The Change In Media Influence Since Watergate

At the height of Watergate, President Nixon was opposed by every major newspaper and television network in the US which, as a result, hastened his resignation. In running for the presidency, Donald Trump, like Nixon, was opposed by the entire mainstream print and electronic media. Thus his triumph against that media onslaught is an object lesson in how media influence has changed since Watergate.

In 1976 Bruce Herschensohn published a book titled Gods of the Antenna in which he analysed the workings of the print and cable news network with particular reference to Nixon’s presidency. In short, his findings were that the American public’s views on events were crafted and purveyed by a small bunch of individuals, specifically Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Eric Sevareid of  CBS, Harry Reasoner of ABC, Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post along with the New York Times, Newsweek and Time.

Their influence on the politics of the day was such that views which diverged were either ignored or subjected to treatment which disparaged their credibility. But besides that, it was the saturation coverage and distribution they enjoyed which overwhelmed alternative thinking.

Forty years on, the Gods of the Antenna and their fellow travellers no longer exercise that same  mental traction. Their credibility and pervasive influence has diminished drastically in the face of social networks, Twitter, the internet and networks like Fox and Newsmax.

Symptomatic of that development is the New York Times’ attempt to shore up its declining sales by offering  subscriber rates reduced by 50% for what it calls “real news and real journalism.” This comes in the wake of a new Gallup Poll which shows 68% of Americans regard the mass media as biased and do not trust it to report the news fairly and fully.

As published in the Mercury 2017

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