Every story needs conflict.
For those of us that come from literature backgrounds, we know that conflict can be found in one of four ways: Man versus man, man versus nature, man versus society, or man versus self. The reasoning for this is to allow the reader to relate to, and often times emphasize with, the character. In a man versus man situation, the reader is forced to to take sides. In a man versus nature situation, the reader is forced to empathize with the character as they battle the elements. In a man versus society situation, the reader is forced to root for the underdog as he or she takes on some sort of societal problem or issue. And in the man versus self situation, the reader is forced to get inside the main character's head as he or she struggles internally with a predicament.
Without conflict, there is no reason to be engaged in a story. Even children's books have conflict from The Three Little Pigs to Where the Wild Things Are to Charlotte's Web to Curious George. This is done in an effort to get our youngest readers to see the main character take on some kind of adversity. It also provides a way to introduce children to the world; a world that will eventually present them their own challenges that will will be forced to overcome. Life is not simply one happy, carefree joyride and our literature, even from a young age, reflects this reality. If you were to submit a children's book proposal to a publisher without any conflict whatsoever then your publisher would look at you as if you had three heads.
It is this idea of conflict rooted in literature that now has permeated other sources of media. Take television for example. It doesn't matter if it's a comedy, drama, or action show; each genre has its own share of conflict from episode to episode and season to season. Taking that idea even further, even today's reality shows are saturated with conflict: From who will get the last rose (man versus man) to who will be survive being dropped off in a remote location (man versus nature) to a boss going undercover to see how his or her employees are actually living (man versus society) to seeing who can overcome their fear to eat the grossest food item around (man versus self). The ratings prove that no matter what kind of conflict, viewers will eat it up and tune in each and every week to see how the characters, either fictional or real, will deal with their inevitable conflict.
It should then come as no surprise that conflict sells.
Which is perfectly fine if you're writing a book or producing a television program but what if you worked for one of the big six media conglomerates that controls 90% of what we read, watch, or listen to? What if the success of your company depended on how many advertisements you sold and the only way to sell advertisements was to make sure people were tuning in? How could you convince people to watch the evening news rather than enjoy a family dinner and play with their children? How could you make it so that people chose your network rather than that of a competitor? How could you convince people to tune in and become frequent viewers to a news program just like they are for their favorite sitcom?
The answer: Create conflict.
And that is the reason we have the media landscape that we currently do. Long gone are the days of Walter Cronkite, an honest working man who simply wanted to tell the truth to the American people. What we now have instead are the Morning Joe's and Mika Brzezinski's of the world who are willing to not only host Donald Trump in his own one-man town hall but also willing to ask him easy questions in doing so. Because networks like MSNBC know that Donald Trump creates conflict and thus the more conflict he creates the more people that tune in to watch this one-man train wreck that has no business running for president. It doesn't matter that MSNBC is doing a disservice to democracy; their corporate overlords are reaping the profits and therefore everyone in the boardroom is perfectly content to erode our republic in order to pocket a few million extra dollars.
So on the Republican side, the conflict sells itself. Donald Trump versus the world. Donald Trump versus the establishment. Donald Trump versus Ted Cruz. Donald Trump versus Marco Rubio. Donald Trump versus Jeb Bush. Business is booming. But what about on the Democratic side?
At the onset of the Democratic primary you had one of the most qualified individuals to ever run for president. This was a candidate who had earned her place as the front-runner with a ton of political experience, a top-flight political machine, and a chance to make history as our first female president. Early polls showed this candidate to be virtually unbeatable; the question became not if she could win but when she would clinch the nomination. Despite being upset in 2008, this candidate was polished, professional, and prepared in a way that no other candidate was even close to matching. With all that going in her favor, it seemed like there would be no conflict in the Democratic primary.
Without conflict, there is no story. With no story there are no viewers. With no viewers there are no advertising dollars.
And that simply cannot happen in the year 2016.
So as we've seen over the past few months, the mainstream media has made a conscientious choice to create conflict in the Democratic race. Bernie Sanders has bigger crowds. Bernie Sanders is getting more donations. Bernie Sanders is closing the gap in the national poll. Bernie Sanders "virtually tied" Hillary Clinton in Iowa. Bernie Sanders "blew out" Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Bernie Sanders "barely lost" to Hillary Clinton in Nevada. Never mind the fact that Bernie Sanders' campaign got exposed in Nevada. Never mind the fact that Bernie Sanders cannot connect with minority voters and is guaranteed to lose South Carolina. Never mind the fact that Bernie Sanders is predicted to lose at least nine of the twelve primaries on Super Tuesday including such delegate-rich states as Georgia and Texas. None of that matters. All that matters is that the once-inevitable candidacy of Hillary Clinton has come crashing down.
This now has become the media's purpose: To create conflict to further this narrative. Let's look at one instance in particular which showcases the media's monomaniacal quest to make this a two-person horse race: The issue of Hillary Clinton's paid speeches to Goldman Sachs. This has been a gold mine for the networks ever since Clinton was asked about it during the January debate. America was shocked to learn that famous people give paid speeches and along with doctors and teachers organizations, Hillary Clinton had the gall to talk to various Wall Street organizations as well. Bernie Sanders immediately criticized Clinton for the speeches because it fit his narrative that Clinton is in the pocket of Wall Street. A Nevada realtor, begged, nay pleaded, with Hillary Clinton to release the transcripts at the Las Vegas town hall last week. There now exists mounting pressure on Clinton to release the tapes which she has refused to do on the grounds that no other candidate has been asked to do so. She then promised to release the transcripts when all other candidates did the same.
