Local news

Olympic fever. My TV has been pretty much stuck on NBC this week (fine, NBC, I guess I see why you paid $1.23 billion for the broadcast rights!), their questionable programming choices aside. (And I certainly did NOT find… other means to watch the women’s gymnastics all-around final live today. Nope, nothing to see here.)

Between the prime time NBC Olympics show and the late night coverage comes something that I very seldom see, but have this week seen a lot of: local news. And, wow, it’s been an eye-opener.

I feel like at long last I understand a little bit about how Trump can have an electoral ceiling above, say, 20%. What I’ve seen on the local news this week is just on a completely different plane than any of the newspapers, national TV, or social media that I typically have a sense of.

For example: a few nights ago the local news reported matter-of-factly on a fringe, conspiratorial anti-Clinton person and his claims. It was an entirely uncritical reporting of things that are, as far as I can tell, quite far from the mainstream. But it all seemed quite… innocent? Like it was just there to fill time and say something about national politics, out of some obligation maybe.

The tone in general is weird in that way. It’s kind of bland, skeptical, dreamy, “I guess we should mention the presidential election real quick”. This one said a thing. This other one said a thing. Mildly angry snooze!

Recently I’m seeing a lot of chatter online pushing back against false equivalence in the national media. Trump is, to put it mildly, an outlier. He is so offensive, brazen, and ill-informed that covering him must be a big headache.

But one thing is very clear to me. Any accusation of false equivalence against national, mainstream websites, newspapers, or TV is nothing compared to what I’ve seen this week on local news.

In trying to explain why Hillary Clinton is so hated—the existence of what Sarah Kendzior calls “Clinton Derangement Syndrome“—I think we are seriously overlooking local news. I don’t know to what extent the tail is wagging the dog, local news giving the people what they want. But I am appreciating just how wildly different a 15 second summary on local news is from anything else in the media, and how that would interact with 25+ years of consistent undermining of Clinton.

I think the intense false equivalence of the local news is just because their attention to the national election is so bland. It seems as if they are just, at best, uncritically filling a segment with a thing that each candidate has recently said. He says Clinton is corrupt. She says Trump is dangerous. And now, the weather! Never have I understood better the reasoning behind epithet-messaging by national campaigns and theatrical grandstanding by political parties.

What would it look like if someone’s primary source of information was local news? They would think everything was going to hell, since the local news is all car crashes, seedy local crime, petty corruption in city government, and the like. And they might get to a Trumpist place in relative innocence. He seems not to be presented as an unthinkably extreme candidate, but instead as just another guy who’s a candidate for president.

Is there any research out there on local news effects in politics, I wonder? It’s not an area I know anything about, but I plan to do some digging to see if I can find anything. Please do pass on anything you know of that might be relevant!

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