The League of Political Scientists and the Social Science Department hosted Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R) in the second of its Meet the Candidates 2020 series of forums, Monday.
During the forum, Armstrong talked extensively about the media, especially as it pertained to the two-year antitrust investigation he was part of in Congress.
He took issue with the national media and its tendency toward sensationalizing news.
"On TV, the media cares about ratings, and it doesn’t matter which side you’re on, and that’s not the best way to deliver the news," Armstrong said. "If your show doesn’t sell, it gets cut and that’s why you have a lot more talking heads … yelling at each other. Try to watch the news from 6 to 9 pm Mountain Time tonight and tell me where you’re actually getting news. You’re not. You’re not getting news. It doesn’t matter if you watch Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow."
He talked about reporters on social media and television that care more about being the first to report on a story than the accuracy of their reporting.
"I use the best example I can give because it’s apolitical … and I’m assuming just about everybody tuned in for a little bit when Kobe Bryant died," Armstrong said. " … By 11 am, CNN was saying there were 12 people dead in a helicopter crash, and MSNBC had it on good authority that there was one person (dead). They had no qualms whether they were right or wrong."
So, rather than national news, Armstrong said more people than at any time in the last 20 years are relying on local media for news, but local media is struggling.
"The generation of revenue for KXNews at 5, The Bismarck Tribune, has gone away because none of the local businesses are doing well enough to buy their advertising," he said.
Digital advertising, Armstrong said, goes to Google and Facebook.
"Most people are reading The Dickinson Press through either Google or Facebook. There is no mechanism that allows local media to survive over the long term. That just doesn’t exist," he said. "Google doesn’t create content, and no matter how great and powerful they get, they’re not going to cover the Dickinson Roughriders or the 6-0 Dickinson Blue Hawks, so we have to figure out a way through this."
While newspapers used to be able to give away digital content for free, many are moving behind paywalls to survive.
"The amount of money you pay for The Dickinson Press in order to have The Dickinson Press and have somebody that cares about local issues, it’s worth it," Armstrong said. "I don’t care if you’re a broke college kid or the president of the university; it’s worth it. But the problem is, changing users’ habits is really hard. We’ll pay $45 for a targeted ad that’s selling us something we didn’t even know we wanted, but $1.99 a month to get local news is like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a second’ ... If it’s not behind a paywall right now, it’s junk."
He's taking on big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which were investigated by Congress for unfairly controlling the market. Typically, Congress can use antitrust legislation to break up mega conglomerates that snuff the air from their competitors, but with these tech companies, there's a problem.
"Antitrust, and as it should be, is based on consumer-welfare standards," Armstrong said. "The consumer welfare standard doesn't apply in that scenario."
For social media companies like Facebook and Twitter, the consumer is the advertiser, not the user.
He said a large portion of these companies users believe that they silence conservative voices more than they do liberal voices, yet these companies face no consequences for it.
"If 50% of any business’ customers hated their product, there would be an economic consequence for that. There is not in the tech world," Armstrong said. "That gets back to the consumer welfare standard. Their consumers ... are really advertisers ... We have to figure out a way to do this without throwing out 200 years of history of antitrust, which we do not want to throw out."
The issue has bipartisan support, he said, but solutions put forth on how to best solve the mounting struggles have been by and large partisan.