RICHARDS: I’m right, you’re wrong: our media, polarized

Amy Richards

We are a nation divided. FOX News, Rush Limbaugh’s radio talk show and “The O’Reilly Factor” versus CNN, NPR, The New York Times and The Daily Show. We take comfort in knowing that we are part of a long-established group of advocates in choosing one show over the other. We are guilty of buying books entitled “How to Win a Fight With a Conservative” or of forwarding offensive Obama joke e-mails to all of our friends. What is it that compels us to divide ourselves so definitively into liberals and conservatives? The media has made it easy for us, erasing a common ground or a forum for debate and replacing this moderate arena with two opposing sides, Republican and Democrat, thereby pitting us against each other. We are listening to, reading and watching a brand of media far more polarized than ever before, one that is party-affiliated, politicized and charged with the power of faction.

As Americans, we pride ourselves in our political leanings and brazenly pronounce them, applying them to whatever issue may be at hand. Specifically, a Villanova professor recounted a conversation with a parent on campus, who explained that his was a “Fox 5 Family, if you know what I mean,” suggesting that his child would not be concerned with any liberal-sounding courses offered while attending Villanova. All of this was to be assumed under the implication that he was conservative, perhaps diehard. In fact, his identification with a news channel successfully made his point clear. He meant to say that his whole family lived as those who watch Fox do, and they agree with the conservative opinion of all of the reporters, embracing a well-known republican news source.

So what? Why not leave everyone to watch what they enjoy while they pat themselves on the back for being “right” and agreeing wholeheartedly with their biased news sources?

As our media continues to split itself into opposite corners, however, the field in which practical debate and compromise can occur will narrow immensely. While much of the nation is comfortable identifying with either the Republican or Democratic party, a great deal of the American public remains independent, moderate or fixed to specific “nonpartisan issues.” Polarization of the media into conservative and liberal voices pushes these groups aside as insignificant, or forces would-be moderates to take a side, foiling the chance for discussions to involve all voices of the political spectrum.

If media production is responding to what Americans like to hear and see, should it come as a surprise that there are very few radio or television shows that are party to both sides of the political coin, and also include moderate, evenhanded figures? Well, no. Not at all. We are thoroughly entertained by the mudslinging, name-calling absurdities of partisan stereotyping and side-taking, being doled out from both sides of the spectrum.

A new forum for discussion has been the blog. However, even this medium has fallen short of providing even-handed debate; instead, we have seen the growth of rightwing blogospheres and leftist liberal Web sites that offer far less authentic political commentary than they do hate-propaganda that bashes their political foes.

In an immediate sense, this type of politicized mockery puts a damper on the rational, moderated debate that our forefathers held up as essential to the health of a democratic society. Meanwhile, this polarization has the potential to halt progress for all of America’s “divisive issues.” If we are continually fed a specific line of reasoning without engaging the other side, we will become incapable of relinquishing our party identifications in order to arrive at the greater good of compromise, especially when it comes to policy-making. In recent months, policies regarding contentious societal issues have popped up, as prompted by Obama’s administration. If we remain politically divided on our airwaves, televisions and print media, without hearing from an even-handed source, we will continue to slow the progress that might be made on issues of healthcare and the economy, both of which the general public can agree it would like to see improved.

The more polarized our media grows in affecting our political views, the closer and closer we come to rupturing the “organ of consistent and wholesome plans … modified by mutual interests” that our first political leader, George Washington, held as paramount.

If this political baggage continues to shift to the right, while the rest shifts to the far left, our vehicle for substantive news and for honest, public debate will crack down the middle, refusing to move us forward on a democratic course.

Amy Richards is a senior honors, Spanish and Global Interdisciplinary Studies major from Kings Park, N.Y. She can be reached at [email protected].