At this point, the idea of a biased media is pretty mainstream.
"Fake news" rose to prominence in the national lexicon as the presidential election raged on throughout 2016. With every debate, every comment, every event, small or large, one could see the dichotomy of our media; mainstream media framed everything in a light that reflected its general audience. Liberal organizations like CNN took every Donald Trump quote and sensationalized it while Clinton's scandals were minimized or covered in brief. Fox News, champion of conservative bias in the news, on the other hand, downplayed any off-putting rhetoric from Trump and instead focused on the distrust of Clinton's character. Neither organization presented the neutral truth, per se.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this concept—or rather, there wouldn't be if each audience understood that neither news source represented the truth of each scenario in its entirety. That is to say, every story is framed for a particular audience and as such cannot represent neutral fact.
An obvious example of this bias is the representation of Obama in media these last eight years. If one solely watched Fox News over his term, one would think Obama was a terrorist hiding in presidential suits with an agenda to weaken America as part of some radical Islam conspiracy. On the other side, liberal media painted Obama administration as mostly unblemished despite heavily criticized happenings such as the events in Benghazi or the problems with the Affordable Care Act.
But both audiences are told they are watching the fairest news.
Conservative outlets love to paint this picture of a "mainstream liberal bias" but refuse to acknowledge themselves as "mainstream" in this regard despite the fact that they are just as readily available and, in a lot of cases, receiving far more viewership. Liberal outlets are quick to call out a conservative outlet like Breitbart News for publishing far-right conspiracies but then avoid coverage of large, founded scandals DNC emails. Neither kind of outlet wants to break their narrative for fear of losing their viewership and, as a result, their profits. We need the news and journalists play an important role in our freedom of speech. But let's not just ignore the obvious issues with our media consumption.
This election cycle isn't the only example. Using CNN and Fox News as examples of each side of the political spectrum, one can easily see the narratives that each loves to present to its audience—and that the audience seemingly wants to hear.
Conservative media, like Fox News, heavily criticizes the Black Lives Matter movement; they push a narrative of thuggish young black males justly being murdered by police officers and they only focus their attention on the small number of violent protests that follow (as opposed to the peaceful demonstrations). As such, their audiences come away front the news writing off the movement as a whole and, perhaps even worse, brushing off racial inequality despite empirical evidence on the issue. Any protests post-inauguration have been written off as a cry for Hillary Clinton, despite their actual message; for instance, the Woman's March, which tackled a number of issues, has been labeled as "noninclusive" and "radical" because of a few cases. This is the conservative treatment of any protest, it seems.
In liberal media like CNN, the Black Lives Matter movement is characterized as a resurrection of the Civil Rights Era. They sensationalize every poor interaction between police and black people in much the same way, mostly ignoring the nuances of each case. Violent protests are mentioned, but in a positive light, as a resistance against the system that deserves whatever kind of dissent. As such, their audiences buy into the movement but, perhaps detrimentally, ignore the nuances of each interaction and, worse, view the overwhelming majority of police as actively racist despite empirical evidence on the issue. The liberal narrative of any protest is one of valor and progress, it seems.
Both audiences are told their narrative is right.
Recently, in an interview regarding the news of late, actor Denzel Washington used a quote that sums up the issue (after much research, it seems the quote has regularly been attributed to writer Mark Twain but he might not have actually used these words). He said of the media, "If you don't read the paper, you're uninformed. If you read the paper, you're misinformed."
With all of this in mind, the solution is not to simply stop reading news—that lands you in the "uninformed" camp, which is even more dangerous that being misinformed. The solution may be to avoid approaching all news as neutral or as truth.
Stop viewing everything as complete truth. Just because Tomi Lahren speaks loudly about her problems doesn't mean she's right—her spin is worse than the outlets she criticizes. Just because John Oliver presents a lot of information in each of his major pieces on Last Week Tonight, but that doesn't mean he's presenting truth—his analysis of this data is what reveals his spin.
If your media source of choice claims to give you neutral news, you have been bamboozled. This election circus—err, circuit—has revealed the problems with our media. Consuming media from one political side is, in general, the best way to misinformed on an issue.
This article has a bias. Despite trying to remain as neutral as I can in discussing the bias of media, my writing still reflects my views. Some of these issues are too personal to me to remain neutral on, which I think is fine as long as both of us, writer and reader, can acknowledge this fact. For instance, it is hard for me to write neutrally about the coverage of unarmed black males in media post-mortem because it hits too close to home. On this subject, I avoid conservative news outlets because I disagree so heavily with the characterization of all black males as threatening or thugs and am hurt by the number of people that buy into this narrative, for obvious reasons. It's a strong bias, for sure, but one that I acknowledge and feel completely okay with.
With this issue of bias comes the issue of a polar nation. Every issue is presented as two-sided, with no middle-ground. Are you a Democrat or Republican? Are you pro-life or pro-choice? Do you support black lives or blue lives? There's no room for nuance anymore. How can we get anything done if everyone is so split?
Our country feels so divided right now but I suppose it's because our media keeps telling us that we are divided. Do we really have to be? Every issue isn't polar but every time, the issues are presented as if they are. It's pathetic, and not just on the media outlets' part. They keep doing what works—it's pathetic that we continue to buy into this system. We will always be divided if we keep looking at the other side as "bad guys" and as pundits as "neutral." The media has been framed as this evil force as of late, thanks in no small part to President Trump's repeated attacks on specific outlets (CNN, MSNBC, BuzzFeed, The New York Times, etc.). Maybe we can use this opportunity to change how we consume media and in what capacity.
Don't settle for half-truths or "alternative facts." Don't make up your mind on an issue before hearing the issue at hand.
And stop letting your media outlets make up your mind for you.