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The Collapse Of US Media Is Accelerating Our Political Crisis

A third of all US newspapers have permanently closed, the industry is hemorrhaging reporters.

And private equity and Big Tech are to blame.

Yet another wave of media layoffs is putting hundreds of journalists out of work across some of the largest major news outlets in the US, including CNN, the LA Times, Vox, Business Insider, CNBC, Garnett, and others. In an already-grim media landscape that’s been decimated by decades of tanking revenues, this latest round of cuts raises serious questions about how the loss of so much journalism will impact our society. Newspapers closed at a rate of 2.5 per week in 2023, up from 2 per week in 2022. 3,000 of the US’s 9,000 newspapers have permanently closed, and since 2005, two thirds of all journalists have lost their jobs. Pulitzer-winning reporter Gretchen Morgenson joins The Chris Hedges Report to discuss the crisis in media, partially covered in her book, These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs—and Wrecks—America.


Chris Hedges:  The media landscape in the US is collapsing as journalism outlets at the national, state, and local levels close or gut staff. One-third of the country’s newspapers have shut down and two-thirds of its newspaper journalists have lost jobs since 2005. An average of 2.5 newspapers closed each week in 2023 compared to 2 a week in 2022. The decimation of local news outlets is even worse, where papers are closing and layoffs have been nearly constant. In the last two decades, nearly 3,000 of the country’s 9,000 newspapers have closed, and 43,000 newspaper journalists have lost their jobs.

The bloodletting is only accelerating. Business Insider is eliminating 8% of its workforce. The Los Angeles Times recently laid off 120 journalists, more than 20% of the newsroom after cutting 74 newsroom positions last June. Time magazine has announced impending layoffs, The Washington Post at the end of last year cut 240 jobs, Sports Illustrated has been gutted, and CNN, NPR, Vice Media, Vox Media, NBC News, CNBC, and other organizations have all made huge staff cuts.

The newspaper chain, Gannett, which owns USA Today and many local papers, has cut hundreds of positions. The latest round of layoffs comes on the heels of the worst job cuts in the journalism sector since 2020 when the COVID crisis saw some 2,700 jobs eliminated. The consumption of news and entertainment by the public in the digital age has turned many of the traditional media platforms into dinosaurs. But as they disappear, so does the core of journalism and reporting, especially investigative reporting. Digital platforms are with a few exceptions, not sustaining repertorial coverage, certainly not on the local level, one of the fundamental pillars of democracy.

Advertising dollars which once sustained the media industry have migrated to digital platforms where advertisers are able to target, with precision, potential customers. The monopoly that the old media had connecting sellers with buyers is gone. Social media and search giants, such as Google and Meta, snap up media content for free and disseminate it. Media outlets are often owned by private equity firms or billionaires that do not invest in journalism but harvest and hollow out the outlets for short-term profits accelerating the death spiral.

Journalism at its best makes the powerful accountable, but as media organizations decline and news deserts expand, the press, increasingly anemic, is also coming under attack from political demagogues and sites masquerading as news platforms, fake news, misinformation, salacious rumors, and lies fill the void. Civil society is paying the price. Joining me to discuss the crisis in journalism is Gretchen Morgenson, a senior financial reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times where she won a Pulitzer Prize. Her latest book is These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs and Wrecks America.

All right, so let’s start when we were both young newspaper reporters. As I said before, I don’t want to begin this discussion by not acknowledging the faults of the commercial press, of which there are many; You and I come out of it. In my book, Death of Liberal Class, I quote Sydney Schanberg, who also won the Pulitzer in Cambodia, people can see that story in the movie, The Killing Fields. He had a great quote, he said, “We may not have always made things better, but we stopped things from getting worse.” And I thought that was a nice summary. But like you, I’m terrified of what’s coming. And that loss of reporting, however constrained it may have been, is absolutely deadly to civil society and our democracy.

But let’s go back and let’s talk about what newspapers did. I was a foreign correspondent and you were a business reporter. I want to compare that to the void that’s happened now. Let’s talk about, and go back to your own experience as a reporter, what is it that you did that contributed to the health of our open society?

