Culture

The Media’s Role in Social Discord

In late March, 2017, a 14 year old Rockville, MD girl was allegedly dragged into a school bathroom and raped by two illegal immigrants from Central America, one 18 years old and the other 17, both freshmen at the school. Although the story was covered by Fox News and Hispanic channel MegaTV, mainstream networks ignored it. ABC, NBC, and CBS gave it zero coverage that evening and the next morning. CNN and MSNBC were also late with their coverage. (The story has since become more complicated, but that development in no way justifies the media’s earlier inattention.)

What can explain the media’s withholding from their viewers a story that would in other circumstances be given banner headlines? The only plausible answer is that they believed reporting it would lend support to President Trump’s plan to increase protection of our borders, something they are ideologically opposed to doing.

This incident is but one of many that reveal the media’s disregard of journalistic standards and, more importantly, illustrate how the media influence viewers’ thinking.

To understand that process, we must realize that people know only what their news sources tell them. When a story is not reported, they cannot ponder its meaning, consider its implications, and form conclusions about the issues involved. Nor can they reconsider and modify their earlier conclusions, including ones shaped by the media’s previous withholding of information.

Depriving the public of important information is not the only way the mainstream media influence people’s thinking. A way that is even more common and difficult to detect is by reporting selectively, so that viewers receive only the information that will lead them to the conclusions the media want them to have.

Here is a recent example of selective reporting. Ted Koppel interviewed Sean Hannity on the March 26th CBS show Sunday Morning. The interview lasted for 45 minutes, but CBS showed their viewers only 70 seconds, nearly half of which was devoted to Koppel’s assertion that Hannity attracts people for whom “ideology is more important than facts.” Since Hannity’s response to that serious charge was not included in the broadcast, many in the CBS audience likely concluded that he had offered no response.

In reality, Hannity did respond and presented a good deal of supporting evidence. He also repeated his response the next night on his own TV show, which as CBS executives surely knew, most of their viewers would not see.

Traditionally, journalists separated reporting the news from offering opinions about it, the latter being confined to an “editorial” section. Today they let their opinions define what is news and what is not, and report accordingly. Reportage has thus become a tool for the self-aggrandizement of reporters and a vehicle for proselytizing the public. This change in the nature of journalism has been underway for decades.

The modern practice of journalism is akin to brainwashing. And it hasn’t just shaped public opinion in a devious way. It has also created a climate of suspicion and distrust that undermines civility and social cohesion. To be sure, extremists outside the media have contributed to this climate, but that does not lessen journalists’ responsibility. After all, it is they who determine the viewpoints that dominate the airwaves and shape the culture.

It is therefore no exaggeration to say that the mainstream media are largely responsible for the inability of many people to engage in meaningful discussion of important issues with friends and family, as well as for the paralysis that has afflicted governmental discourse.

I am not suggesting that media people have consciously rejected the traditional standards of journalism and purposely contrived to brainwash people and corrupt the culture. Most are probably not even aware that they have done anything remotely objectionable. Many may even believe they are behaving admirably. I am suggesting, instead, that they have fallen victim to a fallacious pattern of thinking:

First, they have decided that certain political perspectives and positions are completely true and others are completely false. Not so coincidentally, they place their personal views in the first category. (In fact, many of their views were probably stuffed in their minds by liberal professors rather than carefully reasoned, yet they regard them as their own and refuse to question them lest their self-esteem be diminished.)

The overarching view is, Liberalism is true and Conservatism is false. Other views include: Man-made climate change is incontrovertible. A woman has the unqualified right to abort her fetus; an unwanted fetus is merely a blob of tissue. Homosexual marriage is a natural right. It is morally wrong to distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. Big government is more moral than small. Religious ideas and principles have no place in public discourse.

Next, they have concluded that those who hold true views (ones that they share) either are superior thinkers, or value truth more than their inferiors, or both. This has led them to expect that when superior thinkers inform inferiors of the truth, inferiors should respond by embracing it. Refusing to do so, but instead insisting on remaining in error, is regarded as proof that they lack integrity and likely approach discussion—or, in the case of elected officials, approach their responsibilities—with dishonorable intentions.

In the course of their work, media people have seen others through this intellectual lens and classified them accordingly: Those who question man-made climate change, see the fetus as a person, disapprove of homosexual marriage, distinguish legal from illegal immigration, argue for smaller government, and/or regard religious principles as useful in secular matters are not to be taken seriously. They are either hopelessly ignorant or malicious. Either way, they are obstacles to social and intellectual progress.

Such classifications have made it seem perfectly reasonable—indeed, intellectually necessary—for media people to dismiss, out of hand, all conservative positions and the evidence offered in support of them. (This irresponsible behavior has also inclined them to the equally dangerous tendency to suspend their curiosity and skepticism about liberal positions.)

Contempt for conservatives has led media people beyond dismissing their positions to tolerating stereotypes of them advanced by liberals and, eventually, to advancing those stereotypes themselves. It has become standard practice in the last few election campaigns for some media people to join liberals in demonizing conservatives. For example, calling them callous, stupid, evil, buffoons; accusing them of racism, homophobia, starving the poor, ending Social Security, favoring the rich, and pushing grandmothers off cliffs.

And now, after the same media have sown and watered the seeds of social discord for decades, they have the gall to lament the decline of civility and the absence of a spirit of compromise among elected officials . . . and then blame Donald Trump for all of it. Their self-delusion and hypocrisy are breathtaking.

Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved


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About the author

Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

1 Comment

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  • I would like to see President Trump make media literacy a hallmark initiative of his first term. He was correct to call out the media for its blatant biases, but limited “fake news” accusations will make him appear self-serving and whiny in the long term. The American public needs more substantive, reasoned insight into media tactics, such as your article.

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