The Freak Show: Our Free Press Is Failing Us

Barney Frank, a member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts since 1981, recently announced his retirement. I’m not a big fan of Mr. Frank, due to the role he played as a member of the House Financial Services Committee in the economic meltdown, and the fact that he’s such a long time member of Congress, and as a whole Congress has proven to be incompetent and corrupt.

However, upon announcing his retirement, he did have one thing to say that perfectly encapsulates the major problem in our country right now. We are not a unified country, with the split between the Democrats and the Republicans getting in the way of any real progress toward solving our problems. And the politicians in each party, and especially on the Republican side, seem more interested in scoring political points and pleasing the fringe elements of the party than they do in finding solutions that will keep the United States the most advanced nation in the world.

“People on the left and people on the right live in parallel universes,” Frank stated. “No longer do people get their information from a common media source, and then diverge in how they interpret it. The left is on MSNBC and on the blogs. The right is on Fox and on talk radio. And what happens is, people know different facts. These are echo chambers. People hear agreement with themselves.”

He couldn’t be more right. I have friends who watch only Fox News, and friends who religiously turn to MSNBC. I’m not lambasting the quality of the programming on either network, but they come at stories from such different viewpoints it hardly seems to be the same story. MSNBC is overtly liberal, and spins stories with a progressive twist that would be right at home in a Democratic Party commercial. And Fox News has actually been caught several times with their pants down, reporting false information that seems like it comes from a Tea Party press release rather than a legitimate news channel.

Our system is supposed to work by having a free and impartial press report the news, which is generally what happened until cable TV and it’s hundreds of channels became commonplace. It was only a matter of time until specific channels began targeting narrowly focused groups. The problem now is that no one is getting straight facts on which to base their judgment on which candidates to vote for.

Conservatives are getting news so slanted to the right that it pushes them farther in that direction. And left leaning voters are getting their news with a twist the other way. It’s almost like propaganda put out by the former Soviet Union, in that it is leading people to think the way the broadcasters want them to think.

If people are making their judgments based on different facts, there is no way we can have an honest election. Everyone has a completely different view of the same issue.

For example, a memo was leaked that emanated from Fox News vice president Bill Sammon during the debate over the health care reform bill. It instructed Fox News broadcasters to use the term “government-run health insurance,” or “government option.” This memo was sent after a Republican pollster advised Fox show host Sean Hannity that: “If you call it a public option, the American people are split. If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it.”

Even that kind of small manipulation of a broadcast helps distort what the real issues are. It helps to spread misinformation, such as the false claim that the health care reform bill contained “death panels.”

Add in commentary from radio broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh, and you have a recipe for an almost militant crusade against Democrats. I have heard Rush tear apart Democrats who are pursuing the exact policies that Republicans espoused in the past. Apparently when it was a Republican agenda item it was acceptable, but now it’s a recipe for disaster.

MSNBC was originally a channel intended to do in-depth analysis of stories that NBC News covered, but didn’t have time to explore in depth. However, as it progressed, there seemed be a general consensus that it was leaning toward liberal position, and there was a definite emergence of partisan political views in the channel’s programming. In response to that, MSNBC actually publicly acknowledged its “progressivism” in October of 2010 and launched a marketing campaign with the tagline “Lean Forward.”

At least they have the temerity to admit it, and actually come out and proclaim their left leaning broadcast policy. Fox News continues to claim it provides “Fair and Balanced” news reporting. I would hope its viewers would be smart enough to realize they are getting extremely slanted news.

This country is based on the idea of a free press, so there doesn’t seem to be any easy solution to the problem of the media creating an electorate that leans far right and far left. At this point we have to rely on people to try and realize that it does us no good to have extreme views; our system is based on compromise, so that all viewpoints are respected and taken into account when important policy issues are being debated.

As of now, we are headed in the complete opposite direction, especially on the Republican side. They won’t compromise on certain issues, such as taxes, to the point where they are willing to shut down the government rather than give in to the smallest compromise. And by getting all their news from Fox, the Party faithful embolden their leaders to stand firm.

“United we stand, divided we fall,” was spoken by patriot Patrick Henry in the 1700s. We are indeed a divided nation, and our media is contributing to it. We need to find a solution, or we are headed toward that fall.