Pundits trivialized politics before they politicized ESPN

Most accounts of Ailes’s success center on him serving the then-neglected market segment of conservatives. Yet even in a polarized political environment, Fox News often requires liberal co-hosts and guests because—as with sports media—people will tune in for the conflict and the competition. The larger insight Ailes gleaned from America’s Talking and refined at Fox, however, was just as important and simple: it is cheaper to produce television shows discussing the news than to produce traditional journalism at a world-class level.

The Information Revolution expanded competition for an audience not only by subject-matter, but also to a 24/7 programming cycle. The audience turnover during that cycle, however, makes it possible to focus on serving the hottest takes on the hottest news, rather than spending more money to cover more stories, especially if those additional stories are less immediately compelling to viewers. Much the same can be said of most sports programming compared to the cost of broadcast rights and coverage of the events themselves.

In sum, powerful technological and economic forces have driven most forms of journalism into the infotainment business to one degree or another. The clickbait environment of the Internet is merely the most recent iteration of this dynamic.

At least one and perhaps two generations of Americans have grown up in an environment where the ESPNization of politics and political media has become normalized. It is just one part of a world where a vast sea of content blurs once-established lines between politics and entertainment, between the real and the scripted.