Gretchen Morgenson:  What I always tried to do as a business reporter was to question the conventional wisdom. Covering business for decades was a backwater. It was populated by reporters who were cast off from other desks and they would rewrite press releases and cozy up to the corporate executives.

Chris Hedges:  You can make a good living like that.

Gretchen Morgenson:  You can. You can. But so I came into this business in the ’80s when things were starting to change and business became much more of a central topic for the dinner table conversation. People used to have pensions, now, they have to invest their own money themselves. They needed more information about how we do this.

Chris Hedges:  This is through 401(k)s.

Gretchen Morgenson:  401(k)s, et cetera. The democratization of the stock market was happening. So I was riding this wave of interest in business reporting. But while there are a lot of business reporters who are only interested in writing about the powerful, the rich, and how they got that way, what I wanted to do was to try to help the average individual understand what they were up against and help them to see the reality of the world of finance, demystify it, explain it in ways that were understandable to them, and most important, question the conventional wisdom of the brilliance of the CEO, for example, or other topics or elements of business where you would revere people. That was not my thing and it was very important to strip away those veneers and show people what was going on.

Chris Hedges:  But you did even more than that, Gretchen. It was about holding these people accountable.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Holding them accountable, shining the light on the dark corners, shining the light on the practices that were full of conflicts, that enabled them to take advantage of investors, take advantage of workers, and give those people who don’t generally have a voice, a voice. I would always try to get to the individual and avoid the C-suite or the CEOs because they’re not going to tell me anything of any import. Many of my best sources were workers who would call me; They would see something going on in their company and tell me about it because they didn’t think it was the right thing. So again, it was that ground-up reporting, which you know well, and you did for decades out in the field as a war correspondent. You’re going to get those stories best from the people on the ground, in the trenches, doing the work. You’re not going to get the stories from the CEOs.

Chris Hedges:  Yeah. I used to say, that in war, the higher you go up within the ranking system, the more untruthfulness you’re going to find. That’s why you better stay with the privates and the lance corporals. But that comes with pressure because you have powerful interests that don’t like it. And we have to acknowledge that they had influence within the organizations. We both worked for the New York Times and you worked for the Wall Street Journal. Let’s talk about the pressures they are able to exert within a commercial media that needs those advertising dollars to function.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Well, there is a chilling effect that they try to exert when you contact a company with the story. I’m always very open with these companies that I write about and the people that I write about, about what my topic is, what I’m saying, what I’ve heard, why I am reporting, and why I’m contacting them. When those wheels start turning and they understand that it’s going to be potentially critical storytelling, an aspect of showing a side of their business they don’t want out there, then they start to exert pressure, send lawyer letters, attack the reporter, attack the information that the reporter has gleaned from sources, questioning the sources, et cetera.

But that’s the way the world works and you have to be able to stand up to that as a reporter. But even more important, you have to have an editor who is going to stand up for that with you, and this is where we start to see some of the fault lines now. You’ve probably still got an array of reporters who are willing to go out and get the story no matter what. But do they have bosses who are willing to take the heat, take the pressure, and continue down the path? That is a question.

Chris Hedges:  Well these organizations have become more anemic, they’ve become more cautious because they don’t want to lose the dwindling advertising dollars that they have. I want to make a point about institutions because we both worked within institutions and for all their many faults – The great theologian, Paul Tillich, said, “All institutions, including the church, are inherently demonic.” – But for all their many faults, we had lawyers. There were 19 lawyers on the staff of the New York Times, and I believe, when I was at the paper, there had never been a successful lawsuit. Without the superstructure of that institution, a lot of our protection… For instance, if you were a freelance investigative journalist, you’re much more vulnerable.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Absolutely.

Chris Hedges:  And those institutions are important in terms of creating an organizational structure that protects us.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Yes. Yes. I spent a good part of my early career at Forbes magazine, which was a business publication, and then, it took no prisoners, called a spade a spade, and it celebrated the good companies and the good CEOs, but it did take others to task.

