In the modern world of the twenty-four-hour news cycle, the ever-rising importance of media, and the chase for viewers, news outlets are always looking for the next big story facing the United States. However, this quick grab for the next flashy news story has led to misconceptions about the United States’ problems. Moreover, it allows politicians to use these misconceptions to make substantial political moves that are not in the American public’s best interest and could slowly erode our democracy.
For example, if you turn your television on right now to the news, more likely than not, you will see a story about crime happening in your area. This has led to the American public believing that “crime has increased” almost every single year when the reality is crime has been steadily going down. Researchers have also concluded that “viewing local television news is related to increased fear of and concern about crime” and that they are “more likely to support tougher crime policies.”
In addition, to increasing the fear of crime, some news reports are purposely misleading audiences to build onto that narrative. For example, recently, a drug called Rainbow Fentanyl has been all over the news and is being displayed by media as a colorful drug that could make its way into children’s Halloween candy this year.
Is Rainbow Fentanyl a drug that comes in multiple colors? Yes. But does it have anything to do with marketing this drug to children? Absolutely not, with even the co-founder of Opioid Safety saying, “It has nothing to do with marketing to kids at all.” Even after every newscast on the topic, they put a disclaimer stating that there have been zero cases of this yet.
While this is a problem for the United States as a whole, this is also a problem for our democracy as “Media freedoms and judicial autonomy became prime sites for democratic backsliding.” Though the freedoms of the media have not been limited in America in the same way we have seen them limited in other countries, the media has taken it upon themselves to report on what will get them the most views at any cost. The corporate corruption of the media has changed the American people’s perception of what is the common good for this country and in a way has limited the power of the press on other non-flashy topics.
These stories, like Rainbow Fentanyl, have pressured politicians to act upon these issues that frankly do not exist. For example, Chuck Schumer has put “290 million dollars” towards law enforcement to attempt to combat Rainbow Fentanyl, a problem that has been blown out of proportion by the media. As a result, millions of dollars are being spent in the wrong place than what is best for the country. This is all because of the American public’s false perception of this situation.
The media needs to understand that they can sway the American people’s perceptions and ultimately change this democracy for better or worse. As Schumpeter talks about in Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, “Newspaper readers, radio audiences, members of a party even if not physically gathered together are terribly easy to work up into a psychological crowd and into a state of frenzy in which attempt at rational argument only spurs the animal spirits.”
Today, politicians are seeing these flashy moves by the media and replicating them themselves. A great example of this comes from businessman and current candidate for mayor of Los Angeles, Rick Caruso. Rick Caruso does not have much experience in politics, but he is running on the platform of being a businessman, most notably known for creating The Grove in 2002.
As mayor, Rick Caruso plans to make all of Los Angeles look like The Grove, which is a flashy move, to say the least. However, this would be detrimental to the city of Los Angeles as there are over 50,000 people who are homeless in Los Angeles, and if Caruso wins and sticks to his word, the homeless would have nowhere to go.
Caruso’s most prominent opponent, Karen Bass, has a strong stance for helping the homeless, but it is not a dramatic move for the public. Though Caruso is still in second place in the most recent polls, he is making up a lot of ground on Karen Bass.
In conclusion, media and politicians are making flashy moves to attract viewers and voters. However, these dramatic stories in the news and big decisions made by politicians based on the media are not always what is best for the American people. This democracy, and almost every democracy on the planet, has been founded on the principle that we, the citizens of this country, must do what is in the common interest of the people. But flashy moves like these mislead the general public and could damage the very foundation of this democracy.
I really enjoyed your article. You gave great examples that show how influential the news can be, even if it is not true. Your examples are similar to the work we did studying Russian media, and how they incorporated both propaganda and real facts, and it was up to the audience to interpret it. This factors into fake news and the impact of misinformation. I think often politicians want to enact laws that the public care about, and then often look to the media to understand the public point of view. But, the media is not always used for the good of the people. Political media is a business, and for example, we saw how in Russia, the media can be owned by those in power and they use it for their own benefit. While the U.S. is not at the point Russia is, our media landscape is controlled by capitalism and the pursuit of profit. News stations want to run stories that will get people to tune in, not necessarily inform them. This can cause problems in our democracy.
Jezile Fe Torculas
I concur, the news media outranks several other sources of information. They are authoritative, narrowly defined. They have the capability to shape opinions, beliefs and principles. They manipulate minds, and people easily fall prey to this trick. Whether government-funded news media, corporate news media, or independent news media, they all have power in their words.
While it is the cornerstone of democracy and is supposedly a watchdog for political accountability, the media — more often than not — is actually partisan; and this is largely contingent on their funding. Some alternative media present themselves as “independent” but receive material support from government administrations. All the more is this true with the mainstream corporate media. Unfortunately, media neutrality can be paid with money.
You are right when you said that this can cause problems in the quality of democracy in a democratic society. With a profit-oriented media, the pursuit of political accountability goes down the drain and political corruption remains unimpeded. And this is very uncharacteristic of a democracy.
I thought this article was very interesting. Your example of the rainbow fentanyl is perfect for explaining how today’s media can be very deceptive or misleading. In today’s media, many news companies seem to be only telling part of a story, one that is more receptive to their audience, rather than projecting the full story and leaving it up to the individual watcher to decide how to interpret the information. There are many media outlets that hold a lot of influence and their viewers tend to trust only that news source. The issue with this is that different media outlets authorize different things to be reported so some information may be left out from one source, but spoken on from another, which leads to conflicting information sometimes and only further polarizes us from one another and leads us to not trust outside news sources. This was shown with the Covid-19 pandemic and with some news outlets such as Fox News and their hosts bashing the usage of masks and saying it is useless, despite other news sources supporting the usage of masks such as CNN.