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For the 'political-infotainment-media complex,' the Mueller investigation was a gold mine

By admin / Published on Wednesday, 10 Apr 2019 15:10 PM / No Comments / 199 views

Almost 60 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a new force that fed off and profited from Cold War paranoia: the military-industrial complex.

Over the past couple of years, with Russia reappearing on the airwaves, a new corporate sector profiting from induced anxiety poses just as big a threat: Let’s call it the political-infotainment-media complex.

On March 22, Robert Mueller delivered his sealed report on the narrowly defined charge of “collusion” to Attorney General William Barr. After 22 months of hype – a period in which it was the most covered story in America – “Russiagate” seemed to end with a whimper. Neither reporters nor the public have read the Mueller report, but that hasn’t stopped rampant speculation over what’s in the report, who “lost” and who “won.”

None of this analysis, however, explores the larger structural problems in today’s media environment. Why was this story covered to the extent it was? What does it say about the incentive model in place for corporate media outlets?

As a media scholar trying to understand today’s rapidly changing media landscape, I view the Mueller investigation coverage as a direct symptom of a political-infotainment-media complex that has blurred the lines between tabloid soap operas and respectable journalism.

Infotainment is the hook

To understand what happened with coverage of the Mueller investigation – and is already happening again in its second act – it’s important to understand the incentives of media networks, old and new.

In his seminal work “Television: Technology and Cultural Form,” media critic Raymond Williams explained how, in the early days of television, people would often tune in for a single program and then turn off the TV.

But television networks soon figured out they could maximize advertising revenue if people watched all of a network’s shows, one after the other. TV producers, using commercials and promotions for other shows as a connective glue, strove to create a “flow” from one show to the next.

This cultivation technique is still on full display – we see it when cable news hosts pass the baton from one show to the next.