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Your Mind or Government - Who Is Pulling the Strings in the Us Media System?

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Media Analysis Essay

Cian Byrne

J201 Section 311

1353 words

Your Mind or Government- Who is pulling the strings in the US Media System?

 The age of technology has brought with it a shift in the media system of the United States away from the traditional model towards one where countless new sources such as blogs, social media outlets, and internet publications increasingly influence public perception of issues and events. In this contemporary age of media bombardment, citizens now need to view news sources with skepticism, and must understand the various political ideologies and other influences that each respective one may have at the core of their coverage. This skepticism has brought with it a trend amongst media consumers over the past few decades, where audiences have begun to feel that their political ideologies and parties are constantly under attack by the media industry. To answer the question of whether there truly is political bias amongst media outlets in the United States I interviewed the most conservative and most liberal people I know, two people I have consciously avoided discussing politics with for the last nineteen years of my life, about their news consumption and opinions on political influences on news coverage. This essay uses these two interviews, along with additional research on bi-partisanship in the United States media system, to show that while there is obvious political bias amongst a few select publications the overall trend of media outlets in the US is towards politically neutral reporting and that these feelings of partisanship amongst citizens should instead be attributed to individual perceptions and the Hostile Media Phenomena.   

        These perceptions of political bias in media are called the Hostile Media Phenomena and stem from individual members of a partisan national audience selecting and remembering different stimuli, which leads to them seeing their side portrayed in a negative light while the other is favored (Friedland, 2016). This phenomena has been extensively reported and researched amongst communications scientists like Robert Vallone, Lee Ross and Mark Lepper, who used coverage of major stories such as the Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan presidential race as case studies of this media effect. This specific study showed that 83% of Carters supporters believed coverage was in favor of Reagan while the other side believed 96% of coverage favored Carter. They attributed these opinions to members on both sides focusing on arguments, evidence and images which supported the other when consuming media (Vallone, Ross,& Lepper, 1985). This filtering of information by bi-partisan audiences suggests that the phenomena is really a result of audiences viewing media through the lens of their emotional, psychological and personal political affiliations, rather then major players in the media industry choosing sides of the political aisle. This practicing of individuals picking and choosing arguments reported in news coverage to bounce off of their political ideals is best summarized by Lewis Friedland, who said Publics may be more biased than media and interpret media content in a biased fashion(Friedland, 2016).

        These findings, that the Hostile Media Phenomena is a direct result of audience perceptions as opposed to partisan affiliations by major publications, is supported by the conscious pursuit towards fairness in the reporting of many major news outlets, which enables individuals throughout the United States to gain a holistic understanding of important issues. Fairness is an standard journalists adhere to while gathering information on their respective stories; a standard that requires journalists to provide necessary sources to give their side of a story (Friedland, 2016). This journalistic standard provides a media environment where American citizens can easily find multiple arguments from opposing political parties. For example both Susan Bellinson and Larry Kunkle, two individuals who both respectively identify as strongly liberal and conservative, said in interviews that they actively turn to sources where they know they can hear a neutral approach to coverage of important national issues. For example, Susan said I prefer media which share liberal perspectives, but I also go to neutral sources like CNN, or even Fox news and other more conservative ones at times, because I think that its important to see where other positions are coming from. Otherwise you can never debunk or dispute the arguments or positions of others(Bellinson, 2016). Similarly, during his interview Kunkle mentioned that I know my stance on political issues and dont need the same demo-gods of the Republican party spoon feeding me back those arguments. I want to know what the liberal counter-arguments are to the issues that matter to me. to the I prefer balanced reporting that give me a chance to hear other perspectives to story for national, geopolitical and global news(Kunkle, 2016). Both of these individuals went on to identify a few major publications that they turn to on a daily basis to receive their desired neutral coverage on national news such as CNN. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center these two could utilize numerous other major publications in the United States which, on average, have an almost neutral partisan affiliation in their coverage. These sources include ABC, Bloomberg, USA Today (Friedland, 2016). How then is it possible to say that the media industry as a whole is trending towards political bias of any kind when the publications with the highest monthly circulation in the nation are turned to by informed citizens for objective reporting with multiple political perspectives and arguments?

        However, my two interviewees did allude to important contradicting pieces of evidence against the claim that public perception of media political bias is solely a result of individual perceptions, publications which have an obvious (and sometimes even open) affiliation with political parties. The two major examples of publications such as these are FOX News (conservative) and MSNBC (liberal). However, in recent decades these partisan publications have taken new forms in late night talk shows such as The Colbert Report and online tabloids such as buzz feed and Now This Entertainment. Bellinson even admitted she often gets liberal news via these new outlets as well as email sources such as People For the American Way (Bellinson, 2016). On the opposite side of the coin, Kunkle feels that CNBC (which as a venture capitalist he goes to for news on international markets) tends to lend itself towards conservative ideals as it often covers topics like corporate tax eversions, SEC regulation, and immigration. However, according to Kovach and Rosenstiel, these kinds of publications are prime examples of journalism of assertion, publications which cherry pick information that serves a political purpose (Kovach, Rosenstiel, 2010). The increasing frequency of these kinds of outlets serves as a basis of understanding how the average citizen may begin to feel an overall trend of partisanship in the United States media industry. As people more commonly turn towards new media and away from traditional sources for their news  they begin to consume reporting with a vast array of political, ideological, and commercial influences which shape their portrayal of an issue. This may become troublesome for average citizens such as Susan Bellinson who enjoy these new outlets for their convenience and satirical approach to national issues, and may begin to rely on them more frequently as opposed to neutral coverage of the same issues by sources like CNN.

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