The 24-Hour News Cycle is Failing Our Democracy
Let’s demand better.
The news media, the heartbeat of the nation, the supposed watchdog of the government, and the defender of democracy have largely become little more than an echo chamber of partisan politics, peddling an illusion of information. It’s all about the latest sensational dumpster fire, too.
Case in point: the news media helicoptering over the former president’s motorcade as he drives to and from his multiple arraignments. I’m sure much to the media’s chagrin, the only thing missing was for Trump to arrive in a white Ford Bronco.
How is it possible, in the era of information abundance, that we’ve ended up here?
This question is one we must ask if we’re to restore any semblance of sanity to our national discourse. There’s a need to address the elephant in the room—the news media is failing our democracy.
It’s in the Constitution
Let’s take a step back and remind ourselves of what journalism should be — a pillar of democracy. The Founding Fathers thought so highly of the press that they enshrined its freedom in the First Amendment. But somewhere along the line, we’ve allowed that sanctified institution to turn into an industry of illusion, a self-serving circus where truth is a rare act, overshadowed by the sophistry of ideological performance.
For the purposes of this essay, I’ll refer mostly to news as TV or “cable” news, but there is definitely an issue across the spectrum of news delivery channels, from newspapers to online, to social media, to radio, to TV.
The Commoditization of News
First, the commoditization of news. The news media was once a sacred, non-negotiable pillar of society, tasked with the role of informing the public about essential topics: international happenings, public policy debates, and scientific breakthroughs.
Today, the news is not about information — it’s about entertainment.
The 24-hour news cycle is not really news. It's more like recycled hot takes and bad faith clambering into a clown car in a race to the bottom.
Networks seem more eager to rack up viewership numbers and generate ad revenue than to actually inform the public. The news is no longer a public service; it’s a business.
Take it from an old newspaper guy—things have not improved by offering more hours of news, mostly because there is very little actual news content.
With only a handful of notable examples to the contrary, it's all bloated “analysis” from talking heads and clickbait headlines designed to get your blood pressure up and increase your desire to stick around for more.
Tell the truth: do you feel happier or at least somewhat informed after watching the news? Or do you mostly feel depressed, pissed off, or ready to argue?
Polarization of Media
Second, the polarization of media. Commercializing news has come with its costs. And those costs are, lamentably, at the expense of our democracy. Instead of challenging viewers with different viewpoints and fostering thoughtful conversation, cable news channels have segmented the audience into partisan tribes, reinforcing existing beliefs, and amplifying the polarization in our society.
Imagine a world where you could choose your facts. Well, you don’t have to imagine it; you’re living in it. You can flick between Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, etc., and find entirely different narratives about the same event. This echo chamber effect doesn’t just limit the information viewers receive — it breeds contempt and division among those with differing opinions. The result? A society more divided than ever, and democracy suffers.
This division is no accident. It is by design, and it is profitable. I’ve long argued that the markets are not just a reflection of reality but creators of it. The same principle applies to the cable news market. The more extreme, sensational, and polarized the news becomes, the higher the ratings. Cable news networks are not in the business of enlightening citizens; they are in the business of attracting eyeballs.
The Misinformation Epidemic
Then we come to the misinformation epidemic. In the age of Big Tech, the problem is exacerbated by algorithmic amplification. Social media platforms feed on the polarity and spread it like wildfire. This perpetual cycle of misinformation and disinformation is not just a threat to the individual’s ability to make informed decisions; it’s a ticking time bomb for our democratic institutions.
The news has unfortunately become a super-spreader event for unverified information. The rush to be first often trumps the responsibility to be accurate. The importance of clickbait headlines and sensationalism often blur the line between what’s factual and what’s fabricated.
This trend has perpetuated a world where conspiracy theories are no longer confined to the fringe but hold center stage on mainstream news outlets.
To be clear, I’m not against profit. As a small-scale entrepreneur and a business owner, I’m all for it. But when profit undermines the fabric of our society, we have an obligation to check it. What we’re seeing with cable news is a direct consequence of uncontrolled capitalism invading areas where it has no business.
We’ve taken the “marketplace of ideas” metaphor too literally, allowing the principles of supply and demand to dictate the flow of information.
In theory, more voices should lead to a broader, more nuanced conversation. But in reality, the voices have become so loud, so extreme, and so divisive that we’re no longer having a conversation. We’re shouting into the void, with each side turning a deaf ear to the other.
So, what’s the solution?
We need to start by putting public interest back at the center of our news media. To do that, we need to rethink the business models that govern our media, moving away from advertising-driven models that prioritize eyeballs over accuracy.
It lies in accountability, transparency, and digital literacy.
Accountability needs to come from the top down. Networks should be held responsible for promoting false information. This doesn’t mean stifling freedom of speech; it means demanding truth in reporting. We need better regulation of both the traditional media and tech giants to ensure that the quality and accuracy of information is prioritized. This isn’t about censoring voices; it’s about maintaining a sense of decency, responsibility, and above all, truth, in our national dialogue.
Transparency means that cable news networks must be upfront about their biases. An openly partisan outlet is less harmful than a covertly biased one.
Critical thinking and Digital literacy are the most crucial weapons in our arsenal. In a world flooded with information, we must teach our citizens how to differentiate between fact and fiction. This is a skill that’s needed now more than ever.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: a complacent populace, stirred up by the media, and a self-serving Congress, using that same media to grasp and hold onto power, together create a dangerous situation.
The failure of cable news in a democracy is not an unsolvable problem. We’ve identified the issues; now, it’s time to start working on the solutions. The future of our democracy depends on it.
In the immortal words of Walter Cronkite, “Our job is only to hold up the mirror — to tell and show the public what has happened.” It’s time the news channels remembered this crucial and constitutional role.
We find ourselves at a crossroads, and the path we choose will have profound implications for our democracy. Let’s choose the path of integrity, of facts, of nuanced discourse, and of shared understanding. Because democracy, dear reader, is too precious a thing to lose.
Let’s demand better.