Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Media's Extremist Tendencies

It is widely accepted in today’s society that all media has a bias. Networks such as NBC, CBS, and Fox News bring up immediate connotations of “liberal” and “conservative” in the minds of many Americans. The far right and far left media is fueled by the public’s tendency to gravitate towards listening to one’s own beliefs. Individuals enjoy hearing arguments that agree with their pre-existing points of view. This tendency, called selective exposure, is explored in Farhad Manjoo’s essay, True EnoughOf course, not all news networks lean extremely in one direction. While it is impossible to remain completely unbiased, news sources such as CSPAN, Christian Science Monitor, CNN are considered moderate because they tend to cover both sides of the story. These media outlets are well respected, but they are considered a minority because selective exposure is so prevalent in our society. Moderate news sources do not obtain as much attention as their extremist relatives because they do not cater to a certain audience. That is not to say that they are not as popular, or don't have as many viewers. Instead, it is a statement regarding extremist news sources tendencies to cause controversies. 
If you tune into NBC you will inevitably hear slams directed towards the Republican Party and right leaning politicians, and the same is true for Fox News in respect to the Democrats and left leaning politicians. Most Americans, however, do not go around bashing the opposing party like the media. The purpose of this post is to explore the media’s tendency towards having an extremist point of view, and provide insight as to how exactly this extremism occurs.
A relevant example of media extremism in today’s presidential election is in the coverage of the video released of Republican candidate Governor Mitt Romney. 

In this video, Romney stated,

Well, there are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. There are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they're entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it.  But that's-- it's an entitlement.  And the government should give it to them.  And they will vote for this president no matter what.

These remarks are very controversial, but the controversy of the statement is heightened by how the media covers it. Instead of showing the video and airing two qualified people with different opinions discussing it, networks such as MSNBC and Fox dedicate multiple segments of their shows, and many articles their websites towards emphasizing their own opinion, without respectable opposition. An article written by Raum & Measell called “Wallace and Rhetoric of Polarization” describes three concrete description devices: god and devil terms, reductio ad absurdum, and exaggeration. These devices are “designed to portray people and events in such vivid, forceful language that the auditor is forced to respond. He cannot maintain neutrality.” Fox News and MSNBC use all of these concrete description devices, as they are all easily employed in regards to the coverage of Mitt Romney's 47% remarks. 
            In an article entitled Campaigns escalate battle over dueling quotes Fox News’ strategy seems to be to draw attention away from Romney’s video and instead emphasize a controversial one of President Obama’s. In a 1998 video, then Senator Obama is seen talking about how he “believes in the redistribution of wealth, at least at a certain level.” This article employs concrete description devices in Romney’s favor, which is not surprising because the Fox News network is considered to be a conservative network. The release of the video itself is applying reducto ad absurdum, portraying President Obama in a situation that is humorous to republicans. Using another concrete description device, Fox News, and Romney's campaign in general, is exaggerating the importance of this video. This is not new news. However, it does put President Obama in a compromising situation, which is exactly where the right leaning media wants him to be. There were plenty of devil words used to in reference to President Obama in the article, such as, redistribution, handout, and government dependency. These words have such a negative connotation in today’s society, and create a picture of a president who has policies advocating dependency on government and socialist ideals. This video of President Obama is not ideal for his campaign, because redistribution has proved to be considered a devil term by both right and left leaning agencies. However, because there are many more mainstream liberal news sources, the new emphasis on this video didn't get much coverage. 
            MSNBC’s coverage of these two videos differs quite tremendously. There is a lot more coverage of Mitt Romney’s remarks at the fundraising dinner than there is of President Obama’s redistribution statement, again because they are a liberal network, and the redistribution remarks do not make Obama look good. This is an excellent example of media framing. One of the main problems with the mainstream media is that there is a shortage of networks that have true “fair and balanced” and coverage. Each network chooses stories that they want to run, which creates the role of the media as a gatekeeper. They deem what is newsworthy and what isn’t. Obviously, MSNBC didn’t think that the ’98 Obama remarks were as important to feature as the 2012 Romney ones.
            In a segment on the “Rachel Maddow Show,” entitled Secret video shows Romney in candor, the news anchor does everything but call the Republican nominee an idiot. “They actually like the sound of this,” she said. “They think it is on message . . . I find it in raw terms, hearing him dismiss half the country as victims dependent on the government, I find it to be raw and grading, but the campaign is trying to spin it a different way.” Her show, which is an hour long segment airing Monday through Friday, has not mentioned the 1998 video featuring President Obama’s opinions on redistribution, again illustrating media framing. 
           Why do we put up with news like this? Is it selective exposure alone, or does something else play into the reign of the extremist media? According to Amy Gutmann, author of The Lures of Extremist Rhetoric, "The most reliable surveys and scholarly studies consistently find a far more pluralistic and open-minded electorate than the public catered to by extremist rhetoric on cable TV and talk radio and among many political elites." Is it, then, something in our very human nature that sends us running from the rational to the familiar when things get heated? The media's tendency towards a liberal or conservative bias is inescapable. There is no "fix" to make extremist media more moderate. Although the extreme views of the media are reflected in some viewers, most American realize that in order to be well informed, they must be open to hearing all sides of the story. That means getting the news from a variety of sources. The ideal model for a well-rounded and well-informed citizen would be a republican who likes to flips channels between Fox News, CNN, and NBC, or a democrat who watches CBS, but also enjoys reading articles from the Christian Science Monitor and the Drudge Report. The media is always going to biased, but it is up to the American public to form their own opinions, not because of, but in spite of the media's tendency towards a very extreme bias.

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