We’ve reached a point in the U.S. where almost all major media outlets are pushing a narrative that favors one side of our great national divide and vilifies the other. While the Right has its media behemoth in Fox News and plenty of websites, most of the other mainstream print and TV outlets veer in the opposite direction.
The two sides don’t emphasize or, in some cases, even cover the same stories. And those issues that do get covered by outlets on both the Left and Right are usually presented from radically different angles.
One of the many negative consequences of this set of circumstances is that it can sometimes be almost impossible for two people who get their information from different news sources to discuss an issue. I know this in part because of the consistency with which I get a sort of dear-in-the-headlights look from anyone to whom I mention a story that isn’t covered by their preferred sources of information. It can be maddening to think you’ve made a good point, only to have the person to whom you’re speaking not have any idea of what you’re talking about, sometimes to the point of doubting its veracity because they didn’t read it in the Times or their local paper or see it on CNN.
It’s not new in the U.S. for most media outlets to be identified with one political party or the other. It was the norm for parts of our history. But when it happened in earlier eras, there was no effort on the part of newspapers, which were then the primary sources of news, to deny their lack of objectivity. They were open about which side they were on and everyone knew it. While that is arguably the case now with MSNBC and Fox News, most other mainstream outlets still assert that they are fair and non-partisan, a claim that increasingly few people take seriously.
The most recent of the bi-annual Munk Debates, which are held in Toronto and always feature major intellectual talent, addressed whether the mainstream media is worthy of the public’s trust. The outcome – based on pre and post-debate polling of the live audience – was the most decisive in the history of this series. Beforehand, 48 percent supported the motion that the mainstream media should not be trusted. That percentage swelled to two-thirds by the end of the debate.
Former Rolling Stone and now independent journalist Matt Taibbi was one of the two participants arguing that the mainstream media should not be trusted and I thought had the best line of the evening when he said the following about the news reporting model currently used by virtually all major outlets:
“When you decide in advance to forego half of your potential audience to cater to the other half, you’re choosing in advance which facts to emphasize and which to downplay based on considerations other than than truth or newsworthiness.”
Here is the entire debate. It’s very worthwhile viewing:
Polling of the larger American public in recent years by Gallup and other firms has been in line with the debate outcome, showing that only about a third trusts the media to fairly and objectively report the news, with under ten percent trusting it a great deal.
While too many members of the mainstream media would have you believe otherwise, the two thirds of the country that does not have a lot of confidence in this important institution aren’t all crazy or severely lacking in intelligence. The World Wide Web, including social media, contains plenty of inaccurate crap. But there is also lots to discover on there that is not only accurate, but also important and largely uncovered or even contradicted by misleading reporting from major news outlets.
To give one example, for months the public was repeatedly told by journalists at mainstream news organizations that there was no indoctrination or teaching of or based on radical racial and gender theories taking place in American schools. Yet somehow, there are hundreds – at least – of examples to the contrary that have been exposed by individuals – some independent journalists, but many just regular citizens that felt moved to do something – who have made it their mission to show that this is indeed happening and not just in a few isolated cases.
Whatever you think of the now well-known Libs-of-Tiktok, she has shared a seemingly endless run of videos posted by teachers and school administrators who freely admit that they are attempting to indoctrinate children with regard to gender and identity and that they are doing so behind the backs of parents. One would think there have got to be a lot more than just the ones she exposes.
Then there have been Christopher Rufo’s reports on the numerous school districts that have – sometimes openly – embraced radical racial and gender theories.
I would be unlikely to know this and might even assume it’s a crazy right-wing conspiracy theory if I relied solely on CNN or MSNBC and the New York Times for my news.
On the evening of the First Trump-Kim summit, the two leaders held a press conference during which Kim Jong-un answered questions from Western reporters for the first time. One would think that’s worthy of coverage by any major television news network. Yet CNN didn’t break away from their all-day coverage of yet another Trump-Russia rumor that turned out to be false. If you’re a regular CNN viewer, don’t you deserve better than that?
Donald Trump’s behavior was so outrageous that simply covering him fairly would have gotten the job done. There was no need to spend four years inundating viewers with “Breaking News” that wasn’t breaking and often wasn’t true.
When you are told one thing by a network anchor, your newspaper of choice, or the latest CNN panel, and then can go online or even change channels and discover that the opposite is the case, it’s easy to see why so many people distrust the mainstream media.
While I rarely watch any TV news at this point, I do check in on Fox News’ website, not because I expect them to be fair and objective; but because they cover stories that the news outlets on the other side of our divide ignore, underplay or distort.
It should come as no surprise that there isn’t a lot of ideological diversity in most American newsrooms nowadays. Conservatives are no more interested in getting all their news from a liberal perspective than liberals would be in getting their information solely from Fox.
For years, I’ve also checked out realclearpolitics.com and realclearworld.com daily for national and international news. These are primarily news gathering or consolidation sites. They deal with most of the major issues of the day by posting links to articles from at least one outlet on both sides – including the biggies like the Times and Post, as well as more specialized news and commentary sites. Unfortunately, we can almost take for granted now that there is no single outlet that will “cover all the news that’s fit to print.” With the Real Clear sites, you don’t have to worry about that.
I understand that a lot of people are comfortable with where they get their news and don’t want to change. But as tragic as I consider it to be, I have reached the conclusion that it’s no longer possible to be well informed on all of the day’s important issues by relying solely on a couple mainstream media outlets. Even if you don’t want to go through the trouble of following independent journalists on social media, I highly recommend at least checking out Real Clear Politics and World. It’s important to not get sucked into the news bubble in which most media outlets currently reside while ignoring their credibility deficit with the public.
The alternative – sticking with the status quo – means we’ll continue to talk past each other.