Media Matters

If there is one observation about American politics that everyone agrees on–whether they are left, right or center–  it’s that the electorate is deeply polarized.

There are a number of theories about why political actors are unable to agree on even the most pedestrian and formerly uncontroversial issues. A recent study suggests that our fragmented media environment has a lot to do with it.

In “Income Inequality, Media Fragmentation, and Increased Political Polarization,” published in Contemporary Economic Policy, August 2016, two economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas looked for evidence that media fragmentation plays a bigger role in polarization than income inequality. They looked at variables across six decades: indexes of polarization in the U.S. House and in the Senate, family income data from the Census Bureau and the percentage of Americans with cable or satellite television. The data confirmed that polarization has increased rapidly since the 1980s, but did not point to a cause.

Two of their findings:

  • The growing plurality of news sources as well as the increasing access to cable television made the greatest contribution to political polarization. Two phenomena, or a combination of the two, are responsible: Individuals seek out “self-reinforcing viewpoints rather than be exposed to a common ‘nightly news’ broadcast” — this is sometimes called siloing. Also, individuals are jettisoning news programming for entertainment, “thereby reducing incidental or by-product learning about politics.”
  • The decreasing exposure to alternative views and the increasing buttressing of one’s own views has combined to create less sympathy for others’ views and less of an ability to understand others’ views. “This may be reinforced by a tendency for political differences to be decreasingly addressed through genuine debate and increasingly replaced with media coverage of political vilification or grandstanding.”

Other research has reached similar conclusions.The Pew Research Center published an extensive investigation into political polarization and media habits in 2014, including five key takeaways. In 2016, Pew also looked at ideological gaps between people with different education backgrounds.

As the Journalists’ Resource notes,

Harvard University Professor Thomas Patterson’s book, Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism (Vintage 2013), describes, among other things, how in 1987 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rescinded the Fairness Doctrine, giving rise to extremely slanted radio and then cable news talk shows. The Fairness Doctrine, Patterson writes, “had discouraged the airing of partisan talk shows by requiring stations that did so to offer a balanced lineup of liberal and conservative programs. Once the requirement was eliminated, hundreds of stations launched talk shows of their choosing, the most successful of which had a conservative slant.”

People who consume sharply partisan news coverage are less likely to believe the truth even when they are presented with clear evidence they are wrong, according to research published in 2016 in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and flagged by the Poynter Institute.

When America is going through a particularly nasty period, it’s often comforting to remind ourselves that “we’ve been here before.” (Think civil war, the 60s, etc.) But we haven’t had social media and the internet during previous rough patches. We haven’t been able to choose our realities, insulate ourselves in our preferred “bubbles” and shut out inconvenient facts.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think that makes a big difference….

 

 

35 thoughts on “Media Matters

  1. I read recently in a Media Matters (the organization) article and a post by Ezra Klein (Vox.com), that media sources such as all cable channels, MSNBC, FOX, CNN, etc. have opted for the ratings that coverage of Trump brings, not true journalism. The theory is that people tune in, listen to or read about anything Trump because they want to love him or hate him.

    That might explain why for nearly two weeks, Trumps back and forth waffling over his “immigration policy” was covered non-stop by most major media.

    As long as the Donald is allowed to lie continually without getting challenged by the press and as long as the press continues to bring up Clinton’s emails, the real, important policy discussions are not happening.

  2. I guess that also explains why and how cable is eliminating network television. I have no idea why anyone wants to pay to watch tv, but that probably demonstrates how disconnected I am from the current reality. My wife and I were watching the Today Show on Saturday and I was struck by how similar it has become to the Bob & Tom Radio Show – plenty of laughter and almost no content. Dave Garroway is probably fidgeting in his grave.

    I wonder how long it will take before some media mogul recognizes that some viewers still want content in the programming.

  3. One thing that I did not see in todays blog was the transition of TV news into the entertainment divisions of the large TV networks. News should NOT be entertainment. Our national news is more important than selling Japanese cars and soap. And AM Talk/Hate radio is always fact free. Just entertainment with a slant. Somehow this has to stop.