Chris Hedges:  And I believe you had an editor, you mentioned him to me, maybe mentioned his name, but you talked about the importance of an editor with that courage and integrity, and I believe that was the case at Forbes.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Yes. His name was Jim Michaels. He was a crusty, old, UPI reporter who had broken the story of Gandhi’s assassination in India years earlier. He was tough. He was demanding. He was exacting. He was a curmudgeon but he would stand up with you against the pressure that would be exerted by CEOs. I remember one time I had done a story about Time Warner and Steve Ross. Herb Siegel was the other person. Steve Ross was a very wealthy and commanding CEO and he didn’t like the story and he demanded that we come and see him. And Jim Michaels said, no, Goddamnit. You’re going to come down to my office if you want to talk to me about this story. So it’s that kind of attitude and approach that I’m worrying that we don’t have anymore. We don’t have people who are willing to take on some of these extremely powerful people. It’s easier not to do those stories, and that’s a problem.

Chris Hedges:  I always was surprised at the Times, among the top editors, the level of mediocrity. You and I were management headaches, which is what good reporters should be. I’m not going to name names, but you know them as well as I do. But I always was stunned. And it’s because they were completely obsequious to the power of the institution and understood what was good for their careers and advancement, and that beyond that, they didn’t have much.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Well, don’t forget, these are people who maybe weren’t very good reporters.

Chris Hedges:  Well, that’s the other thing. You’re right, that’s right.

Gretchen Morgenson:  They maybe weren’t that great at reporting. And so what was their option? Well, their option was to climb the greasy pole if they could. When you’re a terrific reporter and you’ve got a great story, you want to continue down that path. You want to get the next one and the next one and the next one. But if you’re not a great reporter, then what are your options? Well, you could become an editor.

Chris Hedges:  Right. There you go. So I once had a professor at Harvard who called an assistant dean, “a mouse training to become a rat.”

Gretchen Morgenson:  Hilarious. That’s a great line, wow.

Chris Hedges:  It sums up newspaper hierarchy. These are money-making institutions. You are promoted within those institutions if they know you will, in the end, largely serve the institution. There are some exceptions, but your service is not, in the end, to the reporter, it is to the well-being of the institution and the sustenance of the institution, which is defined in terms of share price. That’s a cold reality. And you work within those constraints.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Right. Right. That’s right.

Chris Hedges:  I was overseas for 20 years. If I was reporting on a conflict, for instance, the war in the former Yugoslavia, where there was not a direct US interest, unlike when I reported in El Salvador or Nicaragua, or when I reported in Israel, I had a lot more latitude. I could write things about Slobodan Milosevic; I could practically call him a genocidal killer and nobody at the New York Times would blink. But if I got to Gaza and started writing with that same ferocity against Israel, oh, I couldn’t. So I am interested, as a business reporter, whether there were certain areas like that you could go to and other areas where it was more constrained.

Gretchen Morgenson:  I never had a situation where I was told not to write about something or where a story that I had already started to pursue would get spiked. I never had that situation so I’m very grateful for that. Business reporting is a little bit different from war zone reporting because the stakes in the war zone are so much greater, so much higher. And you’re involved. You’ve got politics very, very heavily involved in those situations. Washington, that’s a whole –

Chris Hedges:  Well, you had corporate law firms.

Gretchen Morgenson:  – It’s not as life and death as war reporting. It just isn’t, business reporting. I don’t know. I’ve never had someone tell me, no, you can’t write that story. Maybe I’m unusual in that regard, but I was hired to bring a level of expertise to the Wall Street coverage at the Times. It wasn’t that they didn’t have the necessary pieces in place, but I had been on Wall Street myself, and I had seen some of the practices and knew where the bodies were buried, and had done some pretty serious reporting at Forbes. The Times wanted to have some gravitas on the Wall Street coverage so maybe that is the reason why it wasn’t questioned.

Chris Hedges:  Although you were questioned about the change, in the end.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Well, in the end, there was a new business editor that came along –

Chris Hedges:  That’s your point. That’s the point you made.

