Younger readers will find this as unbelievable as the plot for the last “Star Wars” flick. But it wasn’t too long ago that voters got their election information from: one local printed newspaper, with AP stories on national contests; just three commercial broadcast TV networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, plus the government’s PBS; a couple of radio shows; the weekly news magazines, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report; and pre-election mail fliers.
Only a couple hundred thousand people in the whole country subscribed to such opinion weeklies as the conservative National Review and the liberal New Republic.
This year, all those outlets hold much less importance. The Web dominates – and its center is in Silicon Valley. Websites like Breitbart (conservative) and the Huffington Post (liberal) have far more influence even than the formerly dominant New York Times, which just reported an almost 96% crash in quarterly profits. The Washington Post is a minor outpost in Amazon honcho Jeff Bezos’ vast empire.
I “cut the cord” even of cable TV myself a year ago, and rely only on the Internet. Since the switch to digital broadcasts a decade ago, “free” broadcast TV doesn’t work where I live. When the Orange County Register eliminated my editorial-manager position in July, I decided to go digital-only for news. The Register’s parent company, after all, is Digital First Media.
For me, news now is Digital Only.
As to the presidential candidates, Donald Trump leveraged his free Twitter account to fling insults at his opponents, and accurately counted on all online media giving him free coverage as clickbait for their advertisers. Hillary has done less well, but the Internet quickly has spread the stories of Trump’s boorishness about women. She also has depended on the overwhelming free support she gets from the declining Old Media. I once counted 14 anti-Trump stories on the New York Times’ online front page, with none anti-Hillary.
Then the last weeks have seen a drip-drip-drip of Internet stories, largely from Wikileaks about her emails, that severely damaged her campaign over Pay to Play at the Clinton Foundation and her tenure at the State Department.
Out here in California, although I no longer have TV, I see numerous state and local political ads on YouTube. I use it for many things, including viewing political speeches and listening to classical music.
For example, there’s this Yes on Proposition 55 ad from the California Teachers Association, “Can’t Go Back,” meaning the $7 billion tax increase from Proposition 30 has to be extended. But wasn’t 30 supposed to be “temporary”? How is letting it expire “going back”? Isn’t it going forward? It makes me think of The Who’s song, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – meet the new proposition, same as the old proposition.
While I was looking up the song on YouTube, up popped a You Got Trumped anti-Trump ad, Episode 2, “Great Wall of ’Merica,” with impersonators of him and Melania in bed when he gets an emergency phone call about how a “Mexican came over the border.” Then the “FAUX News Channel” announces the Trump Wall will include a net over the country. Then back to Trump in the Oval Office, where an adviser named Klaus (Barbie?) with a German accent says we need “human experiments and gas,” a reference to Trump supposedly being a Nazi.
Except two of his kids married Jews and he’s heavily pro-Israel. And “’Merica” is an insult to the kind of working-class voters who used to flock to Democrats, but now like Trump.
Back to California: A No on 56 ad also is pretty good, saying just 13% from the $2 tobacco tax would go to health programs, the rest to the demon “insurance companies.” At the end it uses the line from “All the President’s Men,” “Follow the money,” and lists the ad’s website, NoOn56.com.
No doubt these or similar ads also are appearing on TV. My point is that I saw them online, as did thousands or millions of other people.
Of course, we have no idea how quickly people turn off these online ads, any more than we know how often they click off the TV during an ad.
Meanwhile, like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times site imposes a paywall I usually can’t get behind. Sorry, I’m not paying.
Then there are all the social media discussions. Facebook, Twitter and other firms have statistics on what’s going on. But it will take months after the election to analyze them. Aside from the national election, it seems to me that in California hot social media topics include Proposition 64, legalizing medical marijuana, the tax initiatives listed above and Proposition 63, imposing even more gun control.
Your social media “feeds” may differ.
Coda: Just when I searched for that last video, up popped an ad featuring Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist,” boosting Proposition 61, socialist price controls on drugs. Clicking on the ad took me to the Yes on 61 website, which reads, “Bernie says Yes on 61.”
See what I mean?
In 2018, social media and online news sites will be even more dominant. By then, more newspapers will go belly up and more broadcast TV news programs will be replaced with reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.”
Veteran California columnist John Seiler now is a freelance writer Email: email@example.com