Journalism in the age of Trump: Toxic mix of stress and alcohol-fueled bias

Dickens and Hemingway understood what science has just told us: Journalists aren't like the rest of us, and often not for the better. But sometimes it takes a cognitively impaired, emotional boozehound to get the story.


WASHINGTON, May 22, 2017 — Neuroscientist Tara Swart, whose firm promises to help “individuals, teams and companies achieve peak brain performance,” boasting clients like Google, Sony and the BBC, just released a “Study into the Mental Resilience of Journalists.”

Ninety journalistic guinea pigs were subjected to blood tests, wore heart-rate monitors, and kept detailed journals of their food and drink consumption, ending participation in the study with a “brain profile questionnaire.”

The study found that most reporters consume above average levels of alcohol, fostering low “executive function” in the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (the CEO of the mind). This diminishes their “ability to regulate emotions, suppress biases, solve complex problems, switch between tasks, and think flexibly and creatively… which can also negatively impact on cognitive performance.”

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that stress-altered neurons in the brains of laboratory rats caused their reward centers to crave greater quantities of alcohol.

Slate’s Jack Shafer wrote, “The journalist likes to think of himself as living close to the edge, whether he’s covering real estate or Iraq. He (and she) shouts and curses and cracks wise at most every opportunity, considers divorce an occupational hazard, and loves telling ripping yarns about his greatest stories … If he drinks, he considers booze his muse.”

Rather than serving as an inspiration à la Hemingway, alcohol has become a balm to sooth the psychic wounds inflicted on the media by Trump’s recent election as president.

Dave Levinthal and Michael Beckel of The Center for Public Integrity noted, “Conventional journalistic wisdom holds that reporters and editors are referees on politics’ playing field⏤bastions of neutrality who mustn’t root for Team Red or Team Blue, either in word or deed.”

Instead, they found that of the $396,000 in political contributions given by those “identified in federal campaign finance filings as journalists, reporters, news editors or television news anchors… Nearly all of that money – more than 96 percent – has benefited [Hillary] Clinton.”

The day after Donald Trump’s surprise victory, New York Times Media Columnist Jim Rutenberg asked, “Does the media emerge from this campaign year having learned important lessons that made it better … or does it limp into the new phase of coverage unrepentant, ready to make similar mistakes all over again?”

The answer can be found in the alcohol-inspired media hysteria surrounding Russian hackers and alleged Russian plots to take over the U.S. government.

“Drunkenness,” said Charles Dickens, “that fierce range for the slow, sure poison, that oversteps every other consideration; that casts aside wife, children, friends, happiness, and station; and hurries its victims madly on to degradation and death.”

Charles Dickens.

And the creator of Bill Sikes should know. Dickens likely drew inspiration for his fictional drunken lout while serving as editor of the London Daily News.

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