How Donald Trump used the media and the "industry of outrage" to win the US Presidency

Denis Muller | First published: 10 November 2016, 20:06 IST
How Donald Trump used the media and the "industry of outrage" to win the US Presidency

The media as an institution in the United States is undoubtedly in a deplorable condition, but not for the reasons asserted by Donald Trump.

If anything, Trump has been the beneficiary of the media's failings.

High on the list of these failings is what The Economist three weeks ago called "the business of outrage".

Individual media personalities such as the radio shock jock Rush Limbaugh and right wing populist copycats Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity have made global reputations and large fortunes for themselves as purveyors of outrage.

Limbaugh is reported to have 13.25 million regular weekly listeners, an audience size guaranteed to generate a mighty revenue stream. He is also reported to be on an 8 year US$400 million contract, and is listed by Forbes magazine as the 10th highest earning celebrity in the world.

Online entrepreneurs such as Matt Drudge jumped on the outrage bandwagon, adding to its momentum.

Turbocharging the outrage industry has been Fox News, the creation of Rupert Murdoch and a former Republican operative, Roger Ailes. Under the ludicrously misleading slogan of "balance" they combined the dynamics of talk back radio with the visual power of television and a bank of outspokenly conservative commentators to create the highest rating cable news channel in the US.

Factual accuracy hasn't much to do with what these propagandists publish under the guise of journalism. Drudge has said that only 80% of his material is verified. Even if we accept that optimistic assessment, how do we know which 80%?

In the midst of voting in the current presidential election, Limbaugh claimed that former Republican president George W. Bush and his wife Laura voted for Hillary Clinton, a claim immediately repudiated by their spokesperson.

The outrage industry has added fuel to a fiery political atmosphere in the US, but of course much bigger forces provided the ignition. The world has already seen the evidence of this in the Brexit vote, in the Occupy Wall Street movement and more recently in the success of racist and anti immigration demagoguery.

Like Trump, the outrage industry has exploited the completely understandable resentment of millions in rich countries who feel left behind by globalisation and sacrificed by governments on the altar of economic rationalism.