Gretchen Morgenson:  – And said less than enthusiastic things about some of my –

Chris Hedges:  Oh, no, you have to quote what she said, it’s priceless. Go ahead. I want to say, you had arguably the most respected business column in the country. Even I knew about it and I don’t even read business. So let’s start from there. But what was the response of the editor? We don’t have to name her, but what’d she say?

Gretchen Morgenson:  – She said she liked my reporting.

Chris Hedges:  That’s a bad… You know you’re in trouble when that’s… [laughs]

Gretchen Morgenson:  Liked my reporting but that the column was lefty and opinionated.

Chris Hedges:  It was a reported column.

Gretchen Morgenson:  It was a reported column. It was not opinion. It was so shocking to me that this would be the perception that I didn’t respond at the time. I was like, okay, interesting. But I then decided I was not going to work for this person because anybody who would make that comment about the work that I had done for 20 years at the Times, I’m not going to work for that person.

Chris Hedges:  Right. Well, they just deliver the death sentence anyway.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Yeah.

Chris Hedges:  Next thing you know, you’re on night rewrite.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Yeah. Or earnings. I have to do the New York Times earnings every quarter.

Chris Hedges:  Right. Let’s talk about a couple of the stories that you’re proudest of and then explain why.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Okay. Well, one happened during the great financial crisis of 2008, which was something that seemed to come out of the left field for many people but had been building, building, building as these things do, for several years. This was the mortgage crisis. It was based on too much money chasing homes, people going a little bit crazy, and the Wall Street machinery of pooling mortgages and selling them to people even though they were bad mortgages. Anyway, there was a lot to cover, and it was a fruitful time for a financial reporter because you’re explaining why this thing had happened, how it had happened, and how it impacted people. And this was a situation where there were human beings who, because they couldn’t pay their mortgages because the interest rates skyrocketed after a certain period of time –

Chris Hedges:  Well, we should be clear. Those subprime mortgages were sold by entities who knew that they weren’t going to be able to pay them. And then they offloaded them as fast as they could. Right.

Gretchen Morgenson:  – Right, right. So the people who were stuck in those mortgages literally had their furniture out on the curb. They were thrown out of their homes and their children could no longer go to the schools where they were. And these were real tragedies. So writing about that was important to me. And the government’s response was too little, too late. They were trying to maybe help people renegotiate their mortgages. It didn’t really work. Anyway, you know how that happened, you know what happened in that situation.

But there was a story that occurred after Lehman failed after Bear Stearns was purchased by J.P. Morgan in March. Lehman then failed, and then AIG failed and had to be bailed out. AIG was an insurance company so that was a little bit different. It wasn’t a bank, it wasn’t a brokerage firm, it wasn’t a Wall Street firm that had gotten over their skis on mortgages, but nonetheless, it was the largest insurance company in the world. And so, therefore, its failure was going to be a huge problem.

Chris Hedges:  And it had insured the subprime mortgages that were no good.

Gretchen Morgenson:  It had some insurance, yes, that it had written these derivatives. It had made the bet that the mortgages were money good, they weren’t money good, and so then they were on the hook for it. But I wanted to understand this bailout. Why was the government bailing out an insurance company? It was unusual and it was a lot of money. It was like $180 billion or something. So I dug into it and I found out that what the bailout was about was bailing out Goldman Sachs, who would have been on the hook and would’ve been facing a $5 billion hole in its balance sheet if AIG had been allowed to go off the cliff. So this bailout of an insurance company was a bailout of Goldman Sachs. And during that time, the treasury secretary was a former Goldman Sachs executive. Goldman Sachs –

Chris Hedges:  This is Rubin?

Gretchen Morgenson:  – This was… Oh, gosh, you’re going to embarrass me.

Chris Hedges:  No, that’s fine.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Anyway, Goldman Sachs had a term, they were known as Government Sachs because they were so powerful in the government. Hank Paulson was his name.

Chris Hedges:  That’s right, Paulson.

