The Great Divide: political divisiveness in modern media

Many+students+are+reading+both+right+and+left-leaning+news+in+order+to+get+an+idea+of+both+perspectives+on+current+events.+

Many students are reading both right and left-leaning news in order to get an idea of both perspectives on current events.

The polarization of America is evident in seemingly all aspects of life. Politics have invaded our dining room conversations, crept into our classrooms, and divided our families – but perhaps there is no bigger influence on public polarization than the American Media. 

One in eight adults watches the news at least once a day in America. Of all the networks viewed, Fox News and CNN have the most viewers. The problem: CNN is one of the most left-biased new sources in America while Fox news leans far right. The Covid-19 pandemic has only made the bias of these sources more apparent.

Stark Divide

Fox News has spent much of their air time discussing all things vaccine. Criticism of blanket mask requirements, vaccine approval for children, and support of Supreme court mandate strike downs are covered almost daily by the news outlet. While this itself is not problematic, the rhetoric the anchors and authors use is divisive most of the time. 

Fox News has also faced criticism from left-leaning news outlets, including CNN for pushing vaccine hesitancy to its viewers. Famous political Anchors Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham were criticized constantly last summer by multiple liberal sources. To left-leaning outlets, their messages were putting the public at risk during a historic crisis.

“Both of the sources sensationalize the pandemic. It’s either never going to end or doesn’t currently exist to them,” said Om Khangaonkar (‘22).

The script is completely flipped on the far right. Fox News attacks the Biden Administration’s push for blanket mask and vaccines mandates and often sides with recent Supreme court rulings that uphold lower court injunctions on these mandates. 

“Sometimes I enjoy scrolling through both of their websites and seeing how far spread Americans have become. It really shows a lot about our country” says Khangaonkar.

Divided We Fall

Why is America so divided? The media is not the cause for the problem – but it is a driving force in widening the divide between left and right. Recent events, from the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh to the election of President Biden, have given media agencies plenty of already divisive information to twist to fit their own narrative. 

In a time like now, the media comes to us. No longer do we need to wait for the morning paper to arrive or tune into the radio. News pops up on our phones almost hourly. Almost every major search engine has a breaking news section. Social media is filled with accounts that spread misinformation with seemingly no consequences. 

“It’s really easy for people to be influenced by social media, which most of the time doesn’t even report on the news, people post to push a political agenda,” says Simran Pandey (‘23).

Factually: How misinformation makes money – American Press InstituteThese search engines and websites make money off of clicks and views. In order to get these, media outlets resort to jarring, adversarial headlines to capture the attention of the audience. In fact, the majority of voting-age individuals, 75% to be exact, think that the media does more to divide us than it does to inform us. 

“The media divide influences the electorate because people aren’t as well informed as they should be, instead they just know what the media wants them to think… they don’t get the full picture,” says Pandey

United We Stand?

There has to be a way to close the gap between left and right. The media is cemented in our lives, but it does not need to be a dividing factor. So how do we bridge the gap?

Local press outlets have a history of being the least divisive news outlets, but they have struggled to remain relevant through the changing times, as their reports are more fact-based, and have less eye-catching headlines. 

“Big media companies always seem to have more divisive headlines. You look at them, click, and then see that the real story is much tamer. Local news stations and outlets always have been more fact-based in my opinion” says Evette Allari (‘22).

Government is the most influential at the local level.  The average American has the best chance of holding their representatives accountable due to increased vote power and the lack of unrepresentative institutions like the electoral college. 

The Polar opposite new sources-CNN and FOX news- can fix their own studios if they tried to. Hiring investigative journalists that seek to cover the news, the factual news, instead of what will get the most clicks, could have a massive impact on the American Public.

“I’ll definitely try even harder to avoid these sources. It may seem impossible, but I think it’s better for my civic knowledge and my overall sanity” says Allari.

The media and political polarization are here to stay, for now. But it is time for them to become separate entities that do not drive the American public to even further extremes. 

Read about strategies to Reduce media polarization here.