Two Parallel Universes: How Our Bifurcated Media Threatens Democracy

Americans occupy two different worlds or conceptions of what is reality via a bifurcated media that provides them with differing versions of what is and what is not.

A liberal reads the Nation and the Huffington Post, revels in Democracy Now, MSNBC, Mother Jones, the New York Times, Rolling Stone,and drifts across the pond to read The Guardian.

A conservative receives their nourishment from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and a host of right-wing political commentators, the Washington Times, The National Review, Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, Conservative Christian Radio, The Drudge Report, and more.

Neither of the two strays very far from their informational media bubble and so they begin with two varying versions of what is reality, what the facts are of an event, and the analysis of it bearing most closely on those facts is so manipulated that a totally differing view of what we experience in the world around us emerges.

Citizens and lawmakers and public officials begin any conversation, if they even have one, with two sets of facts about an issue or event, and two versions of what to think about it that are precisely 180 degrees apart. Coming to a consensus via compromise and cooperation just does not occur.

In the 1960’s Americans could go to a common media and get the facts, and analysis of what events meant. We watched one of three network newscasts each night and watched a now relative few TV shows to talk about the next day at the office and we read our local newspaper commonly too. We could and did draw conclusions based on a rough baseline body of information. This permitted liberals and conservatives alike to be able to agree on the facts of an issue and then argue over what to do about it or how to view it.

In our contemporary multi media environment where we have hundreds of cable TV channels of information, the broad internet in cyberspace, blogs, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, I-pads and I-phones, both hard copy and on-line newspapers and magazines we are simply overwhelmed with information.

And in regard to politics and governance as part of the educated citizenry Jefferson was so concerned about as essential to maintaining democracy in America, our people go to their own media bubbles and the twain shall never meet.

A revolution in journalism and news reporting that corresponded with the rise of a virulent reactionary conservatism with the Reagan Revolution of the 1980’s along with the technology that has so influenced how we report and digest news information has done great damage to the necessary education of citizens and political discourse needed for government to function and democracy to work.

The greatest blow to democracy and a truly properly educated citizenry now is the move away from what used to be called “straight” news reporting to “infotainment” or news and information as amusement and entertainment first.

Anyone trained in J-School (journalism school) as a journalist as late as the 1970’s was taught that news stories have an angle representing what information or issue the journalist wishes to highlight in reporting a story. This should not be confused with “media bias.” Good journalism challenges our preconceptions and views of our world. It brings to us things we simply did not know and helps us understand. But good straight journalism, professional ‘a la Sigma Delta Chi and all that, does not tell you what your politics has to be.

Some newspapers have always had a conservative slant. You read things that help conservatives understand. Other newspapers might have a liberal slant. The idea of a news story that is completely objective with no slant to it is impossible. They help you understand let’s say what is important to liberals. But both newspapers and the journalists who wrote for them and those on television and on radio worked from a common set of facts and an objective reality that was commonly shared.

When the line between news and editorial opinion was erased at the end of the twentieth century and technology drove a revolution in how information is accessed and made available we were in deep trouble.

Today, advocacy of a political parties point of view, that of an interest group, and now, via Fox News and the Rush Limbaughs and the Andrew Brietbarts of the world, or MSNBC view that as journalism and “news.”

In more rational times, “straight news” meant not telling the reader, viewer or listener what to think about an event or issue at all. Today we do that and people take it for professional journalism. You can even sit on a couch at Fox News and simply give your opinion or sit at a large desk at MSNBC and do the same and we take it for journalism.

With journalism going to so many outlets for information, and those people who practiced news gathering and reporting being thinned out by newspapers and television networks seeking to be competitive and cut the cost of doing the news in favor of entertainment, or a strict point of view journalism, people sought their news about events and issues of the day from those sources that said what they most wanted to hear and agree with.

This damaging trend has been felt by us all, many of us not realizing what the change has meant. It afflicts both liberals and conservatives. The most reactionary and the most radical progressives alike.

It must be said that in fact, the worst trouble emanates from Fox News and a tendency of conservatives and Republicans to occupy a much tighter news bubble that is manipulated for political effect and where facts and context are what is regularly distorted. Yes, Fox News makes things up. They lie. It has given tremendous life to web sites like Media Matters

This accounts for interactions progressives have with reactionary conservatives who ply them with conspiracies about Obama being a secret Muslim, or that the administration is going to use FEMA coffins to place these conservatives in when they move on all of us who own firearms. And the completely distorted understanding or complete ignorance of the facts. We spend our energy arguing about two different conceptions of objective reality.

It must also be said that progressives engage in advocacy journalism too often as well. To their credit they do not engage in manipulating the facts and objective reality. The typical media outlet controlled by progressives floods the recipient with good factual information. Studies have been done that show factually and objectively that viewers of Fox News and listeners to Rush Limbaugh are woefully ignorant of basically what the hell is actually going on.

Liberals and progressives are very well-informed. Consequently, they can make more rational and informed choices as consumers of information and particularly news about the outside world.

A return to the older, stricter standard of professional news reporting by media outlets, and the willingness to stop manipulating factual objective reality is required to begin to address this problem.

Democracy cannot work when we cannot agree on that objective reality. The Bush Administration brought in the idea that information should be manipulated and a separate reality created regardless of what was real. They would define that.

Struggles For Justice is NOT a “straight news” site. It is advocacy for progressive political struggles to lift up and aid the oppressed and bowed down in our world. It is advocacy journalism. It is editorial opinion.

If we as a people do not address this problem of such a polarized, partisan, and bifurcated media, we will destroy ourselves, and our democracy with it. Where do you stand on this issue? Were you even aware of it? What would you suggest to media managers and those who deliver our news as “so-called” ersatz professional journalists today?

4 thoughts on “Two Parallel Universes: How Our Bifurcated Media Threatens Democracy

  1. Its damn hard to find neutrality outside public tv these days, i think Fox and its other conservative cronies just make it too easy to see thier BS agenda

  2. I agree on most points. Increasingly, our media outlets are more about advocacy (or, in extreme cases, propaganda) than about honest discourse.

    But, like horror movies and thrill rides, emotional-triggering draws people in. Only the rarest of news programs is both passionate AND balanced.

    We just need more of them.

    • Exactly and thats a shame becuase there are no facts for analysis only BS and thats ruining the publics access to info and to common sense and rteal thought

  3. Thank you for such a thoughtful and informed comment. There is plenty of room for advocacy journalism. There always has been. Your point is well supported. For me Democracy Now and the work of Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez are a prime example. But there must be places where the liberal progressive element and the conservative reactionary element can go for straight news reporting. There must be common meeting points for all of us to get the basic facts and to be able to sort out just what happened or what a given issue is all about. Then we can argue from a more common place and the focus can be on that shared information experience. Obviously people are going to continue to get information from many sources. That’s good. But the “bubble” description is suggestive of an isolation that breeds differing perceptions of fact and objective reality that are obtacles to common understanding.

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