Gretchen Morgenson:  So this was newsworthy that the government was bailing out an insurance company, but bailing out Government Sachs, Goldman Sachs. And so this story appeared on the front page of the New York Times. It was literally a couple of weeks after the bailout, so this is real-time explaining this behind-the-scenes situation. I got a phone call that Sunday. It was a Sunday it appeared on the front page. And I got a phone call from Timothy Geithner who was the head of the New York Fed, who then became the treasury secretary under Obama. And he called me up to tell me that the story, that I had misled my readers by writing that story, that Goldman Sachs was not imperiled at all by an AIG failure, and that this was very bad for Goldman. I was making them look bad.

And I said to him how do you know Goldman Sachs was not imperiled by this? And he said, well, they were hedged, their position was hedged. Now what that means in financial mumbo jumbo is that they had some kind of an investment that would cancel out the problem that they faced if AIG folded. That’s a hedge against whatever. Anyway, I said, interesting. I said if the world’s largest insurance company goes off a cliff, I’m not sure those hedges would’ve held up properly. Did you examine who their counterparties were? Who were the people on the other side of those investments, the hedges? Well, no, I didn’t examine them, but Goldman told me that they were hedged.

So he was saying that the thesis of my article was wrong, that they weren’t facing a $5 billion hole, and that it wasn’t a bailout of Goldman Sachs. And he was criticizing the story and he went to my boss, and I’m sure my boss’s boss. Turns out that a congressional investigation of Goldman Sachs was in fact on the hook for $5 billion and the bailout was really about that. But the idea that I would be phoned by the head of the New York Fed who then became the treasury secretary, to tell me that I had misled my readers, was an interesting moment. I later learned that the CFO of Goldman Sachs had put him up to it, and had asked Timothy Geithner to call me and read me the Riot Act and to try to cast dispersions on the report.

Chris Hedges:  What’s interesting is that what they’re trying to do is discredit your work, and especially if you keep doing that kind of work, push you out. I’ve seen that kind of pressure put on good reporters who reported factual information and they do get pushed out and then only later we learn that they’re right. That’s a phenomenon that happens. I saw that several times. So that’s part of the pressure. And if you play the game, if you rewrite those press releases, you’ll be having dinner with Geithner or Hank Paulson or whoever. Those are “journalists” who sit at the desks right next to us in the newsroom.

So let’s talk about the decline and where we’ve gone with all of whatever the sins are of the old news industry. We’re not in a better place. So you saw Craigslist, 40% of newspaper revenue was classified ads. That’s gone. So that was a 40% hit right there. Then the rise of digital media where they all have our profile, they can target us directly, they don’t need a news organization to target us. The print ads are down. The New York Times has managed to survive, although they’re not making the money they used to make. I think they have 10 million or something digital subscribers. That’s not happening at other papers, including the Washington Post. But let’s begin with local news because local news is vital, and that’s all but collapsed.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Absolutely.

Chris Hedges:  And talk about the role that local newspapers… These are small communities, maybe they serve three or four communities but they cover the school board, they cover… And they’re completely gone. So let’s begin there before we talk about the national press.

Gretchen Morgenson:  The evisceration of the local media is a dire, dire situation. There was a West Virginia newspaper that was at the forefront, for instance, of covering the opioid crisis, and they won a Pulitzer Prize for this coverage. They went out and found these pill mills and they found out that these people were prescribing the equivalent of –

Chris Hedges:  Let me explain how a pill mill works; A doctor will come into a town – I write about it in Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt – And he sits behind a desk. I used to see the lines in West Virginia. There’s a giant line outside, you walk in, you give them $50 cash, and they write you a prescription for OxyContin, to which many people were addicted. That’s a pill mill. And that doctor walks away with thousands of dollars for writing prescriptions all day long.

Gretchen Morgenson:  – So this newspaper looked at the numbers of pills that were prescribed in these towns in West Virginia and it was something astronomical, like 8,000 per person per day or something. So it was great work, that’s the kind of work we’re not going to be seeing. And these are voids, these are holes that you can’t even know how bad it is because it means you know that there are people doing mischief in the statehouse or the school board or at the town council, and they’re not being watched, and they’re not being held to account. It’s a recipe for disaster, and I don’t know how it’s going to turn around.

