Partisanship kills democracy?
by Ziwei Qu on April 25, 2017 - 4:11pm
With the fast developments in media technology, viewers should be able to receive a “similar picture of the political world, featuring conflicting perspectives on political issues” (Davis 2016). However, that is currently not the case for consumers in the United States. The market is dominated by a hand full of corporations, as consequence when it comes to news media the messages filtered through are very limited: Conservative, Liberal, and sometimes neutral.
As the most viewed television news outlet in America, Fox News is infamous for its right-lining agenda. According to an article published by the Los Angeles Times in December 2010, Fox News' Washington managing editor Bill Sammon encouraged Fox’s television host Sean Hannity in 2009 via e-mail to "please use the term 'government-run health insurance' or, when brevity is a concern, 'government option' whenever possible” when referring to Obamacare. This was clearly on attempt to obstruct the healthcare bill that the Democratic Party was trying to pass through Congress. More recently during the 2016 U.S. election campaign, Fox, Fox & Friends in particular, heavily supported the Republican candidate: Donald Trump. This support continued after Trump was elected, the channel received support from Trump himself for their support of him. On April 13th 2017, the U.S, military conducted an airstrike targeting ISIS operatives in Afghanistan. Fox & Friends reported on the airstrike with a black and white video of the moment of impact of the attack with the song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” by Toby Keith in the background, calling the video "what freedom looks like”. In a separate report by Fox News Jim Hanson, executive VP at the Centre for Security Policy, said: “for eight years our enemies ran rampant because they knew that President Obama wasn't going to take action”, calling Obama a sucker who didn't know he was a sucker in a game of poker. He went on to praise Trump for laying down the fact that the rules of the game are changing, and that these changes started on Inauguration Day. Fox News evidently has an anti-Obama, anti-Democrats agenda, in fact during the 2008 U.S. election the channel had 26% more negative coverage of the then presidential candidate Obama, when comparing to broadcast news (Smith 2014). With reports so strongly supporting one Party and so strongly opposing the opposition, partisan news outlets create huge polarization among the public.
The previous example of Fox News demonstrates partisanship in the Conservative media, however this is not an issue exclusive to the right-lining media, this issue also exist in the left-lining media: MSNBC is often being called out as the Liberal media. With both sides having media outlets promoting the ideologies that align their own, it becomes very easy for the public to isolate themselves into echo chambers (Smith 2014). Partisan messages are undiluted by objectivity, therefore they are easy to consume and digest. News reports dominated by subjectivity are a lot more sensational, due to this it is better for ratings and profit. The danger of selective exposure is the increasing rate in polarization and hostility between the different parties. This is ultimately very harmful to democracy. For democracy to work, voters need to be properly informed on the different platforms candidates and politicians propose in order to make the right choice. If Conservatives are stuck in a Conservative echo chamber, and Liberals are stuck in a Liberal echo chamber then they are not properly informed. If the public is not getting all sides of the argument, then as consequence they are ill-equipped to make their decisions. The news media have a moral obligation to be as neutral as possible, in order to well inform the public and keep the government in check.
Some, however, argue that partisanship and polarization does not lead to echo chambers. According to an article published by Poynter in March 2016, Tom Ksiazek, assistant professor of Journalism at Villanova University, believes that even though people choose to consume “content that is in line with their beliefs, but they don't avoid opposing viewpoints”, adding that "Republicans aren't en masse avoiding MSNBC or The Washington Post or New York Times or other outlets considered liberal”. It could be useful to know the opposing side’s arguments, and use them to form anti-thesis to reinforce one’s own argument (Weeks et al. 2016). However, the percentage of people who does this is still the minority. Most viewers of Fox News will willingly accept the information presented to them as objective facts, and not question it any further. From a virtue ethic perspective, partisan media operates under the vices of capitalism and greed. Fom a deontological perspective news media have the duty to be impartial and need to operate under the maxim of honesty, partisanship prevents this from happening.Lastly from an utilitarian perspective partisan media will not reach the summum bonum of bringing the greatest amount of happiness to the greatest amount of people, due to the polarization it bring to the society.
In short, partisanship in news media does not aid democracy because it does not allow for people to be active citizents. It creates polarization and division, and limits people’s access to necessary information. This limitation prevents proper critical thinking and the ability to make the right decision, especially in the process of election that is crucial to democracy.Therefore, the news media have the moral obligation to be impartial and neutral.
“Fox's unbalancing act.” The Los Angeles Times, 17 Dec. 2017, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/17/opinion/la-ed-foxnews-20101217
“What message does MOAB drop send to the world?” YouTube, uploaded by Fox News, 14 Apr. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2unFWMwX8A
“Mother of all Bombs hitting Afghanistan: "That is what freedom looks like.”” YouTube, uploaded by Tilo Jung, 14 Apr. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijkD_I3ANOA
Davis, N.T., and JOHANNA L.D., "Party Polarization, Media Choice, and Mass Partisan-Ideological Sorting." Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 80, 2016 Supplement, pp. 272-297. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1093/poq/nfw002.
Smith, G., and Kathleen, S.. "Who Let the (Attack) Dogs Out? New Evidence for Partisan Media Effects." Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 1, Spring2014, pp. 71-99. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url&db=ssf&AN=95330594&site=ehost-live.
“Media consumption isn’t as polarized as you think, new studies conclude.” Poynter, 16 Mar 2016, http://www.poynter.org/2016/media-consumption-isnt-as-polarized-as-you-t...
Weeks, B.E., et al. "Partisan Enclaves or Shared Media Experiences? A Network Approach to Understanding Citizens’ Political News Environments." Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 60, no. 2, June 2016, pp. 248-268. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/08838151.2016.1164170.