How Mainstream Media Destroy Truth and Democracy through Both Sides Reporting
The role of a free press in democracy ought to be to report the truth so voters can make informed choices. In both government and the economy, we need transparency. It’s how we see when the system isn’t working and correct it.
Part of the reason why media don’t often bring transparency is that major media are themselves large corporations with a strong status quo bias.
That bias may be part of the story of the 2016 election. It seemed as though media were trying to influence the election to make it close, so government gridlock and the status quo could prevail.
Media may have thought they were covering the bungling Trump campaign favorably enough that Hillary — whom the polls said had said would win, until Comey’s letter — would end up winning by only a small amount, rather than by a landslide. That could have left Congress in gridlock. Media often pursue a misguided idea of “balance” between Republican and Democratic party views and successes.
In spite of this, the public is fortunate to have a small number of skilled investigative journalists who do bring transparency to government and corporations. We need more of these.
Mainstream media have had their institutional culture hijacked by the Right Wing, who are using media’s ingrained habits for the Right Wing propagandists’ own purposes.
How Mainstream Media Strategies Enable Political Propaganda
Many news consumers believe that CNN and other mainstream media are either nonpartisan or else Left Wing biased. This isn’t so.
Mainstream Media Have Unintentional Right Wing Bias
I have written before about mainstream media’s ingrained habit of “covering both sides”, even if one side is lies or…
Right Wingers constantly claim major media and social media are Left Wing biased. Right Wingers repeat this statement — even in mainstream media — until many people accept it as truth. Those on the Left may not even realize, and seldom point out, that major media are Right Wing biased — much less repeat this fact over and over as a major talking point. So most people don’t know it.
Many media news stories and TV panels are drawn from partisan Republican sources, which are often riddled with lies. An artificial “both sides” balance between Left and Right would dictate that about 50% of media stories would come from Right Wing sources. But the numbers are often much higher than that.
Sunday shows’ signature panels continue to privilege conservative voices
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Here are some news situations that are easily hidden when lies are widespread, as they are now. Corruption is rampant and easily hidden. One of the worst aspects of the toxic both sides reporting method is its enabling of corruption, lying & cheating by normalizing them as “the other side’s reality” — when the lies that cover up cheating and corruption are not reality at all.
A “both sides accusing the other” story frame is often used when both sides do accuse the other of crimes or unethical behaviors, but only one side’s accusations are truthful. When a news outlet uses the “both sides accusing the other” frame in this situation, that frame subtly creates and spreads disinformation.
The news outlet is deceiving the public by clearly implying that our nation’s biggest problem is polarization — when actually it’s corruption.
Partly due to enabling of con artists by both sides framing in news media, the con artist party is not held accountability when they spread anti-vax conspiracy theories and try to stop vaccine mandates — causing public health to worsen during the COVID pandemic & delaying our recovery.
The con artist party in Congress constantly blocks the other party from making popular policies into law. The con artist party makes unreasonable demands and then shuts down the government if the other party doesn’t give in. The liars give tax cuts to the super wealthy and then propose to balance the budget by slashing the social safety net.
Both sides media refer to this as “Congress” being dysfunctional. This obscures the problem and makes voters unable to solve it.
If a certain party or certain members of Congress are blocking legislation, the public can vote them out. If it’s “Congress” that is dysfunctional, then what can voters do? Get rid of Congress? That’s unlikely. What they’ll likely do is vote for the candidates who claim to be “outsiders” or for “small government.” These candidates are almost always from the same party that is blocking legislation. So news media lead the public to make the problem worse, rather than solving it.
Media are forgiving toward lying government officials who deregulate big corporations so they can pollute, commit fraud and otherwise harm the public. Not only do the corporate campaign donors face no accountability, but the con artists party grants the donors’ companies millions of dollars of government subsidies, while ignoring the needs of the public.
So what is the result, after decades of this kind of harm done to the public? The power of the con artist party would be erased in huge landslide elections by now, if media told the truth about all the harm that party causes.
But media don’t tell the truth. So the con artist party still controls around half of the federal government. Instead of con artists being voted out of office, the result is that Congress OVERALL has a 20% approval rating.
Congress’ approval rating hasn’t hit 30% in 10 years. That’s a record.
A new Gallup poll shows that just 20% of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. The vast majority, 75%…
How do Republicans get away with all this, and still get elected? Here’s how. Media blame all the harmful things Republicans do on “Congress” or “government.” Republican talking points say the financial crisis of 2008 was the fault of “big government regulations.” Media’s typical story in crises or problematic government situations is that “Congress” can’t get along, compromise, come to an agreement or do its job. Even worse, media also repeat Republican talking points blaming Dems for crises created by Republicans.
Mainstream media blame “both sides” for dysfunction in government that is overwhelmingly caused by Republicans. Voters believe this “news” and vote accordingly. Since voters believe both parties are equally at fault, many vote for the party that at least recognizes the apparent truth that government is “evil” — the party that promises to “drain the swamp.”
Republicans constantly bash the government. Even GOP incumbents often campaign on anti-government platforms.