Chris Hedges:  It’s interesting, I was reading about the Iowa caucuses. Traditionally, candidates would spend a lot of time with local Iowa newspapers and they would be able to raise issues of concern for the community. But now with the death of those newspapers, or they significantly lost circulation, I was reading that the candidates don’t even bother. It’s much more beneficial to their campaign to get on Fox or CNN or whatever. They don’t even bother with the local press at all.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Interesting. Well, so then that means that they’re not going to know about the issues that this community needs them to address. So that’s a huge gaping hole in the… If it’s a politician who wants to do the right thing, then they’re not going to know what it is that they need to do.

Chris Hedges:  So when newspapers fell into decline, they slashed the most expensive aspects of journalism; That was foreign reporting, gutted. So it used to be, when I began in the ’80s, large regional papers like The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and even the Baltimore Sun, had not only foreign sections, but they had foreign correspondence. Not as many as the Times, but they had them. I think The Inquirer had six, same about The Globe. That’s finished. And the other is investigative reporting. And you and I have each done investigative reporting; That is not a skill that is acquired quickly and that worries me tremendously because they want a reporter who’s going to churn out three or four stories a day to fill the… So let’s talk about investigative reporting, the role that it plays in our society, its importance, and the consequences of its loss.

Gretchen Morgenson:  I don’t think you can overstate the consequences of its loss. It’s about illuminating the dark corners and shining a light on bad behavior. It’s about all of these things that people need to understand that are affecting their lives every day, but they don’t know it. And so you as the reporter, you as the journalist, it’s your job to tell them what’s going on, to show them how it’s impacting them, to show them how the crooked politicians’ activities are harming you and raising your costs or gutting the school where your child goes or whatever it is. This is so important for people to understand what the pressures on their lives are about. That’s what investigative reporting can help you to see. And if we don’t have it, then they’re not going to understand the world that they live in.

Chris Hedges:  I wonder to that extent, and you raise this in your book, The Plunderers, that people know something’s wrong. These aren’t private equity firms, now, they’re kind of pillaging the country. People know something’s wrong but they don’t quite know what it is and this compounds that. And to what extent does that give fodder a rise to a figure like Trump?

Gretchen Morgenson:  It absolutely elevates a figure like Trump, because he can tap into that uncertainty. He can tap into that, I don’t know why I am upset, but I’m upset. There’s a reason why it is. Well, the reason why is because you can’t put food on the table or your pension has been eviscerated or your healthcare costs are through the roof. These are all things that pressure people’s day-to-day lives and if you aren’t understanding those pressures, where they’re coming from, and who’s exerting them on you, then you’re going to have this nebulous worry, concern, and unease about your life. And here comes some demagogue that says I’m going to make it better for you. I’m going to fix all that. These elites over here are causing the problems for you. I’m going to make them go away. I’m going to get rid of them. He’ll be able to fill a void because he’ll say this is what’s ailing you and I’m going to fix it.

Chris Hedges:  But it also feeds conspiracy theories because something’s wrong, but it’s behind the wall. You don’t understand the machinery. You just know something’s wrong.

Gretchen Morgenson:  This is circular because oftentimes, there is something wrong and oftentimes, it is something wrong within a government, for example. But this feeds into this deep state notion that the government is out to get everyone, that the government can’t do the job, and that a private industry will be better able to do the… It’s a circular thing. It feeds into that notion for sure.

Chris Hedges:  So one of the things that’s happened in the news industry since you and I started is the rise of celebrity gossip as news. I remember when Princess Di died in Paris, the editor of the Times, Joe Lelyveld, was asked why the coverage was so minimal. He’s the one who took – The previous editor put TVs in the newsroom, he took them all out. And so he said, oh, not too minimal. I think we did too much. That’s certainly changed. And I found that very corrosive, that fusion of entertainment and news, and wondered if you could talk about that.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Well, I’m a business reporter, and so where I see that coming in is the celebration of CEOs. And CEOs are the celebrities in business –

Chris Hedges:  It’s like Bezos and these figures. Yeah, yeah, that’s right.

