I’ve been reading up on Mill and came across this passage in a book written in 1954 by John Bowle, Politics and Opinion in the 19th Century. Here is is describing de Tocqueville’s views of the media in the United States, and I fear it is more general than just there and back then.
The journalists of the United States, he remarks, are generally in a humble position, with scanty education and a vulgar turn of mind. . . . “The characteristics of the American journalists consist in . . . a coarse appeal to the passions of the reader; he abandons principles to assail the character of individuals to track them into private life and disclose all their weaknesses and vices . . .” Nothing can be more deplorable. [Bowle 1954: 188]
My days of sitting on the phone with some journalist for upwards of an hour to explain something and then find it was completely garbled in the paper the next day are happily long gone. No one who has dealt with the press finds their views anything other than superficial, which is why they are almost invariably to the left. I also found this very acute about the nature of opinion within societies where you get to choose your own.
De Tocqueville concludes by a warning of the growing and immense power of the press in democratic states. It is second only to the political power of the people itself. Its influence is further extended by the peculiar American susceptibility to abstract ideas. Once they have taken up an opinion, ‘be it well or ill founded, nothing is more difficult than to eradicate if from their minds’. This tenacity is also apparent in England. The explanation is simple. When one is free to choose one’s opinions one clings to them. [ibid. – my bolding]
Watching politics in the United States really is depressing since it hinges on so many forms of inane belief. America is the worst-case scenario. We have it too, but such a mild version that I could only wish the Pacific was even wider than it is.