If the impeachment of President Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is that our country is more politically polarized than ever. Analysis of impeachment proceedings has been dominated by phrenetic attempts by both sides of the aisle to depict the opposite party as either obstructionists or manipulators. The story is either about Republicans trying to cover up the president’s misconduct, or Democrats trying to steal an election – it all depends on which channel you choose.
The president’s guilt or innocence aside, news media that focuses on the secondhand opinions of those attempting to ‘spin’ the narrative significantly contributes to the rising trend of political polarization in this country. When facts take a backseat to opinions and secondhand rhetoric, the media fails to effectively inform. We should collectively demand news that prioritizes the facts of current events, allowing Americans to form their own educated opinions on important issues, rather than news that force-feeds them left- or right-wing talking points.
Crucially, an opinionated media can certainly coexist with a functioning republic. Opinions in the news often spark constructive discussion, increasing political efficacy among those who consume it. However, the problem arises when consumers fail to interact with the opinions they are absorbing, blindly regurgitating the viewpoint because of the ideology they think it aligns with. As active participants in a political system that uniquely values our opinions, we need to put in the effort to ensure that our views are truly our own.
The recent proliferation of echo chambers, media sources failing to interact with outside opinions, turns those who may identify as leaning to one side of the political spectrum into staunch Democrats or Republicans. Additionally, polarized media breeds animosity against the other side of the aisle. The Pew Research Center has found that the number of Republicans or Democrats that view members of the opposing party as “threats to the nation’s wellbeing” has been steadily rising since the 1990s, while the median ideology of members of each party is increasingly polarized. These trends are concerning, but not remotely surprising considering how divisive and polarized political media is today. Increasingly diametric parties tend to alienate moderate voters, creating Congressional gridlock and feelings of underrepresentation.
Echo chambers do not only create animosity against the opposing party, but also muddle fact and opinion, given opposing media outlets the license to write off any disagreeable facts as conjecture. For example, during the impeachment hearings in the House, significant portions of compelling sworn testimony by non-partisan diplomats, were repeatedly written off by conservative media outlets as politically-motivated slander because they incriminated the president. Lifelong diplomats and foreign policy specialists such as Dr. Fiona Hill were labelled as “Never-Trumpers,” inherently bias against President Trump.
As a result, instead of rebutting testimony that incriminated the president with fact-based argumentation, conservative media resorted to labelling the inquiry, and the witnesses called, as phony and illegitimate, brewing hatred against House Democrats rather than engaging with their findings. In turn, many liberal leaning outlets responded by calling out conservatives for not taking the inquiry seriously.
Once trapped in ‘the spin cycle,’ it can seem impossible to see a way out. Over the course of the impeachment, facts have repeatedly taken a backseat to vicious attacks on the opposing party’s supposed political motivation. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.
It may be impossible to reverse the trend of opinion-based news, but at the very least we can all put in the effort to separate facts and opinions. When watching news that caters to our own political views, actively delineate between the interpretation of a particular pundit and the good journalism that still exists behind the scenes. Certainly listen to opinions, but maintain a focus on the facts, and form your own opinion.
Additionally, to fully break out of the echo chamber, we all need to absorb news from across the aisle. When one network hits a commercial, switch to a politically diametric one and see what they’re talking about.
And while it may at times seem difficult, we all should talk conscious steps to weed through the opinions of news outlets and develop informed viewpoints on the important issues facing our country. The alternative is a political landscape in which Congress remains in gridlock and Americans are underrepresented. But, by focusing on the facts, we can all form educated opinions and advocate for policies and candidates in which we truly believe.