Republican talking points have persuaded many voters to think of Democrats as part of “evil” government and Republicans as anti-government, and thus “anti-evil.” Evil is a powerful and emotionally charged concept in a nation like the U.S., in which fundamentalist Christians have such a large amount of cultural and political power. Some Christian religious organizations have increased their political power by merging their organizations with the party of con artists.
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Voters remember what media repeat most — which turns out to be Republican talking points, which become “conventional wisdom.” Voters are more likely to elect people who “know” this “accepted wisdom.” That “wisdom” seems totally true because it’s been repeated so often.
Part of the responsibility for the success of Right Wing propaganda lies belongs to Democratic politicians and pundits. They should have made talking points out of issues like the tax cut for the wealthy and Trump’s subsequent proposal to slash Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They should have repeated these points every time Dems appeared on TV or were interviewed by a newspaper.
It’s not too late. Democrats still can use this kind of strategy now and in the future.
Still, mainstream media share the blame for their own Right Wing bias. Media let this situation sail right on by, giving it little attention. Media fill up their pages and broadcasts with whatever Right Wingers are focusing on. They use an entertainment approach to news, plus the “both sides” approach.
The entertainment approach to news is a disservice to a democratic society. It deprives the public of vital information.
Why do media use the Both Sides (BS) approach? To try to be neutral, rather than biased. But the Both Sides approach only works if both sides really ARE equally credible. Otherwise, media give a large advantage to con artists, by treating their lies as if they are just as credible as the truth. This treating of two things as if they are equal, when they are not, is called false equivalence.
For Democrats, media’s Both Sides approach is like being framed for a crime you didn’t commit. Not only does the Democrat suffer for the Right Wing liars’ crimes, but the Right Wing politician doesn’t suffer at all.
Democrats and the public need to demand media stop its “Both Sides” approach. Also, Democrats need to become less compromising themselves, and less mistakenly empathetic toward con artists.
Empathy is great toward most people. But when Democrats try to be empathetic to con artists, they end up being enablers.
More Democrats must become willing to make a forceful case in favor of their own policies, rather than constantly compromising and bending over Rightward to see the Right Winger’s point of view.
Then Democrats have unrequited empathy. Right Wingers control government , being voted in by the people to whom liberals were giving so much empathy and whom liberals were straining to look at so positively.
By contrast, Republicans don’t hesitate for a second to lie about and demonize Democrats.
Feeling empathy for our opponents — if it’s done at all — needs to take a back seat to getting out the vote for our own party.
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Republicans have managed to have their cake and eat it too. They destroy government and make it dysfunctional, pleasing their corporate donors who want the public to be helpless against harm done by corporations. Then Republicans campaign as being against government because it is so dysfunctional — acting as if they are not part of it.
Right Wingers successfully shift the blame for their actions to Democrats, with the active support of media. Voters get deceived constantly, resulting in election victories for the candidates of the party that claims to be blameless for government’s mistakes and failures.
If a group had a goal of devising a mainstream media system that would make it super easy for con artists to destroy democracy, they couldn’t have devised a more effective democracy destroying system of mainstream media than the one we now have.
When media give equal credibility to lies and truth, they enable liars, con artists and criminals. They choose the role of the apath — the person or group who is in denial of abuse, con artistry and criminal behavior.
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Democrats and the public ought to demand media stop its “Both Sides” approach, because it results in bias toward liars. The entertainment approach needs to be stopped too, as well as the horse race approach. The latter approach views politics as an entertaining game, affecting no one — where spectators care only about who is winning the game — not about whether one party is destroying the environment, the economy etc. Those approaches don’t inform. At best, they distract. At worst, they seriously deceive.
Even if the public has to demonstrate with signs in front of major media offices, saying what practices we want media to stop — and what we want them to focus on instead — we need to make this shift toward the public interest happen in media.
This will be challenging because the both sides approach is a form of denial of reality that feels very very good to people— until reality comes back and bites them in the butt. Journalism professor Jay Rosen calls it “refuge seeking.” Journalists take refuge in a delusion that they are being fair and objective by reporting “both sides.”
Democracy doesn’t die in darkness. It dies in comfort and convenience. It’s convenient to decide what’s true by the the “both sides” method. People love easy solutions — even when they don’t work.
Both siders can feel calm even if the nation descends into fascism, because they believe they’re doing right and doing their jobs well. As I’ve written about elsewhere, their bosses encourage and reward this too.
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The Denial of Hierarchy: Pay No Attention to the Billionaire behind the Media Curtain
After winning the lottery, many people end up bankrupt. Why? They can’t handle the money. Imagine that.
Some journalists avoid the both sides trap. We need to drag the rest of them out of their smug sense of refuge — and demand that they face and report the important realities of our time, even — especially — if they’re ugly. We can’t solve problems if we never face them.
Also, more Democratic leaders need to become less compromising, less mistakenly empathetic — and thus less enabling toward con artists. Dem leaders need to become more willing to make a forceful case for their own vision repeatedly in media. Some are doing so. We need more of that.