President Barack Obama repeated his lamentation regarding the growing diversity of news media – a recurring regret he has repeated countless times across his presidential tenure – in an interview with left-wing and Democrat-aligned Rolling Stone.
Obama bemoaned the fragmentation of the media landscape wrought by the rise of the internet and related technological innovations, calling for a “common set of facts” upon which all political and related information should be premised:
“Well, the most important thing that I’m focused on is how we create a common set of facts. That sounds kind of abstract. Another way of saying it is, how do we create a common story about where we are. The biggest challenge that I think we have right now in terms of this divide is that the country receives information from completely different sources. And it’s getting worse. The whole movement away from curated journalism to Facebook pages, in which an article on climate change by a Nobel Prize-winning scientist looks pretty much as credible as an article written by a guy in his underwear in a basement, or worse. Or something written by the Koch brothers. People are no longer talking to each other; they’re just occupying their different spheres. And in an Internet era where we still value a free press and we don’t want censorship of the Internet, that’s a hard problem to solve. I think it’s one that requires those who are controlling these media to think carefully about their responsibilities, and [whether there] are ways to create a better conversation. It requires better civics education among our kids so that we can sort through what’s true and what’s not. It’s gonna require those of us who are interested in progressive causes figuring out how do we attract more eyeballs and make it more interesting and more entertaining and more persuasive.”
Americans lack the judgment to discern between accurate and inaccurate information, said Obama. Across his presidency, with a sharp amplification over the past year’s election season, he has repeatedly criticized what he describes as a right-wing news media sphere pushing out distorted narratives that confuse and mislead naive Americans.
Ideological diversity within the news media landscape, said Obama, was preventing American coalescence around “progressive” values and narratives:
“The challenge is, the technology is moving so fast that it’s less an issue of traditional media losing money. The New York Times is still making money. NPR is doing well. Yeah, it’s a nonprofit, but it has a growing audience. The problem is segmentation. We were talking about the issue of a divided country. Good journalism continues to this day. There’s great work done in Rolling Stone. The challenge is people are getting a hundred different visions of the world from a hundred different outlets or a thousand different outlets, and that is ramping up divisions. It’s making people exaggerate or say what’s most controversial or peddling in the most vicious of insults or lies, because that attracts eyeballs. And if we are gonna solve that, it’s not going to be simply an issue of subsidizing or propping up traditional media; it’s going to be figuring out how do we organize in a virtual world the same way we organize in the physical world. We have to come up with new models.”
Obama also promised to continue political advocacy for “progressive” causes, focusing on political agitation to enlist young people:
“[After leading the White House]. I’m gonna be organizing my presidential center, which is gonna be focused on precisely this issue of how do we train and empower the next generation of leadership. How do we rethink our storytelling, the messaging and the use of technology and digital media, so that we can make a persuasive case across the country? And not just in San Francisco or Manhattan but everywhere, about why climate change matters or why issues of economic inequality have to be addressed. So I will continue to be very active, and Michelle is going to continue to be very active – and [on] the very thing that brought us here, which is our belief that when you work with people on the ground at a grassroots level, change happens. When people feel disconnected from the institutions of government, they can swing back and forth in all sorts of ways.”
In explaining the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, Obama repeated his ongoing criticisms of Fox News speaking to the Midwestern “white working class:”
“Part of [why Donald Trump was elected] is Fox News in every bar and restaurant in big chunks of the country.”
David Remnick, the chief editor of left-wing magazine The New Yorker, less than two weeks ago described Obama as being “obsessed” with “fake news,” presumably a reference to dissident news outlets that reject the neo-Marxist consensus of the legacy establishment media:
“The thing that Obama obsessed on in the car was the media. Not the media bad, the New York Times failing or succeeding, or The New Yorker this or anything like that, but the fact that the old universe, the fact-based universe has broken down. It was collapsed… A discussion on Breitbart has the same veracity to its audience as a conversation on Charlie Rose. That’s a new universe.”
To Rolling Stone’s credit, it acknowledges its role as a platform for left-wing Democrats in the vein of Obama. Jann S. Wenner, who conducted the interview, prefaced his article with commentary on the mutual affinity felt between Obama and the magazine’s readership:
“Rolling Stone has had a wonderful relationship with Obama over the years. I first met him at the beginning of his 2008 campaign, when he came up to my office for dinner. We backed him when he was up and when he was down. He viewed Rolling Stone readers as part of his base. A year ago, we went to Alaska with him and toured the melting glaciers. With extraordinary pride, we watched him ride the wave of history.”
Remnick and Obama shared a fear of the loosening stranglehold of the legacy establishment media over the dissemination and curation of information to the public.
Watch Remnick describe Obama’s take on “fake news” below.
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