Like beauty, bias is in the eye of the beholder.
And now a very large majority of Americans sees the nation’s fourth estate as “subject to partisan agendas.” Translated from YouGov.com pollese, that means 70% of the general public on both sides of the political spectrum sees news media as biased, usually toward the other side.
That may not be surprising in a nation that hasn’t been so polarized since the Vietnam War. But it is disturbing for the healthy, long-term functioning of a democracy that’s supposed to rely on consensus decisions made by an informed electorate. It’s virtually impossible for any government of equal branches to operate effectively if so much of the populace believes the information in circulation is biased against it and in favor of the other side. And vice versa.
That spells G-r-i-d-lo-c-k.
The Internet is a wonderful, if imperfect, mechanism for distributing information. But one challenge to its overwhelming surfeit of information and sources is that consumers must conscientiously select and sort trusted sources, not just those supporting their bias. Otherwise, there’s no longer a general set of widely-accepted facts for a diverse public to debate.
Every sector, indeed every person, can now have their own set of facts, often collected selectively. Everyone else is wrong. Any disagreement is biased. And adverse news is fake news, leading to endless, ultimately pointless arguments attempting to prove a negative.
The new YouGov poll finds: “The rise of fake news, a growing multitude of media sources and an increasingly polarized nation have Americans learning to take their headlines with a grain of salt.” Or several grains.
Perhaps predictably, Republicans and members of that other party both see bias in news media — but to differing degrees. More than eight-of-ten Republicans (85%) see media bias while about one-of-two Democrats do (52%).
Also predictably, politicians — the name Donald Trump comes to mind — have tapped into the widespread and in many cases well-deserved antipathy toward U.S. media, which actually began in Revolutionary times as biased party newspapers. Trump’s not the first to do so by any means.
His relentless, compulsive comebacks, avidly repeated, magnified and often distorted by self-important, insecure D.C. media, may engage his minority base for now. But this behavior has also become a schtick that seriously distracts from his far more important agenda items.
Bias comes not just in the content of published stories but in the selection of what stories to cover — and not cover. Is it really coincidence that during Obama’s reign, scandals like Fast and Furious, Benghazi and the IRS harassing conservative nonprofits died fairly quickly from media inattention? While today newly-awakened media watchdogs find almost daily alleged scandals and controversies among President Trump, his family and aides? By year’s end, look for some media to rediscover the awful homeless crisis that routinely erupts under GOP presidents.
“Given that the general population sides more closely with Republican sentiment towards media bias,” the study concludes, “it seems that news organizations have a tough few months ahead of them if they want more members of the public to accept reporting at face value.”
Few months? Try years. Television audiences have become so fragmented that for economic survival each outlet feels compelled to target and nurture its own niche, MSNBC for lefties, and at least until recently, Fox News for the right etc.
Newspapers, the actual source of much broadcast news, continue their crippling convulsions trying to do more with less resources as advertising revenues shift to larger audiences online. Which is why you’re reading this here, right?
Jeff Bezos, the far-sighted inventor of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, aptly admitted this week: “Eventually reading a print paper will be like owning a horse.”