  4. Sheila:

    The Fairness Doctrine, Patterson writes, “had discouraged the airing of partisan talk shows by requiring stations that did so to offer a balanced lineup of liberal and conservative programs. Once the requirement was eliminated, hundreds of stations launched talk shows of their choosing, the most successful of which had a conservative slant.”

    That was the Beginning of the End. Now the Koch Brothers and their “GOEBBELS”could have their UNFAIR days on the radio, on TV, and the unregulated press. Like a war, you have to control it all……..in the air, on the ground, and even UNDER the sea.

  5. Donald Trump is the class clown, the court jester with the political IQ of the village idiot. He garners more attention from the media because this nation has never seen a presidential candidate of this caliber before. Like a bad accident; you can’t NOT keep looking…and listening. He is controlling this entire election with his bizarre behavior and platform which has called all racists, bigots, xenophobes, anti-Semitics, anti-Muslims, anti-LGBTQs to action; using violence if that is their option. He is an oddity, like a freak show at a carnival which usually has a long line waiting to see the two-headed baby in a jar or the 600 pound man and the bearded lady. We have watched, listened to and been subjected to “normal” political candidates throughout our adult lives, even those we totally disagree with, since this country began as nation. Have we become so bored with the “norm” that Trump is preferable? The media is attracted to the bizarre rather than the facts so Donald Trump has gotten and continues to get the “lead news item”, the “front page above the fold”, the “you aren’t gong to believe what he has said/done now” attention so they report it and the public reactions – rather like the riots in our streets protesting the needless killing of innocents. Many of those “innocents” are the groups Trump would banish from “his”country if given the opportunity.

    I doubt we will see the return of investigative journalism and the public reporting of facts, backed by their source, in our lifetime. Let alone in this vital but bizarre presidential election which can result in the beginning of the salvation or the ruination of this country as a nation. All elections at all levels are vital at this time as never before in my lifetime. Social media could and should be a boon to this country; but as Anthony said, “Once again we come around to education.” Or the lack of education as Sheila has so often stated regarding the teaching of civics; which seems to have become a lost art – as cursive writing is on it’s way to becoming.

  6. Your writing ended with the thoughts that crossed my mind while reading the first three paragraphs. I thought of the polarized and venemous political ideas in our country that go back to the beginning. It seems we haven’t changed or evolved at all. However, the constant access to any media source that we choose enables many to live in a continual state of fear or anger or both. I believe conservatives live in both of those states of mind.

    I have personally experienced conservatives refusing to change their minds about certain beliefs even when they are presented with FACTS that clearly dispute them. If the facts don’t match their deeply held angry beliefs it seems that they are completely incapable of accepting reality. When I witness this I am no longer shocked by it. When reading the news or watching it on tv I am able to instantly recognize extremist propaganda and refuse to even spend a second more of my time reading or watching it, whether it is conservative or liberal based. There seem to be an awful lot of gullible people walking around and most of them are of the conservative mindset.

  7. Marv,

    “That was the Beginning of the End. Now the Koch Brothers and their “GOEBBELS”could have their UNFAIR days on the radio, on TV, and the unregulated press. Like a war, you have to control it all……..in the air, on the ground, and even UNDER the sea.”

    You are SO right!

  8. Just read this and hope you don’t mind that I am sharing it –

    From this morning’s Fort Wayne Journal Gazette opinions page regarding Right To Work:

    September 12, 2016 1:01 AM

    Right to work’s intent now made clear
    It has been a crime for Indiana employers to enter into labor contracts that require workers to pay union dues since Feb. 1, 2012 – the day then-Gov. Mitch Daniels signed legislation making the Hoosier State a “right-to-work” state.

    But right to work is unnecessary, and that’s worth remembering.

    Daniels and the GOP sold right to work as a jobs bill. Jobs are returning, yet Hoosier incomes continue to fall.

    A Ball State University study in 2013 found Indiana’s per capita income plummeted from 30th in the U.S. to 40th overall and lowest in the Midwest.

