The Nation: Lose Newspapers and Lose Your Democracy

by Eric Alterman

had a different column when I woke up on deadline day, but I wrote this one, not because any major news had broken—yes, the FBI raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer—but because our country and our democracy are in the midst of an ongoing emergency, and our embattled media is unable or unwilling to explain it.

What inspired my switch was Politico’s publication of the results of a study that demonstrated “a clear correlation between low [newspaper] subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012. Those links were statistically significant even when accounting for other factors that likely influenced voter choices, such as college education and employment, suggesting that the decline of local media sources by itself may have played a role in the election results.” It’s an enormously detailed study, and the data confirm what newspaper reporters and editors have been trying to tell a complacent public for years: “Lose us and you lose your democracy.” Walter Lippmann explained the problem in The Atlantic Monthly back in 1919: “The quack, the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist, can flourish only where the audience is deprived of independent access to information.”

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