How do you feel about the allegations that President Donald Trump attempted to interfere in former FBI Director James Comey’s investigation into Michael Flynn? It depends on what media outlets you consume.
The fragmentation of the media in the 21st century has allowed people from opposite sides of the political spectrum to get information from news outlets that largely reinforce their own viewpoints. This phenomenon has resulted in the elevation of more diverse voices in the marketplace (which is always a good thing in a first amendment nation). But it has also allowed Americans to segregate themselves into ideological ghettos where they just hear from voices on the same side.
For example, on the NBC News website there are articles like “Calls Grow for Independent Investigation In Wake of Trump, Comey Fallout”, “The Ground is Beginning to Shift for Capitol Hill Republicans”, “Here’s What One Endangered Republican Said About Trump”, “Trump Scandals Pummel Wall Street as Stocks Slide Lower” and so on.
By contrast, on the Fox News website, there articles like “Mainstream Media, Dems, RINOs: They all want to overthrow Trump”, “Trump takes on Media during Coast Guard commencement speech”, “Sean Hannity: Trump faces alliance of haters”, “DNC funds ‘Resistance Summer’ in the hopes of harnessing Trump opposition”, etc.
If you are a middle of the road voter attempting to get the truth about what is going on, it is much harder to go on fact finding missions when there are media outlets telling completely different sides of the same story.
NBC News has had excellent reporting on this issue, but because of the existence of their liberal leaning sister outfit MSNBC (although there are rumblings that it may not be liberal leaning for much longer), many conservative voters tend to ignore anything with the peacock logo on it.
Furthermore, many conservatives believe that the mainstream media at large holds a vendetta against Trump and will hyperventilate over anything pertaining to him. They may have a point, but I would argue that the media hyperventilating over certain issues is largely because of the attention grabbing nature of the news business. Our job requires us to be glorified ambulance chasers at times.
It is also difficult to deny that there is a clear political bias that exists in much of the mainstream media, and that bias is usually to the left. Here too, I don’t believe it is the result of personal animus. People aren’t sitting in smoke filled rooms thinking about how they can damage the farmer in Iowa. Media bias is largely a result of there being a lack of diverse voices in many of the newsrooms across the country (which is why outlets like MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post are taking steps to fix that). Nevertheless, many of Trump’s voters reject anything from NBC and outlets like it immediately and deem it bias or fake news, no matter how legitimate it may be.
On the flip side, Fox News has a largely conservative audience that they must tend to. Any appearance of abandoning Trump could send viewers fleeing. Losing part of their core audience is one of the last things that they would want to do at this time of upheaval at the network. Many ideological conservatives (who should have multiple objections to Trump on philosophical grounds alone) made business decisions to get on the Trump Train. Those that didn’t have suffered because of it.
(To be fair, however, even Fox News has now confirmed the existence of the Comey memo. )
We are at an interesting time in the media landscape. Mainstream outlets should recognize that there is a reason for all of this fragmentation to begin with. It didn’t start with Trump. Since at least the 1970s, there has been a distrust of media outlets from people in the heartland. The very people who voted for President Trump to begin with feel as though they and their lifestyles are looked down on from “coastal elites”. We in the media must be self-aware enough to know that there are times where we have earned that derision.
On the other hand, new media outlets cannot become the exact things that they were created to be a reaction against. Regardless of where one may fall on the political spectrum, informing the audience (especially if you are in the news business) should be non-negotiable.
We have seen this model work before. We know how to do it. Two examples of media organizations that can both have political viewpoints and be fair, objective and informative are outlets like Red State and our very own HuffPost. I don’t always agree with the other writers here, but this is not a place that is afraid to elevate diverse voices.
Information and breaking news in the Trump era is moving at a rapid pace. It is hard to keep up with every bombshell that occurs from this White House. Now more than ever, we need media outlets to step up and provide the entire truth and not just what makes them comfortable. Instead of just giving audiences what they want to hear, the media should be giving them what they need to hear.
Our society is in deep trouble if what Conservative media personality (and Never Trumper) John Ziegler said on Twitter is the true current state of affairs: