Healing the Country Through Media

Since 2016, the term “Fake news” gained prominence in the United States. A big part of Donald Trump’s strategy for his campaign was trying to pull followers from people who felt disenfranchized from the last administration. Maybe the largest message of his was that the media was lying to these people and trying to silence them. This has been proven false, but the argument was so compelling that it gained a ton of traction, and slowly but surely gaine Trump enough supporters (in key areas, as he lost the popular vote) to win the election and become the 45th President. For the next four years, he continued to drive his narrative of fake news. He used Twitter so he could reach the public directly, and not have his messages skewed through a giant news network. This strategy cause a larger divide down the political aisle than we have seen in decades.

The left and right have never been farther apart, and a large part of it is how the sides consume their news and media. In an age of social media ruling the world, less of the younger generations are sitting down and watching news networks, which older generations still tend to do. The problem is, people on both sides only consume the media they want to hear, or that which fits their narrative. The left largely following sources such as CNN and MSNBC, and the right going with Fox News and for the past four years, reading Trump’s twitter feed. Because too many people are seeing only seeing biased media, they are not getting a real picture of what is really happening. This divide in our country happened in large part due to the fact that a lot of citizens feel that they can’t trust the media as a whole. In the long run, a huge step (not they only step) towards healing this political divide is to regain public trust in the media.

Although this has been amplified in the past four to five years, the problem has been their for a long time. In 2000, Daniel Sutter wrote a piece on media bias, and he cited that, “The documentation of media bias has become something of a cottage industry since Edith Efron’s (1971) pioneering study.” He also wrote about how the myth that all media is liberally biased is pretty much false. His claim is that while there really is not a way to specifically see is the media leans one way or another, you can see where these news networks come from, and base claims from there. This is a good point because when you look at the most popular news giants, they come from even larger coroporations. CNN is owned by the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) and Fox News comes from the Fox Corporation. In all likelyhood, these corporations are telling these news networks what to put on air and on social media, because they know if they pander to one side or the other, then they will make more money off of all of the views they are getting.

At the start of the decade, we had a Democratic president in Barack Obama. A lot of people say that Obama helped the Trump campaign in the long run because he did not do enough for people in rural little populated areas. While those areas are not populated a ton on their own, all together they form a mass. With most of these areas and states being right leaning, it is interesting to see how they percieve the media. Of course contrasting them against people in maybe a more urban, left leaning population. In 2017, a study was done in Wisconsin, where adults came forward with different “politically devisive” events that they had seen since 2011. In that time, Obama being the president for the majority of it. There were apparently “self- reported patterns of selective exposure to partisan media while accounting for the role of local communication ecology in encouraging or discouraging partisan media selectivity,” according to Mathew Barnidge. This goes to show at least on one side, people are choosing to only listen to one outlet, and that they are encouraged to do so by others around them. One might even go as far as to say that they might be proud of this fact, since this all came self reported.

Media bias is not just a topic local to the United States. The Comparative National Election Project did a survey of 17 different countries. They found that “results (showed) evidence of overall positive relationship between percieved media bias and political action, and they also show evidence that this relationship varies in strength between countries,” according to Mathew Barnidge. It is evident that media bias occurs elswhere, but it does not seem to beek taken as harshly as it is here in the United States. This might also be backed by legitamet freedom of press in those countries. In the United States free speech is of course a right that we Americans hold dear. But this goes back to a previous point of larger companies controlling the media, which just profit off of the people looking for information. This point can then be used as an example in the much larger topic of how much corporations and the one percent control the rest of the American citizens. All in all, media bias in other countries is not as relavent as it is here in the United States because people are not “gas lighting” the situation like they are here.

Over the past decade, it seems like people have lost faith in either all general media, or most of it. The political divide in our country has reached a point that has not been seen in decades. There are several reasons for this, but a big part of it is peoples perception of the media and the news reported. Many seem to think that the media is pushing an agenda on them and just giving out biased information to harm a certain group of people. Because of this, people then don’t know who or what to trust and just lose faith in the media all together. It is a really big issue, and the current state of distrust in the media can only further harm the country.