    In TV ads ahead of legislative votes on right to work, Daniels told Hoosiers the state was “cut out of a third of all (employment) deals because we don’t provide workers the protection known as right to work.” He said the previous 22 states with right-to-work legislation were “adding jobs and income a lot faster than those that don’t.”

    Hoosiers still await those higher incomes. And by now, they likely have guessed the legislation’s true and perhaps only purpose.

    Indiana’s right-to-work law is nothing more than Republican retribution for labor’s financial and electoral support of Democrats.

    – Kokomo Tribune

  9. Sheila:

    “When America is going through a particularly nasty period, it’s often comforting to remind ourselves that “we’ve been here before.” (Think civil war, the 60s, etc.) But we haven’t had social media and the internet during previous rough patches. We haven’t been able to choose our realities, insulate ourselves in our preferred “bubbles” and shut out INCONVENIENT FACTS.”

    As Anthony said, “Once again we come around to education.”

    The following is from “German Big Business & The Rise of Hitler” by Henry Ashby Turner, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985) p. 358-9:

    “Reflecting in 1940 upon his experiences in seeking to identify the reasons for the collapse of the Third French Republic in the face of the onslaught of the Third Reich, the brilliant historian Marc Bloch, who himself fell victim to Nazism, wrote these words:”…..the ABC of my trade consists in avoiding big-sounding abstract terms. Those who teach history should be continually concerned with the task of seeking the solid and the concrete behind the empty and the abstract. In other words, it is on MEN rather than FUNCTIONS that they should concentrate their attention.” [For example, the Koch Brothers father was one of the Founders of the John Birch Society or better, Donald Trump’s earliest political advisor was Roy Cohn, the advisor to McCarthyism].”

    “If a repetition of anything resembling the murderous regime headed by Adolph Hitler is to be prevented, it cause must be subjected to the most RIGOROUS possible study. In the case of this book’s subject, that involves close, empirical investigation of the relationship between actual capitalists and actual Nazis rather than reliance upon grandiose theories about capitalism and fascism. The findings of this study indicate that such investigation can only lead to the conclusion that although there are many legitimate reasons for faulting the large-scale, organized capitalism of the twentieth century, responsibility for the Third Reich is not a valid cudgel with which to belabor that economic system.”

    This conclusion, in my estimation, also applies to the rise of Donald Trump.

  10. There is no polarization, because that implies two opposite but valid sets of ideas. The GOP is simply the party of the vulture rich and the stupid proles. They contribute nothing useful to the conversation and have no remaining ideas of value. We have single political party and an opposing group of anarchists and nihilists trying to tear the country down.

  11. This election cycle has proven to me that a return to the Fairness Doctrine would not solve these problems. I base this on how ridiculous it becomes when CNN, for example, has a panel of Trump supporters and Clinton supporters on at the same time – this scenario devolves rather quickly into utter insanity. I now “blame” our problem on two things: 1) as mentioned above, education – overall, we are a dumb lot of voters who seem to enjoy staying this way and 2) a true intellectual dishonesty and/or laziness among political party leadership – there seems to be no core value that cannot be eliminated, flipped, or purchased between election cycles. [Perhaps this is a money issue but for now I leave it as I describe it].

  12. This election cycle (or Psycho) became rather obvious to those journalists who stand out side the McMega-Media. These journalists have said for some time in their blogs, CNN, MSNBC and FOX are reporting ( I use the term loosely) on what earns ratings which of course has an effect on their profits.

    Perhaps much more chilling is which stories or news will be reported. As an example the Bundy’s had 24/7 coverage when they took over the park in Oregon. >> This is in stark contrast to the limited or near no coverage concerning the Native Americans protests over a pipeline construction in North Dakota by the McMega-Media. You have peck around the internet to find any in depth reporting on the pipeline protests – http://www.democracynow.org/2016/9/9/who_is_funding_the_dakota_access

    I think it safe to say the Trumpet from day one was reported on more than all the other Republican Candidates for President combined. The Trumpet knew how to play this game by keeping his name front and center with one outrageous statement after another.

