Don Gale: Changing a Trump voter’s mind ... or not

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A couple of dozen counterprotesters wave a Trump banner as Black Lives Matter protesters chant across the street, on Center Street in Provo, Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

How do you change the mind of a Trump voter? You don’t. Because he is already so misinformed that there is little chance of successfully replacing misinformation with truth. (I refer to the Trump voter as “he,” because female voters are generally better informed than their male counterparts.)

Our information sources have changed over the past few decades — and not for the better.

There was a time when most American families subscribed to newspapers. Some newspaper editorial policies were conservative; a few editorial policies were more liberal. But the news pages of most newspapers, conservative or liberal, were filled through the efforts of well-trained, professional journalists. They did their best to keep the news as factual, informative and objective as possible. To ensure diverse ownership of newspapers, well-enforced regulations restricted the number of newspapers a single owner could control, both locally and nationally.

When radio came along, single owners were allowed to own only seven stations. Almost all radio stations provided regular news reports gathered and produced by professional journalists. Stations were not required to present news, but in order to keep their licenses, regulations required stations to operate in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.” To meet that requirement, most station owners chose to provide professional and objective newscasts.

When television arrived, TV license holders were subject to the same requirement to serve in the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

At one point, two-thirds of Americans watched network and local news almost every day. Those news reports were as accurate, as complete, and as objective as educated professionals could make them. Broadcast regulations also required stations to observe the “Fairness Doctrine.” It required them to provide balance. If a station offered conservative commentary on a particular subject, the station was required to reach out and provide opportunities for those who disagreed to offer different points of view. The object was to guarantee fairness by broadcast license holders.

The rationale for such regulations was that broadcast frequencies are ultimately owned by the public, and that the people, through their elected representatives, should have a say in how those publicly owned resources are used.

As a result of these sensible regulations, Americans were the most well-informed people in history.

All that changed dramatically when President Ronald Reagan was conned into pushing for deregulation of everything, including media ownership, broadcast regulation and community responsibility. Deregulation still dominated government when cable and satellite technologies came into being. That’s why the Federal Communications Commission chose to exercise little or no responsibility over cable and satellite operations. The people paid a heavy price.

With deregulation, the number of broadcast stations multiplied like rabbits. Large corporations bought up hundreds of broadcast stations and dozens of newspapers. Ideologues such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity were free to prattle on ceaselessly without regard to truth, accuracy or fairness.

To compound the problem, government allowed large corporations such as Walmart to swallow up or displace local retailers and other businesses, destroying the advertising base for community newspapers, radio and television. That further restricted the ability of local media to support good journalism.

Compounding these attacks on reliable information sources, the power of the internet steered whole generations away from good journalism. Today, anyone and everyone can pretend to be a journalist, and smartphone addicts can pretend to be informed.

So, how do you change the mind of a Trump voter? It’s too late. We should have thought about the threat of Trumpian ignorance 40 years ago when we began to collectively ignore the “public interest, convenience, and necessity.”

Don Gale.

Don Gale, Ph.D., taught college journalism for a decade. He has been a Utah journalist for four decades, working with information sources committed to serving the public interest.