Gretchen Morgenson:  – Reporting. So holding these people up as geniuses and not questioning them, that’s very corrosive. You’re absolutely right. I don’t cover the entertainment world so I don’t pay attention to that. But I see the same thing happening in the notion that these are people to be lauded and revered instead of questioned and held to account for what they do. It’s almost as though the fact that they have risen to this position of power and all the money that comes with it insulates them from any kind of investigation, any kind of questions, or skepticism. And you do have a lot of reporters who buy into that. Well, they’re a CEO. Why would I question what they’re doing?

Chris Hedges:  They want access to them.

Gretchen Morgenson:  They want access to them. They want to be invited to the party. I don’t want to be invited to the party.

Chris Hedges:  No, nor do I. But they do. And I used to see that in Washington.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Washington is a whole other level of that game.

Chris Hedges:  That’s a swamp of everything, including journalism.

Gretchen Morgenson:  I am so glad. Every day I count my lucky stars I’m not a political reporter.

Chris Hedges:  When you go to the White House you don’t have to take notes because every word the president utters is printed out and given to you. It’s a horrible job. You’re just a stenographer and you get to ride on a big plane and you can introduce your mother to the president or something. I never was totally mystified by anyone who would want to do it. But I think that’s it; There is an element within the press that has always wanted to be within that circle of power, that circle of celebrity, and that has always distorted Washington reporting for decades and decades.

Gretchen Morgenson:  And now maybe you have more of that because you have less of the other; You have less of the investment in investigative reporting and so the balance feels like it’s skewed now towards that.

Chris Hedges:  At the introduction, I’m talking about the collapse of national media and the Washington Post is in serious trouble. The papers that are still around have slashed their Washington bureaus. There are very, very few reporters. And that’s important because let’s say you’re from The Philadelphia Inquirer – Which had once been a major regional paper – You are going to focus on issues in Washington that affect residents of Philadelphia or Pennsylvania. That’s gone, that’s not being done. So we talked about the collapse of rural.

What are the consequences of the collapse of the national press? And we should be clear, these papers, like if 20-30 years ago you bought the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer, you’re talking about a five-pound paper. You’re talking about 750 reporters and editors. These were major journalistic enterprises. That’s gone. These papers are a shell of what they were. The staff have been eviscerated. Let’s talk about the consequences nationally.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Well, you think about it in terms of Washington. The superstructure in Washington, you have the regulatory agencies, you have the Department of Defense, and you have health and human services. These are gargantuan entities that need to be covered and need to be understood. They’re affecting everyone’s lives across the nation. And if you don’t have people who are sophisticated and knowledgeable and aggressive about covering them, then they’re going to be left to do whatever they please and it’s going to have enormous impacts down the line on people. It’s going to have impacts on their health, on their pensions, on their futures, on their children’s lives. It’s across the board. And if you don’t have reporters questioning what’s going on in these huge agencies and the White House, then oh, my gosh, scary.

Chris Hedges:  Let’s say you cover the Pentagon or you cover the Department of Energy. You need a body of knowledge. You can’t just fly in and do it; It takes years to really understand and report well. We’re losing that sense of expertise, especially with staff cuts, because when news organizations do buyouts, they buy out those with the most experience.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Right. Those with the most experience are the most expensive, and so those are the people who are the first to go. I feel really bad for young reporters who are starting out because you learn from people who’ve been around.

Chris Hedges:  I did.

Gretchen Morgenson:  Everybody’s going to make mistakes, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s so helpful to have the expertise of a sophisticated reporter in a newsroom. You go say, hey, what do you think about this? Can you help me with a source here? It’s a collaboration but learning how to do that work, I don’t know how they’re going to do it with many of these people who are able and expert at it being gone.

Chris Hedges:  To what extent does this essentially allow so-called fake news, and conspiracy theories, free of reign within the media landscape?

Gretchen Morgenson:  It opens the door to a tremendous increase in those kinds of stories. But also, it’s part of that is this derision for the real media, which is very damaging and very dangerous, where you have the president of the US saying that the media are the enemy of the people. That is hair-raising and frightening.

