There have been suggestions floating around that some of the bigger donors should buy a newspaper, a television network or a women’s magazine to counter the media’s grip. There was a time when a powerful media outlet could be bought or created by conservative owners and function and wield influence over national policy. Time Magazine in the Luce era is one example. But that was when the media was a patchwork of publications and radio stations where powerful owners often set the tone.
NBC News these days is less relevant than Buzzfeed. You could buy NBC News, but then what would you have? A white elephant operation whose dwindling viewers are older and either share its biases or don’t care. If it shifted to the right, it would have exactly the same image as FOX does, no matter what its standard of programming was. If it tried to be genuinely non-partisan, there would be the difficult task of finding staff who are honestly non-partisan. And its image would constantly be under attack by the left every time it dissented on a major story.
Imagine if Donald Trump bought the New York Times. The New York Times doesn’t derive its influence from the quality of its content, but from the quantity and scope of it. That quantity and scope seem dizzying to those who don’t know any better, much like Thomas Friedman’s familiar mentions of three countries and their airports in one paragraph makes him seem like a man of the world who must know what he’s talking about because he has been to so many countries.
The New York Times influences other papers and outlets to adopt its tone on a variety of topics from musicals to foreign affairs. That makes them, in current ad jargon, Thought Leaders, which is just as Orwellian as it sounds. That cements the Times’ place in the culture. But it’s a position that would vanish in a second if Donald Trump took over and began influencing content. All that would be left is an expensive and unprofitable white elephant without any of the influence.
What we think of as the mainstream media is an integrated whole. It’s not really a series of outlets, but a culture of left-wing activists and more mainstream liberal reporters and pundits who provide content to those outlets. Buying one of the outlets would punch a hole in their content network, but only a partial hole because the outlet would still likely be reliant on wire services and would mostly cover the same stories that are driven by that same network, but occasionally from a conservative angle. It would essentially be another FOX News.
The content distribution network would reform around it, shut it out, as it has shut out FOX News, though many of its members would still work for it, and continue driving the tone and content of the media’s coverage of any issue. And it’s the content network and its culture that is the real enemy.