There is one inherent truth about writing for a political news publication: You never truly leave your work when you leave your desk. It isn’t because you are some wide-eyed political news junkie who wants to inform every innocent soul with whom you come in contact of the day’s often ridiculous and mostly frightening events. Rather, it’s because most everyone else, knowing what you do for a living, wants to inform you of the latest news. Unfortunately, most people are terribly misinformed.
The job of scouring the vast field of news sites and blog entries on the Internet each day and of stripping them of the fluff and nonsense comes with the incredible burden of knowing that a visit to the local coffeehouse or watering hole at the end of the day might leave you frustrated. Someone will inevitably toss a “Hey, did you hear about…” and proceed to give you a slanted version of a news story. You can immediately tell which of the major news networks it came from. And you come to realize that many people allow their social and political worldview to be shaped almost entirely by the brand of news they consume.
Likely, no person consciously decides that he is willing to be entirely indoctrinated by his chosen form of news consumption in the beginning. It happens, it seems, as a matter of consequence. Perhaps a person chooses to watch news exclusively on Fox because the channel boasts conservative commentators like Bill O’ Reilly with whom he shares views, or MSNBC because of the quirky youthfulness of talking heads like Rachel Maddow. The average news consumer takes in the punditry and assumes that the “spin” stops just in time for the network to read through the latest top stories. But the spin doesn’t stop, and the networks have each poisoned the well from which they pull their “news” reports.
Politico’s Dylan Bryers nicely illustrated the polarization of news media late Tuesday night as he blogged about cable news coverage of the Wisconsin recall in his column “on Media.”
MSNBC was blatantly rooting for Tom Barrett to defeat Gov. Scott Walker, even sending union champion Ed Schultz to cover an event with no apologies for the dog he has in the fight. (Earlier tonight, Chris Matthews even told Schultz that if he wasn’t an MSNBC host, he could be head of the AFL-CIO.) When it became clear that Barrett would lose, Schultz looked almost teary eyed. Not long after, the network’s contributors immediately began suggesting that this was, in fact, good news for Obama — who, after all, hadn’t even set foot in Wisconsin — and began attacking Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, Fox News was blatantly rooting for Gov. Walker, and the moment it became clear that Walker might win, host Sean Hannity called it “a repudiation of big unions,” which did “everything they could do to demonize Scott Walker.” Guest Hugh Hewitt then predicted that, five months from now, Romney would follow Walker just “as Reagan followed Thatcher.” Fox’s Greta Van Susteren later hosted what amounted to a victory celebration for the Republicans.
Given this blatant partisan coverage, it was absolutely impossible to watch either network and weed out any clear understanding of the actual significance of the event, much less what effect it would actually have on the 2012 presidential election.
Bryers also pointed out that CNN’s crack political team, during all the excitement, was still showing footage of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
With that, self-proclaimed news junkies had three places to go for coverage, or lack thereof, of the Wisconsin recall: the Democratic channel, the Republican channel and the I-don’t-live-in-Wisconsin-so-who-gives-a-hoot channel.
This is not all the result of some great conspiracy. It is a simple business tactic that news outlets pushing the views of the left and those of the right have employed in order to secure a place in the information marketplace. Imagine a world in which news was reported without a slant. No longer would there be a need for several major news networks because the same story reported in the same way by several different outlets would leave the marketplace saturated and no place for advertisers to spend money.
The polarization of news media could actually be a good thing if the broader populace were more willing to accept that it exists, which shouldn’t be a hard thing to do. Fox is no longer hiding it, as illustrated by the decision of the producers of “Fox and Friends” to portray the news in a way that looked very much like an ad for the Mitt Romney campaign last week.
Here’s Romney’s ad:
Here’s Fox’s news report:
Point this out, however, and those who are fans of Fox become angry and ask why you don’t also point out the bias of liberal news outlets. But for whom must it be pointed out if we already know it exists?
Instead of liberals and conservatives continuing to deride whichever news channel offers a slant opposite theirs while happily lapping up the propaganda which suits their respective ideologies, perhaps news bias could be a good thing if everyone took notes from both sides. This, of course, would require liberals to abandon the notion that watching a few minutes of Fox instantly turns a person into misogynistic racist homophobe and conservatives to discontinue believing that even flipping past MSNBC could make one go blind.
After hearing multiple versions of the same story, anyone who wanted to discuss the news of the day would, in a perfect world, use the vast resources on the Internet to research and refine their own opinions by digging for facts themselves or reading political blogs for alternate spins. The result would surely be better than having a million carbon copies of O’Reilly arguing with a million carbon copies of Maddow in coffee shops throughout the Nation, and much better than knowing that many of them head off to the polls when elections roll around.