There are a few reasons that caused this distrust. One of the biggest reasons, if not the biggest, is the role of Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump used public perception of both social media and the news to gain a following. Pablo Boczkowski writes, “From the apparent disconnect of the agenda setting media with a vast segment of the American voters to the deluge of fake news circulating on social media, and from the intensity of the confrontation between President Trump and these media to his constant use of Twitter to promote (the) alternative- and often unsupported by facts.” Essentially, Trump’s campaign focus was to target people that maybe felt disenfrancized by the Obama administration. He was able to convince them that the media had basically been lying to them for eight years, but he would be someone that they could trust. They all flocked to him and his promises, and he was elected President. He used Twitter to get his messages directly to the American people, so his words and actions wouldn’t get, in his view, mis-interpreted by the media. This seems like a really good idea on paper. In fact, today the majority of politicians use Twitter and other forms of social media. But as time went on, Trump would tweet things out that had no factual evidence to support the claims he was making. With all of his followers supporting every word he said, it only added to the hysteria, nd the attack on big media.

Despite all of this, these big media outlets really did not do much of anything to help themselves out. With Trump attacking their credibility every chance he got, they just attacked him back in other ways, not helping to build their own image and trust of the public. Victor Prickard wrote, “Media outlets help set discursive parameters around political debates during elections. This was abundantly evident during the 2016 elections when typical coverage depicted a false equivalence between Trump and Clinton while empacizing specatcle over long standing policy issues.” The media really did not seem to take Trump seriously all throughout the 2016 campaigns, and made Hillary Clinton appear to be the more worthy candidate. On the other hand, Trump was such a fascinating candidate that he got more media coverage than usual. According to Prickard, One study calculated that in 2015, Trump recieved 327 minutes of nightly broadcast network news coverage, compared with Hillary Clintons 121 minutes and Bernie Sanders 20 minutes (Tyndal report, 2016).” This only gave Trump more popularity and gave the public more exposure to him.

On the flip side of big media coverage, there is also social media, which played a huge role in the 2016 elections and Trumps four years in office. The two correlated to benefit Trump, as “results demonstrate that social media activity , in the form of retweets of candidate posts, provided a significant boost to news media coverage of Trump, but no comparable boosts of other candidates. Furthermore, Trump tweeted more times when he had recently garnered less of a relative advantage in news attention, suggesting he strategically used Twitter to trigger coverage,” according to Chris Wells. After maybe some negative attention, Trump would tweet something or other in his defense, and that usually immediately bolstered his media coverage in general. The biggest thing is that regardless if the coverage surrounding him was positive or negative, it still got his name out there, and that way he was reaching more and more people.

With all of this in mind, it should have been expected that Trump’s time as President of the United States was under the national media spotlight every second of every day for 4 years. It was the same deal as his campaign, all coverage was good coverage, regardless of whether or not it was positive. The big difference was that Trump attacked the media even more while he was in office. Douglas Kellner wrote, “When he makes questionable or demonstrably false statements and is confronted with contrary evidence, Trump and his handlers dismiss any critical claims against Trump as ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts.'”It became a huge problems as this as an occurance more than af few times per week over the course of what became a long 4 years. This was one of the biggest driving forces behind the political divide that has become so evident. Whenever somone cries “fake news” at something, the other side then immediatly goes to call them inferior and stupid and other things that might put people down, thus furthering the divide. While it is clear that the Trump supporters are the biggest reason behind this issue, the mainly left group has not done much to help fix it.

When it comes to the people who push the narratives of fake news, it will not be very easy to get them to trust big media, whether or not they even did before Trump. Because the media did not do itself any favors in this case, as well as Trump continuously bashing the media seemingly every chance he got, the country seems to be in a much worse place than it was four years ago, and it will take a lot to heal the divide, however long that may take.

