So, been watching politics? Chances are, you have. The presidential race is grinding along with more twists and turns than the Blue Ridge Parkway, and there are still three long months ahead before the election.
Leading up to the November faceoff are more debates and other general hubbub. Many times it strikes me that cable news networks are not attending the same event. During the conventions, I watched CNN then Fox and then BBC America. They had so many totally different takes on the event that I was left wondering, “Which convention are they attending?”
In reality, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and NBC attended both conventions even though they had completely different viewpoints on the events.
It is clear that there is a lot of solid reporting out there. But, generally, I’m taken aback by the disparity among news organizations in their overall approaches to political events. During the first week of both the Republican and Democratic conventions, there was some disagreement, some drama and a lot of laudatory speeches. But Fox News in particular seemed to have blinders on during much of the action.
For example, there was a lot of gushing on Fox News over Donald Trump’s kids and their powerful speeches. Not quite so much on the competitors’ stations. And what about Khizr Khan’s appearance at the Democratic National Convention? The speech by the father of a Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq has been universally hailed as one of the most powerful speeches in recent memory. It was reduced to two minutes and no audio on Fox News.
One great tactic employed by news programs is to bring in a “distinguished panel” to analyze an event before and/or after it happens. That way, the prime-time show appears to have balance and tact. Well, guess again. Did you notice the loads of opinions or preambles issued by the host before the panel was unleashed? A host is there for guidance unless it’s an opinion show like Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow. But, it’s hard to tell the difference between a Chris Matthews diatribe and one by Bill O’Reilly. While they may approach the subject differently, it’s clear each has an opinion and you are going to hear it, one way or another.
This is not to say the networks and cable are force-feeding us. What they are doing is providing the customized content we desire. That’s right, the populace wants to hear lively, contradictory banter, and the more the better. Sure, there’s some concern these divergent approaches are not neutral or balanced. But, you have to realize that Jerry Springer is still on the air. We like contradiction, conflict and consternation.
While journalism has rallied behind neutrality for a hundred years, we’re coming to find out the public’s desire for opinion and facts presented in a selective fashion is pretty darn popular. Has it not always been the case? After all, we like to hang out with people who agree with us.