The media is the main source of information concerning current events and politics, because of this it has a lot of power to influence the minds of its viewers, for better or for worse. In the current political climate, the political parties have become polarized as well as the media. The press has obtained a very strong political bias towards certain view points and in doing so have become a political influencer. Has the politicization of the press become an enemy to the people? Does it unknowingly but freely aid in the erosion of democracy here in the United States?
Freedom of the press is one of our human rights as a citizen of the United States of America that has been enshrined into our constitution as the First Amendment (Edmin). The purpose of such an amendment was so that the government could not restrict the spread of speech, ideas or information that would be in opposition to the government. It was designed so that we could have light amongst darkness and find the truth to expose the lies. Many people expect to receive unbiased and accurate information in order to help them make educated decisions, but that is not the case. Since the media has become politicized, it has been used against the people to further along democratic back sliding through jumping to conclusions and polarization.
It is very important to recognize that the media have become political even if they are independently owned. Organizations such as CNN, Fox News, CBS etc., often jump to conclusions to promote a political agenda. The hasty decisions of media outlets ultimately influence our voters through polarization.
An example of the media jumping to conclusions and polarizing the situation was that of a recent protest involving the kids of Covington that went viral. It involved white teenagers involved with the March for Life and specifically a Native American man with the Indigenous Peoples movement. The original story was that the white youth were bullying and intimidating a Native American man. The video fell in nicely with the agenda of the left, an unhappy Native American man surrounded by white youth that were seen chanting and smiling. They just so happened to be wearing MAGA hats, the slogan of a right-wing party, which the political left often labels as racist and extreme.
The video quickly became viral and was followed by a slew of scathing news reports and condemning tweets from politicians and celebrities. The students spoke out and said that they were not intimidating anyone and that they themselves were being harassed from other protesters at the time. After a few days the whole video finally emerged and showed a different story than what was originally reported. Many news stations quickly made corrections to fix their hasty assumptions, celebrities and politicians redacted what they had said but the damage had already been done (Kirk). A biased and polarizing story was created.
The video was originally used to target the republican party but after more evidence was revealed about the incident, the video was used against the democratic party to try and show their apparent bias. People began to defend the Covington high school kids or attack them, it was “us vs. them,” “racist vs. non racist.” This news event only fueled the beliefs of the already polarized American public because it guided the public to endorse their already ill-conceived beliefs about one another, creating further division.
This aids in democratic backsliding because polarized news develops mistrust between political parties. Political rhetoric is escalated, and outer-group differences are exaggerated to the point where communication between the two parties breaks down. The mistrust adds to the competition of “us vs. them” and results in the opposition becoming the enemy. They are unable to negotiate with each other and begin to see everything as a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. Polarization might lead people to justify whatever means necessary in order to obtain political “wins” even if it results in the erosion of democracy (McCoy).
Freedom of the press is an American right and it should never be suppressed. However, that does not mean that it is always an ally of the people, it can actually become an enemy to the public. Inaccurate and polarizing reports -when uncorrected- can manipulate the minds of people that are not invested in finding the truth. The media can cause public division and escalate political tension, perhaps much easier and more often than they do to unite the American people. Unfortunately, due to the naïve state of many voters and the politicization of the media, it is a two-edged sword. It can promote and safeguard democracy just as easily as it can erode and diminish democracy.