    Today and probably for the next few days pundits will be gathering “experts” along with partisan supporters to comment on Hillary’s over heating event in NYC.

  13. Hillary used the word “deplorables” yesterday and many of us reacted to her choice of words to describe Trump supporters as quite accurate but probably politically inept.

    We have deplorable ignorance in this country. Because we are a Democracy it’s not only regretful but actually a threat to that we hold most dear, freedom.

    We used to be able to count on journalism as a major wellspring of life long learning. Now that it’s succumbed to make more money regardless of the impact on others, many are left with lives lived not much smarter than when they left high school.

    That is deplorable in every sense of the word.

    Will President Clinton be able to improve that deplorable situation? We don’t know yet of course but one thing’s certain.

    Trump would not even recognize it as a problem.

  14. I learn something new almost every day from your blog, Sheila. Today, it was”soloing.” Not a new concept but a useful addition to my lexicon. I often think that this blog reminds me of a class that has a group of bright, articulate students led by a deep thinking socially conscious teacher. I learn something new every day. Even from the minority who post alternative viewpoints.

  15. Pete,

    “Will President Clinton be able to improve that deplorable situation. We don’t know yet…..”

    How can Hillary Clinton do anything about the “deplorable situation in American politics” when her husband cemented it when he immediately capitulated to the Right with his “Triangulation Strategy” at the beginning of his presidency. I would vote for anyone before I would vote for a Donald Trump. But, Hillary Clinton is really going to be under fire now and I don’t see anything in her past that she is up to the task of putting it out.

    You shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch.

  16. Hillary is not Bill.

    Bill accomplished a great deal as President and left the country in arguably as good a shape as it’s ever been. In fact a 2001 CBO publication said that if Bush had just continued Bill’s economic policies we would be debt, not deficit, free by 2006 and with a multi trillion surplus by 2011.

    Of course Bush showed us the results of doing exactly the opposite of what Bill had done.

    Both Clintons suffer from success. Their success has made them the target of unremitting GOP lies for good reason. They fear them like the plague.

  17. Pete,

    You’ve mentioned a few times that we will have to re-organize politically sometimes after the November presidential election. I’m in agreement with you on that, except that I’m certain that the change must come now.

    The Democratic Party is not up to the task of defending the Republic, nor are any of the political third parties, against the attack from the Religious Right/Far Right forces now led by Donald Trump.

  18. Pete,

    “Bill accomplished a great deal as President and left the country in arguably as good a shape as it’s ever been. In fact a 2001 CBO publication said that if Bush had just continued Bill’s economic policies we would be debt, not deficit, free by 2006 and with a multi trillion surplus by 2011.”

    I’m not talking about economics.

  19. Pete,

    “I don’t think many successful armies chose the eve of their biggest battle to reorganize.”

    I didn’t say that the Democratic Party should re-organize. I don’t want to follow them. I hope Hillary Clinton becomes President. However, it’ll never happen with the Democratic Party leading us to defeat Donald Trump.

    “What year would you propose the country was better off than 2000?”

    We’re going through a FUNDAMENTAL change in American politics. Right now. Who gives a damn what happened back 16 years ago. The whole political landscape has changed. The Democratic Party hasn’t changed at all. The Democratic Leadership Council is still in control. It’s leader Ambassador Robert Strauss is dead but the odor is still around.

  20. To me one thing is clear. No matter any individuals judgement about the veracity of what the GOP has said about either/both Clintons or the Democrats , we only have one choice for President this election that will continue the great experiment in democracy.

    That is all that I need to know and any risk of any other outcome pales in comparison.

  21. We are quibbling about the wrong thing. Lakoff in his The Political Mind tells us that it is all about framing issues and how they are cemented in the unconscious brain. So the press is complicit? Are they, or are they simply having their collective brain subsumed by pitiless Goebbels-like repetition of right and left themes?

