In the original Planet of the Apes movie (1968), the most-fascinating character is Dr. Zaius, the elitist, orangutan in chief who alone possessed the secret knowledge that (spoiler alert!) apes descended from humans. Toward the end of the film—shortly before he warns Charlton Heston’s character not to search for the truth “because you may not like what you find!”—he monologues that the hoi polloi (chimps and gorillas in this case) must be shielded from certain realities lest they be driven to insanity and nihilism.
The legacy media are having their Dr. Zaius moment, paternalistically shielding their infantile audience (read: you and me) from ugly images and realities. This is not simply a revolting development but a deeply troubling one that will only accelerate the ongoing loss of confidence and trust the public has in media. According to polling done for the Columbia Journalism Review, fewer than 20 percent of us have a “great deal of confidence” in the press. The only institution held in lower esteem is Congress.
Yet the media seem happy to keep digging their own grave. Yesterday, for instance, The New York Times reported on what it called a “macabre video of [a] fake Trump shooting media and critics” that was shown at a conference held at one of the president’s own properties (Trump had nothing to do with the conference or the video, which the White House has condemned). You’d assume the paper would link to or embed the video in support of its characterization. But it refused to, even as it’s safe to say that it was the Times’ coverage that helped bring the video to a large viewing audience (that’s how I learned about it).