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Politics & Government

#MemeOfTheWeek: 'The Media'

The numbers are in, and there's a clear consensus on who lost this week's Republican presidential debate, and in turn, who was this week's biggest political flop: "The Media."

Facebook says their top social moment of the debate was when Texas senator and presidential contender Ted Cruz criticized CNBC debate moderators and the questions they asked during the debate. Twitter also says that was the top moment on their network, as well the second when Florida senator Marco Rubio declared, "Democrats have their own SuperPAC, it's called the mainstream media."

Media coverage of its own failings was just as critical. We've got a roundup here in case you need to catch up.

But, what exactly IS "the media"? Who are we talking about when we say this? And what do we mean?

NPR reached out to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She says Americans have been pretty down on "the media" for a while, but that, right now, it's really bad.

"Media credibility historically is down from its high points in the past," she says, "but there is on the conservative end of the political spectrum, an ongoing, more than two-decade long critique, that argues that what we would call the mainstream, or legacy media are biased against conservatives, and employ a double standard, treating conservatives different than liberals in a way that advantages liberals."

And for Jamieson, this debate only served to exacerbate those frustrations. "When you open a debate by asking about candidate weaknesses (moderators opened this debate by asking each candidate what their greatest weakness was), in a debate in which the the candidates really are not well known yet, first you're asking a question no competent candidate is actually going to honestly answer," she says. "So, it's largely a waste of time, to find out how they're going to dodge the question."

For Jamieson, part of why "The Media" is held in such low regard, compared to times past, is because the media, right now, is very different than what it was a few decades ago.

"We have a changed media culture," Jamieson says. "When people talk about trust in media across time, they're actually measuring something that's very different. If you look at the 1960s and 1970s for example, you had three possibly four [if you count PBS], major media outlets for broadcast news.

"Now we've seen ... the rise in online content, and the proliferation of media channels, with the advent both of cable, and then of many forms of online dissemination. And so when people now ask the question, 'do you trust, or how high is the credibility of media,?' They're fundamentally answering a different question than they were in the past.

"And there's some confusion on the part of the public about who is a journalist at all," Jamieson continued.

It all works to create a perfect storm: A debate with some awkward questions, a public already primed to distrust journalists and a social media landscape primed to jump on the multiple awkward moments that occurred during that debate. And when what you're critiquing is actually up for debate as well, it allows everyone to critique whatever they want.

"When you ask about the media, often I think what you're actually hearing people say — particularly people who find most of their news in ideologically compatible outlets — I think what they're actually saying is, 'what I mean is, the media I don't pay attention to,'" Jamieson said.

Online, this critique of the media, led to a backlash, from the media itself. Some journalists even declared war:

And others pointed out that the battle had gone international.

But, Jamieson says, even if "The Media" is this week's loser, it's not alone. "There's been a decline in all of the other institutions too, including recently, the Supreme Court," she says. "Part of this tendency may be an increased distrust in everything that's institutionalized."

But for what it's worth, she says it's not all bad. "All of journalism isn't broken; most of the debate the other night wasn't broken — but a part of it was."

But that was the part that the Internet just couldn't let go.

And Republicans haven't let it go, either. The Republican National Committee announced Sunday that it will suspend a debate partnership with NBC News, citing "inaccurate or downright offensive" questions during Wednesday night's CNBC debate.

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