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EID: Polarized media inevitably leads to combative, divided nation


Column: Keeping it Real

Most Americans would agree that our country is increasingly getting polarized. 

It is all Left versus Right, secular versus evangelical and pro-life versus pro-choice. Today’s media is the driving force behind this polarization. 

The majority of Americans often have divergent and mixed views on hot-button issues. For example, when it comes to abortion, most Americans support the right to have an abortion, but they also support adding some restrictions. 

But that fact is never heard in the media. Twenty-four-hour cable news, pundits and social media all replay the most inflammatory and partisan views to the public. Thus, the American people are constantly bombarded with shallow rhetoric from both sides, ranging from all-or-nothing pro-lifers to Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) saying there is “no middle ground” on abortion. 

Out of a desire for ratings, or by ideological commitment, most media we know today is partisan. Fox News is an easy example. Staunchly Conservative and supportive of President Donald J. Trump — barring rare incidents, like when anchorman Neil Cavuto recently criticized him for whining — Fox News uses nonsense headlines to get attention from its watchers. Headlines like “The Dems want to take Your Guns” misrepresent policy decisions and the opinions of Democrats. 

Fox News viewers are rarely told objective information. They are fed emotionally charged opinions that reinforce their existing beliefs. In addition, the “debates” between policy analysts on Fox News are more or less shouting matches, in which the Conservative viewpoint is predictably vindicated. 

Fox News is not the only dedicatedly conservative media outlet. The New York Post and Washington Examiner are examples of newspapers which regularly put out skewed news. For instance, both magazines have a striking interest in denouncing New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.): The New York Post literally has a page devoted to her. 

Oftentimes, these denunciatory articles mischaracterize Ocasio-Cortez’s policy ideas, such as the Green New Deal (GND) — which calls for a comprehensive response to combat climate change — as liberal junk. 

Perhaps the GND is not fully pragmatic — some Democrats have expressed a disliking to it — but repeatedly framing Ocasio-Cortez and her ideas as irrational does not keep the public informed on the issues at hand. It only directs their hate toward a person or piece of legislation, not generating any meaningful debate and reflection on how to lead our country into the future. 

To us at Rutgers, a liberal place, this is obvious. It is easy to criticize our opponents' exaggerations without looking at our own. 

But what about Left-leaning polarization in the media? Self-anointing themselves the “opposition” or “the resistance,” cable news like CNN and MSNBC at least have the more rational position of criticizing Trump and Republican hypocrisy rather than defending it like Fox News. But their supposed enlightenment ends there. 

CNN and MSNBC partake in the same self-aggrandizement as the Republicans. These 24-hour news shows glorify their leaders and ideas as near flawless. 

For instance, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is promoted as the fearless feminist leader who challenged the patriarchal establishment, Trump, and lost in the 2016 presidential election. Little to no criticism of Clinton crosses these news outlets. 

The fact that Clinton is a war hawk — supporting the Afghan troop surge, widespread drone strikes, intervention in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen — is never mentioned. Nor is there any discussion on Clinton’s amiable connections with Wall Street. Her questionable actions, rather, are vigorously defended. And just like Fox News, CNN and MSNBC fill up their primetime hours with opinion segments and mind-numbing monologues. 

Other liberal news sites, such as The Atlantic, Slate, The Washington Post and The Daily Beast also share the same negative qualities of CNN and MSNBC. Caught up in the anti-Trump hysteria, these sites are more interested in criticizing Trump than offering objective information. 

This is, after all, understandable. Trump and his allies usually act irrationally and handle every situation poorly. But reflexively looking at all of his actions and initiatives as harmful is wrong-headed and unnecessarily polarizes readers. 

For example, liberal media has framed Trump’s (mishandled) attempt to secure a denuclearization treaty or thaw with North Korea as simply a disgusting attraction to dictators. 

But, no matter how misguided and bungled his attempts were, Trump did not try to get a denuclearization deal with Kim Jong Un because he likes strong men. Any kind words were probably Trump’s feeble (and failed) attempts to get the North Korean dictator to be more pliable. Trump said Kim was a “smart cookie.” 

That is not praise, as Left-leaning media portrays, but rather means, in Trumpspeak, that Kim is not some tinpot dictator that the U.S. can easily deal with. 

The rampant bias and “expert” opinion on both sides of the media are a disservice to the American public, misinforming them and stoking intractable partisan hatreds. How can we stop this polarization? 

It is up to Americans to reject partisan divides and reach compromises with the side they have been trained to vilify. 

Alexander Eid is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. His column, "Keeping it Real," runs on alternate Thursdays.

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