But let's think about this issue like actual human beings rather than corporate media whores. We know Hillary gave speeches. She insists she never said anything disingenuous during said speeches. Republicans think she's lying. Bernie Sanders thinks she lying. Concerned Nevada realtors are breaking down in tears. Sure, she'd be the only candidate to do so but why doesn't she just go ahead and release the transcripts rather than continue his unnecessary drama?
This is the question our corporate media won't attempt to answer, so I'll do it myself. One possible reason that Hillary Clinton has not released her transcripts is the fact that she may very well have signed a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement with Goldman Sachs. An article by Rachel Stockman, from Dan Abrams' legal news website Law Newz, has floated this theory and it makes perfect sense. In the article, Stockman describes how this is common practice in the industry and there's nothing sinister about it; it is simply in place to prevent speakers from revealing trade secrets or details about the corporation. Stockman quotes fellow attorney Darren Kavinoky who has previous experience signing his own non-disclosure agreements. Kavinoky said:
So what we may very well have here is Hillary Clinton, a former lawyer, honoring her contractual obligations rather than facing a lawsuit for violating a legally binding document. Think about it another way: If Hillary Clinton hasn't been the only person to give speeches to Goldman Sachs why haven't other high-profile speakers come forward and released their speeches? Wouldn't it totally derail Clinton to have a high-profile conservative jump in and say, "Lookie here! Here's the transcript of my speech to Goldman Sachs! Hillary, where's yours?" Is it maybe because that they, along with Clinton, signed non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements with Goldman Sachs as well?
Plus, imagine the fallout if Hillary Clinton did violate the contract and went ahead and released her speeches. What if the speeches were typical run-of-the-mill speeches that in no way showed her to being beholden to Wall Street but the result of her releasing those speeches would actually be for her to be sued by Goldman Sachs? Can you imagine how the media would spin a potential lawsuit against a presidential candidate during a seemingly competitive primary? Not only would it create unnecessary conflict for the campaign but it would also reaffirm the twenty-five year old narrative based on Republican lies that Hillary is a dishonest and untrustworthy candidate.
So what we very well might have after all is a candidate simply honoring her contractual obligations. But you see, that narrative doesn't create drama. That narrative doesn't tie into Bernie Sanders' critique that Hillary Clinton is bought and sold by Wall Street. That narrative doesn't make Nevada realtors yearn for Hillary to come clean about her speeches. That narrative doesn't create a sense of impending pressure on Hillary Clinton to just step up and release the transcripts before it becomes too late. No, the story of a lawyer keeping her word and honoring her contractual obligations simply is not the kind of story that the networks want to hear. It may be true but it lacks drama. Nobody will turn on the nightly news if the top story is "Clinton Actually Not Legally Able to Release Goldman Sachs Transcripts."
That particular story may not be sexy, but it very well may be true. And yet not a single media outlet is willing to even investigate that possibility. The reason they won't investigate is because they're afraid of what they might find out. The networks, including Fox News, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and even online media like The Young Turks, all need the democratic primary to be competitive. The "Hillary is a corporate shill" narrative is helping to do that. While no network can question Clinton's foreign policy expertise they can question her ties to Wall Street as a way to cast aspersions on her character. The more they can do that, the more they can create conflict between the two democratic candidates, the more likely they are to prolong out a process that by all other measures should be already over. Because without a competitive Democratic primary, there's a lot of dead air between now and the convention in July which would mean nearly five months of the networks having to do actual work rather than simply relying on the advertising dollars being raked in from campaign season. It's simply that much easier to rely on the manufactured conflict.
I personally don't know if Hillary Clinton signed a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement with Goldman Sachs. But isn't it worth our media at least posing the question? Have we really gotten to the point now where we ignore Occam's razor (the idea that the simplest explanation is correct) because the simplest explanation of what happened isn't terribly exciting? Would the media really smear one of the most qualified candidates in history for the sole reason that in doing so it would prolong the democratic nomination process? Have we really gotten to a point where all networks are incapable to engaging in any journalistic integrity whatsoever? Do we no longer seek the truth if that truth runs counter to what we believe in? If we can't trust the news to do its job then who can we actually trust?
To be taken seriously once again, our mainstream media needs to answer these questions and publicly explain their actions. The American people rely on news organization to keep them informed. An informed citizenry is one that thrives and is necessary for a successful democracy. To intentionally manipulate people's opinions of a presidential candidate in unprecedented in our nation's history. To refuse to investigate an accusation and to instead use that allegation to propagate a false narrative is borderline treason. If the American media wants to regain the faith of the American public they need to publicly document their responses to these questions being posed and they need to release that information for everyone to see and have access to. Because unless the American media can prove they're not intentionally out to get Hillary Clinton then the American people have a right to assume that they have an ulterior motive in damaging her reputation. Seeing as how the American media has not signed a non-disclosure and confidentiality agreement with the American people, it should be perfectly reasonable for them to provide us with documentation clearing them of any wrongdoing.
I, for one, will be anxiously awaiting the release of those transcripts.