  22. I agree with all of Sheila’s criticisms of Trump, but I’ll give him credit for one thing: he is very shrewd. He knows how to use media–after all, he was a reality TV star. Cheesy, to be sure, but it got his name out there and people tuned in and watched. For some reason, that didn’t disgust the general public. Next, he began pandering to the various phobias that Hillary identified, and blames President Obama for all of the ills that plague this country, which he wants to make “great again”. This appeals to lower income whites who haven’t been able to adapt to the factory and other job losses people like Trump helped create, as well as racists and those who think uppity women are taking over.

    He shoots off his mouth and receives free publicity, but how many of those watching realize how dangerous he is? That they don’t is truly frightening. The result is that the polls show a tightening race. Like Sheila, I wonder where people’s brains are–don’t they see him for what he is and that the real reason he is running for President of the US is that this is the highest profile, most powerful position in the world? Apparently not.

  23. Media as in A/V equipment and materials certainly are not being fragmented enough since the application of a Greek concept to plastics, petroleum extractions that are harmful everywhere, without regard to contents at all intellectually. What did the burning wires carry? Certainly not anything that fathers and mothers can read as laws, visible, intelligible, clearly marked … and LAW. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDSWGV3j Indianapolis Book shredders and Toxic Medical, Toxic Waste Haulers have more contracts than do the providers of key words.

  24. Phyllis Holden,
    Your link to the YouTube video does not work. Here’s what I received:

    An error occurred during validation.

    This video does not exist.

    Sorry about that.

  25. Natacha; you are totally correct. Trump has controlled this election campaign from the beginning, when he was one of seventeen presidential wannabes. It has all worked so smoothly in his favor with his bizarre behavior and campaign foundation that I wonder if this entire GOP action has been a setup. They have no earthly reason to back this ridiculous fool; often admitting they don’t agree with his reforms, some even saying they will not vote for him, he isn’t even a Republican. So; what is the true story behind his nomination…and I fear he will actually get elected.

  26. JoAnn,

    “So; what is the true story behind his nomination…and I fear he will actually get elected.”

    Who know all the things that are going on. But, one thing that is clear, Hillary Clinton is an advantageous matchup for Trump. She would have done much better against the other Republican hopefuls. The Bush clan and the Clinton clan both play by the “old” rules. So do their political consultants. That gives Trump a big advantage. He’s changed the rules and Hillary Clinton and her advisors don’t know how to play the new game. He’s turning things around and she’s now more and more on the defense. Neither she nor the impotent Democratic Party appears to be in a position to mount a successful counter-attack.

    As Natacha pointed our earlier, “the result is that the polls show a tightening race.” Your fears that Trump will be elected are well founded.

  27. Marv; an intelligent, interesting, viable, well matched presidential election would have been between Bernie and Kasich. Also worth keeping up with campaign news. Obama had to waste so much time repeating correctly what he had said to undo McCain and Palin’s convoluted versions and lies; Hillary has instead of correcting Trump’s accusations joined the garbage tossing, name calling, childish tirades and issues and answers are not being relayed. If his 10 point immigration reform solutions didn’t lose him this election; Hillary might as well stay home in bed and recuperate.

  28. This country desperately needs a process for an objective , broad based dialogue on important issues. Our media are not supporting such a dialogue, nor is anyone else. Self-interest and narrow points of view prevail.

  29. I recommend two books by Neal Gabler, “Walter Winchell” and “Life: The Movie” — or for a short read his article posted in Bill Moyers website entitled “Why Donald Trump Can Lie and No-one Seems to Care”. http://billmoyers.com/story/donald-trump-and-the-walter-winchell-effect/ Speaking from my credentials in theatre (MFA: Yale Drama) the American Public (and the Multi-Media that feeds us junk food) has opted for the Sensationalized and the Conflict (or to be euphemistic, the Sports Team perspective) that pitches everything in an “us vs. them” “either/or” dualistic view of the world. And this is accelerated and exasperated by the fact that media is now 24/7 and we check it constantly from our pocket devices. Oh, for less Reflexive reactions and more Reflective responses.

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