The idea that the media is biased one way or another has been around for a long time, but has really become a mainstream topic for many people in the last 4-5 years, largely because of the campaign antics of Donald Trump and his supporters. A big part of his driving force for his presidential campaign was preaching to the right that the media was biased against them and they were being silenced, therefore the media could not be trusted. This helped him win the 2016 Presidency over Hillary Clinton in the end. This was in large part due to all of the media exposure he got because of these claims he was making. Whether or not the coverage of his statements were in a positive light or a negative one, it still got his name out there that he won the election. For the next four years, his Presidency caused a divide down the political aisle that had not been seen in decades, and is very relevant in our current climate. A big reason for that is due to one side of that aisle not having any faith in the media at all, claiming that everything that is put out is “fake news.” If trust in the media is regained, then the divide can begin to heal. This idea that trust in media is essential has been around for a long time and does not pertain to this current state of affairs. It is true that this idea has been around for a long time, but to think that it is not a key building block to move the country forward is wrong.

In 1988, Albert Gunther wrote that, “A recent series of experiments demonstrated that audience members more partisan or biased on a specific issue are more likely to percieve bias in media treatment of that issue.” This statement supports that media bias is not a new occurence. However, it is possible that it is much more relevant today than it was in 1988. Today, the right feels more than ever that they are belittled by the media, while a lot of the left feels that there is no bias towards them at all. There are cases to be made for and against both sides of that. It is true that a lot of media platforms put out things that right wing people might not always agree with, but at the same time, there certainly are platforms that definetely lean right, Fox News being the biggest one of those. It is probably safe to say that today both sides are more invested in politics and current events, just because it is so easy to access all of it in different forms of social media and the internent. Because of this, everyone now feels a wide range of things whenever anything happens pertaining to politics, and they feel like the media is pushing one agenda or another. In that regard, Gunther’s statement is more relavent now than it was when he said it in 1988.

Another factor in why people might not trust the media is because they just do not trust the government in general. David A Jones wrote an article about trust in media in 2004, saying that “One key factor appears to be trust in government, suggesting that the media’s lowly stature may stem more from general political malaise than from the many shortcomings of contemporary news coverage. Interestingly, trust in the media is particularly low among conservative Republicans, especially those who listen to political talk radio.” This has been relevant to the argument all along, and it is true that the majority of those who do not trust the media do not trust the government either. However it appears that this narrative goes both ways, and that trust in one would build up trust in the other. trusting the government in general is a whole different argument. But since it is the same group of people not trusting either one of those entities, it seems to be a fair assumption that if trust in the media is gained, it could go a long way to help trust in the government overall.

Another counter-argument to this might ask if trust in the media is really that important overall? It is definetely a valid question, but he answer is very important. At this point in time, media should be viewed as much more than an outlet for the news, which is almost strictly what it was up until recenly. Now however, media is everything to society. Most of today’s structure is built around the internet, so that is where media is. It shows just where people are getting their news from, which is how they form their opinions. The younger audience is much more likely to get information from social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, while older folks might generally stick to newspapers and news on tv. In 2015, Sarah Stonebely wrote that ” Contemporary ethnographies have placed greater emphasis on journalistic agency and on the networked nature of newswork, though I question whether an emphasis on organizational constraints is still not politically warrented.” She discusses how in today’s society, media does not have to be just one main thing, it can branch out and be many things at once. This is very important in today’s situation, because the way people view the media is largely based on how it is brought to them.

All this being said, media has been a backbone of society for the longest time, dating back to the days when the printing press was invented and people were able to get news around. Ever since then it has played a huge role in the world. Today we stand at a very critical point in our country, and hopefully we could use the media to bring the United States to be somewhat more united. To downplay the role that the media currently has would be extremely foolish and would set us back probably even farther. That is something that both sides of the aisle can agree on.

Media bias cannot be solved in an instant, it cannnot even be solved relatively soon. but it is one of the nation’s biggest problems because it is a doorway to a whole other world of issues. People only consuming one side of things have grown from angry to livid at the other side, which would then lead to electing politicians looking to profit for their own gain off of the anger of people they claim to represent. They will only push the divide even further once they are elected, and only worsen the issue. If Americans learned to trust the media as a whole again, and not just their preference, than we would be much more united than we have been for the past four or five years, and are now.


[The word References is centered, not bold, no punctuation]

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Jones, D. A. (2004). Why Americans Don’t Trust the Media. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 9(2), 60-75. doi:10.1177/1081180×04263461

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