State of Media Political Discourse

Fellow Syracuse University alumnus Ted Koppel with an excellent report on how the news has become increasingly partisan. This is no more apparent than with the current dichotomy between Fox News and its upstart competitor MSNBC.

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The report is about 10 years too late, as the shift away from objective news has been in full swing for over a decade now, but hey, that's when Ted Koppel actually had his own "hard" news show: Nightline.

The Rock Center report really does bring to light how more and more of the news media Americans consume is partisan opinion, especially in talk radio and 24-hour cable news. The fact is, the "talking head" shows are cheap to produce and draw relatively good ratings, making the partisan format highly profitable. Yes, there is the argument that true objectivity in news is an impossibility, but at least most legitimate hard news journalists strive for objectivity by offering both sides of a debate and being critical of both. Of course, that assumes that there are multiple legitimate sides of argument. But their goal is to seek the truth, find the facts, and report them to the public so that they can make their own opinions. On the other hand, opinion pundits don't even attempt to give all sides of argument due respect. Their goal is to put their own "slant" on the issues. The truth gets lost in the shuffle, or sometimes it just gets in the way.

Yet, regardless of whether the existence of partisan media is good or bad, the real problem is the blurring of legitimate news and opinion. No longer is opinion confined to a page in the paper disclaimed "Opinion". Partisan ideologues broadcast their interpretation of the facts as if it was the truth on so-called news stations. Many know to take it with a grain of salt, but still too many fail to distinguish opinion from fact. And with less legitimate news available, the opinion drowns everything else out.

All this is not to say that there is no place for partisan opinion. That is part of the discourse of ideas our First Amendment is meant to promote. Plus, if one side is going to have its side voiced, then other sides should be brought up too, even if it is by different media personalities, or different shows, or even different channels. The opinion, however, must be grounded in fact meaning there needs to be objective sources to go to to get the facts. And media consumers need to be smart enough to distinguish the difference.