or explanation. Each headline leads to increased numbers of internet clicks, money, and fame. On the Republican side, we recently have seen Marjorie Taylor Greene utilizing this tactic. On the Democratic side, we see “The Squad” – Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, all doing the same. You see and hear Tulsi Gabbard in short videos referring to career politicians as enemies of the state. We see and hear the Speaker of the House refer to the House minority as cowards. Also we see and hear Republicans – Romney, Cheney, Collins, and Murkowski, all break with their party, voting to impeach former President Trump. Notably, Vice President Kamala Harris did not question Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh because it was her duty. However, she did it to sensationalize her political brand, preparing for her Presidential campaign.

These infamous political games are designed solely to promote individual political brands, increase individual fame, increase individual profit, set the next stages for the pursuit of individual political aspirations, or solidify power. None of these media stories and none of these politicians who encourage sensationalized media coverage solve the nation’s problems. Selfish tabloid politics only adds to the laundry list of our country’s woes. All of those who play this game only seek further division amongst the people and advance their individual political and personal gains through that division. The next time we enter a ballot box, we must educated and vote for the candidates who will put us first and protect our freedoms and wealth.