Chris Hedges:  Do you think that both like Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald, for instance, blame the media? There is some merit to their argument in terms of as things have become more dire within the industry, we’ve become less aggressive. I think that’s true, but to what extent is the media culpable for that animus from the public?

Gretchen Morgenson:  Gosh, I think it’s a shared thing. I don’t know if it’s 50-50, I don’t know if it’s 75-25, but the media, they make mistakes. Part of the job is difficult to brook. Like if there’s a tragedy, you’ve got reporters sticking microphones in people’s faces and saying tell me how it felt to see your child die, or whatever. There are ugly aspects to the news-gathering business that certainly can turn people off. But it is important to get the facts and –

Chris Hedges:  I’m wondering too, with the kind of siloing of the media it used to be that these large media organizations sought to reach a broad audience. That’s over. Matt Taibbi wrote a good book about it called Hate Inc. So you had, for instance, the New York Times, its digital service took off during Russiagate. Its readers hated Trump, it fed the Russiagate narrative – And everybody should read Jeff Gerth’s brilliant 20,000-word investigation into the Russiagate story in Columbia Journalism Review – But there was an economic incentive to keep feeding it because it’s what that demographic that subscribed to the New York Times wanted.

I had listened to their podcast called The Caliphate. Having spent seven years in the Middle East, I smelled a rat about five minutes into it. As anybody who had spent significant time in the Middle East would. To what extent has that corroded the credibility? MSNBC was even worse than the Times in a sense because of the new economic model and because they’ve taken such hits, these media organizations are too willing to cater to what their readership or viewership wants.

Gretchen Morgenson:  – It’s a huge problem and it’s very difficult to measure the impact because you think about the old days when you would read a general interest newspaper and you would get a broad spectrum –

Chris Hedges:  Well, that’s the other thing. That’s right. You would get different –

Gretchen Morgenson:  – You would get different viewpoints, you would get different information, and maybe you wouldn’t read the whole story, but you would see the headline and you would get the picture of what it was about. You would be informed about something that was not in your wheelhouse, not normally what you care about, et cetera, but it would expand your understanding of the world and the way it works. That’s important. That’s gone. If you’re talking about people who are going to the “I hate Donald Trump market” and continuing to –

Chris Hedges:  – Or “I love Donald Trump.”

Gretchen Morgenson:  – Or “I love Donald Trump” and continuing to feed that, you’re not expanding their minds, right? You’re not growing their understanding of the world. But that’s very hard to measure what that loss is. It’s a loss that you can’t put a figure on but it is enormous and it’s important.

Chris Hedges:  Where are we going? What’s happening in terms of journalism?

Gretchen Morgenson:  Gosh, I don’t have a crystal ball on this. I think it gets worse. There are all kinds of people talking about what can be done, should the government intervene? I think that’s a bad idea. Does it maybe become smaller entities that serve an audience that is willing to pay more money for –

Chris Hedges:  But then a problem is a paywall. Barbara Ehrenreich said, you want to be a journalist, then you’re going to have to accept being poor. We were privileged in the sense that neither of us made a lot of money, but we certainly made a middle-class income with a pension and health benefits. I don’t see how real journalists, people who want to do journalism are going to be able to replicate that.

Gretchen Morgenson:  – I’m afraid that we might be going into a new dark age where you go backward because you’re not enlightened by the media.

Chris Hedges:  Well, I think that’s true. But it’s not just the collapse of journalism, it’s the collapse of education. You write about private equity firms who are running these charter schools, which is all about rote memorization and enough financial literacy in poor neighborhoods to work in a fast food store. Yeah, I think that’s right. Unfortunately, I have to agree with you there.

Gretchen Morgenson:  If we’re going backward, that’s a very bad thing. I would hope there’s a point at which it stops and somebody finds a way to shed light on it again and bring us back into a place and a time where we’re educating ourselves and learning and understanding and enlightening.

Chris Hedges:  That was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Gretchen Morgenson, author of These Are the Plunderers: How Private Equity Runs and Wrecks America. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team; Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at

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