In 2004 an idealistic young State Senator from Illinois assured us that we were not red states and blue sates, but the united stated of America. It seems like since that time sates are getting redder and blue-er each year. Whatever side of the isle you’re on, chances are you are getting a healthy diet of haterade for your political opposites.
Its hard to evaluate the tone of political discourse and lay blame at anyones feet without looking at the media environment that feeds on and fires up a politically hostile climate.
Decades ago, news reporting relied on–wait for it–reporters and reporting. Networks maintained large bureaus of news reporters: trained journalist paid to chase down and thoroughly vet news stories for nightly and morning news casts. A steady erosion of actual journalists coupled with more and more hours of news shows to fill has resulted in a crisis in news. The result? shallow reporting, an increased reliance on pundits and “experts” and recycled, regurgitated stories taken from video press releases, company marketing material and tabloid stories.
Imagine you’re a news network exec and you have, oh say, 24 hours to fill without letting your foot off the pedal for viewers and driving them to change the channel. What to do? Fluff it up with newstainment–stories with exciting video or salacious stories, but low news value and useless information. The clutter of viral videos and celeb worship make it more difficult to find out what matters, and encourages a gossip culture that extends beyond Justin Bieber into the political arena in search of the next scandal.
In a race for ratings, political coverage has become increasingly inflammatory, amounting at times to little more than a bad internet forum. Outrageous factual misrepresentation is rampant with truth falling victim to sensational headlines. Without fact checking, many viewers are left not only uninformed–but ill informed. A recent study found that regular viewers of Fox news are more likely to be less informed than people who do not watch the news at all.
So tonight’s State of the Union speech and the response from no less than 5 republican rebutters is sure to fill tomorrow’s airwaves with plenty of verbal vitriol and heated debate. In the middle of it, we could really do with some seasoned, reasoned analysis of the very real problems our country faces. We need facts, not talking points. We need compassionate consideration of how to make America better for everyone not tweets going for red meat.
While you’re looking to see who’s tearing the country in half, just don’t look across the isle, take a careful look at the messengers of doom. Demand better news from your sources. Write them letters, tweet their factual finessing, and call them out till we can get the news we need.