Who can we trust?

Media bias from both sides obscures truth…

Alyssa Howard | Editor-in-Chief

Amidst immense political bias of the media, American democracy is ailing, according to government teacher Maria Mueller. The deep divisions between conservative and liberal news sources create a close-minded environment, which Mueller said detract from the ability of citizens to listen to opinions differing from their own.

“I think sometimes we perceive that if we’re honestly willing to listen to someone else, that it will make us appear less serious about our own beliefs,” Mueller said. “[This approach] is, in my perspective, not healthy for democracy.”

The development of the biases from both sides, Mueller said, has evolved from the breakdown of a previous system.

“I think what we’ve kind of always counted on is the counterbalancing concept that those who publish newspapers and news magazines traditionally have tended to be, as many business people are, towards the right side of the spectrum,” Mueller said. “Reporters themselves, though, tended to be more towards the left. So, the idea was that somewhere between the top and the bottom, you would find a medium.”

Currently, however, many organizations are filled with people all of the same belief system, according to Mueller, making balanced coverage virtually impossible.

“When you now have a structure where, from the first day reporter to the publisher, [everyone is] of the same mind, then your likelihood of even being able to produce something that comes near balanced becomes very difficult,” Mueller said. “We’ve come so far with integrating ourselves in so many ways, but now we have this trend from maybe the past 25 years of segregating ourselves ideologically, becoming more partisan.”

Another contributing factor to this problem, according to English teacher Hannah Sole, is the dominance of corporate monopolies, owning numerous news organizations. Sole, who previously taught Media Studies in England, said that the majority of mainstream media traces back to only a few corporations.

“It changes a little bit every year; I think there are about seven massive conglomerates that own most of the world media now,” Sole said.

Sole said that the commercial mentality of most media outlets provides the most compelling rationale for companies to take partisan stances.

“They’re in it for a business,” Sole said. “They’re there to provide news that people want to read about or hear about. If you are marketing to an audience that has a particular point of view, there is no point in trying to sell media text of the opposite view.”

In addition, organizations vary in the way that they show their political biases, according to Sole.

“[Bias] will manifest itself in various ways,” Sole said. “Sometimes it’s what makes the news; sometimes it’s the experts they select to talk to. They might pick people that would be of a certain viewpoint and therefore, it will come across that way.”

Although media bias has been a long-acknowledged aspect of American politics, assessing its prevalence is generally left up to partisan organizations. The Media Research Center’s mission is to convey the “strident liberal bias” existing in news, acting as “America’s media watchdog,” according to its website. On the other hand, Media Matters for America, “the liberal media watchdog organization,” exists to expose conservative sway of news corporations, according to PRWatch.org.

Mueller said that verifying facts through unbiased or non-profit sources is a key remedy to keeping a balanced perspective. Factcheck.org, a non-partisan website founded by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, serves as a way to check information from politicians or media organizations. After listening to President Barack Obama’s September 9 speech on health care, Mueller said that she visited the site.

“[Factcheck.org goes] both [political] ways, for sure,” Mueller said. “After [Obama’s] speech [on health care], they went through and they critiqued, and then they also went and critiqued some of the misinformation that was out there, that was at that time, predominantly from the right. So, it does seem very balanced, as far I can tell.”

In order to fulfill the duties of democracy, Mueller said, citizens must maintain an active role in seeking the truth.

“You have to make an informed choice, but you also have to be cognizant of that information that you’re making that informed choice from,” Mueller said. “And it really requires all of us to be engaged, if we really want a healthy democracy.”

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