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Matt Taibbi On How The News Breeds Hate

December 27, 2018 1:32 p.m.

GUEST: Matt Taibbi, author, "Hate, Inc.: How, and Why, the Press Makes Us Hate One Another."

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

It's often said politics in the U.S. is more polarized than ever. There's no question many Americans bring hardened subjective views to the news. Here soon to be former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill speaking recently on the New York Times podcast the daily.

I think journalism has really made this a much more difficult job. Now everyone can pick a network for affirmation and just do in their own juices. You have places where you can find an echo chamber and that is a problem.

Rolling Stone contributing editor and writer Matt Taibi agrees arguing in his new book that it's really the news media that's got us at each other's throats. DAVIES newest book is called Hate Inc. How and why the press makes us hate one another.

I spoke to him by Skype well what's the main theme of hate Inc. How the cable networks and newspapers other news outlets keep us riled up at one another while masking issues and actions by politicians that really matter.

I started thinking about this issue a couple of campaigns ago. I mean I've covered a lot of campaigns is going to be my fifth and I started thinking a lot about the business business model of what we do and I just think increasingly we've gotten to a place where we're so financially incentivized to wind up our audiences and this is true across the political spectrum that we've created a situation where audiences are permanently upset agitated and they're addicted to content that is going to make them angry or they were exacerbating a lot of problems because of that.

So the monetary motive is really what's behind I think so.

I think this really began with some changes that happen in the business in the late 80s and early 90s when you know the old model for business and news media was we went out for the widest possible audience. So there was a premium on offensiveness. But when cable started to appear in the 24 hour news network started to appear suddenly a couple of people started to realize that they could make a lot of money if they if they crafted the net specifically for certain demographics. And we saw the you know most obviously with Fox News that created new ads for a very specific conservative older demographic.

Roger Ailes called them 55 to dead. And but what ended up happening was you know I think a couple of decades later we're really all kind of sort of creating content for specific demographics and it's become harder and harder for us to disappoint the expectations of our audiences and that's led to more and more anger and distrust and vitriol and I don't think it's a positive thing.

I did want to make a note here just a technical note this is not a conventional book. You're writing it in serial form for a Web site. Explain it.

Yeah I'm ready. Taibi not substract dot com and I'm imitating some old heroes of mine who did serial books. And this is going to come on print. Also earlier next year. But for now you can find it at substract and putting out a chapter basically a week and my idea is to have this out in time for people to see it as a kind of guide to messed up political journalism getting into the 2020 campaign cycle.

Good timing on that. Yeah it's kind of a throwback to Mark Twain Bret Harte. I mean over a century ago this serial notion.

Yeah yeah absolutely. You know a lot of my favorite writers did this right. Raymond Chandler a lot of a lot of the Russian writers died by drunks and therefore knew the money. And so they were they did a lot of serial novels so I thought it was a cool idea. So I'd try it.

It's fascinating. Well there are I want to get into the whole notion of of not just the cable news as you've mentioned and all but the mainstream newspapers Washington Post The New York Times and more establishment organizations that cover these things I mean there's plenty of coverage of Trump's tweets and exposure of his questionable claims as outright lies. But the New York Times and Washington Post still doing major stories about gravely important things like climate change they all are.

I would argue that they're not doing them in proportion to their importance. There a major premium on Trump based stories in the business now Imus has been Shurins since he arrived on the scene. You know I thought that I had to cover the Republicans from the very beginning of the last race at the beginning. What we saw was everybody was giving Trump tons of coverage for the obvious reason that he was making us all tons of money. He was a ratings bonanza even more blunt print organizations were suddenly actually making making cash.

And when the overwhelming amount of coverage he received twenty three times the amount of network TV coverage that Sanders did propelled him I think a little bit toward the nomination. There was a shift I think a lot of reporters felt guilty so they covered him in the same amount but they just added a negative twist which I don't think really solves the problem we we we've we've had we have a very Trump Century Bush news model now and we spend a lot of time on issues of character and a lot less time on policy what's going on and in individual departments and people are very invested in the soap opera drama.

What's going to happen that Trump is going to go to jail is what's he tweeting today and all that stuff.

You know I don't know I have mixed feelings about it as news. But it certainly works his business.

That's for sure. Right. The reality show presidency. But even before Trump you note in the book you got an example of phony political coverage of the likability factor. Presidential candidates we were supposed to want to have a beer with George W. Bush but not John Kerry. Never mind Bush was a recovering alcoholic and didn't even drink. That's pretty off point. And we're talking about grave issues in a political campaign.

It was you know when I first started going out on the trail it was amazing to me watching him the press corps would sort of cook up these artificial narratives because we have the campaign goes on too long. You know it's it's an 18 month process that's going to be more like 22 months this time.

And we don't have a whole lot to talk about because the campaigns don't really go into a whole lot of detail about policy. And so we invent a lot of storylines just to get us over the schedule. A lot of them are horse race stories who's going to win. We have a lot of scheduled contests. You know it begins with like the preseason you have the straw polls in the regular season of the primaries and the playoffs the general election.

And then there's also a little brushfires that pop up and we have stuff to talk about who's going to win the security mom vote. Well that is not a real thing.

No well isn't some of this though on all of us as citizens and consumers of news.

I mean shouldn't we demand the press do better or talk about something important especially when we're looking at the catastrophe of climate change in the current administration's stance toward that sector. How can the press do a better job in 2020 I think it's tough.

I mean your is a very valid question because I think a lot of these outlets would like to do something different but they've they've got he got to make money. And the reality is as we're leading every newscast with yet again 500 gallons of radioactive water spilled into the Pacific Ocean. Fukushima Yeah we're not going we're not going to keep our audiences. You know the other thing that happens has you do stories that the challenger type target demographics favor politicians like if you if your own blue leaning news outlet and you write something negative about Barack Obama you're going to lose audience you're going to lose money.

So we just gravitate towards these dumb stories that are mostly about how other other people are guilty or something and yet stop because people do read that stuff and they don't and are not as easy as to about the other stuff. So I don't really have a good answer for what to do about that except maybe you know some kind of public investment or public service or more committed to public service.

JOURNALIST Well more PBS maybe maybe there's a niche there for somebody you know. We've got the political news that matters here. You know so I chose over there.

That's right. That's right. And the great thing I mean it is a great thing. That's yes. It's great for the so.

Well we'll look forward to that and the coverage in your coverage as we enter into this and I guess we've already started the 2012 campaign. I've been talking with journalist and author Matt Taibbi a contributing editor at Rolling Stone. His new book is hate Inc. How and why the press makes us hate one another.

Thanks Matt. Thanks so much Mark.