The presidential election this year will be an important decision in the overall fate of our country. Voting takes research and effort as not all sources are reliable. It is important to find a primary source, or accept the potential bias of a secondary.
Learning all the facets of an issue can be a long and tedious process which is why many voters choose to take the easy way out; some even choose not to vote. Bias is everywhere in the news these days, everybody on TV seems to add their own subjective view when reporting on a controversial topic. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish real issues from the popular pick of the month crisis that is being discussed to pull viewers.
Voters can often become lazy; they simply listen to, and repeat, what they hear from the news, radio, and internet. It is hard to leave the comfort of one’s living room or even draw from a source other than the ever present and babbling TV. There are many different biases and views on particularly controversial topics across hundreds of cable TV channels. From TV to internet to radio every talking head thinks that they are right. Here is a freudian slip by a newscaster who corrects the teleprompter trying to attack Wikileaks as a “left-wing website”. [VIDEO]
The way that these biased news channels influence voters is not by telling them what is right, but by telling them what is wrong. There has been an explosion of negativity, accusations, and subjectivity in news casting. The difference between objectivity and subjectivity is that subjectivity is an expression of the commentator’s personal opinion on the topic rather than directly commenting on the object of interest. Objective journalism is simply a descriptive factual representation of the news as it is with no bias, opinions, or speculation.
Rebecca Chalif has a fantastic empirical study of the political bias and negativity being expressed by MSNBC and Fox News. Pie graphs show that 90% of the time the shows are providing negative coverage of their opponents rather than covering positive views and supporting their obviously biased leanings (Chalif). They get away with this by constantly shifting the attention and polarizing the political battlefield by accusing the other side of being unfair and biased when in reality they both are. This is a dangerous game to play with undecided voters because regardless of which channel they tune into they are getting the wrong information and the other side of the issue is being demonized. In Jason Brennan’s book The Ethics of Voting this issue is addressed as buying and selling votes. He says that it is not inherently wrong, but it can be counterproductive to Democracy (Brennan 14). This may be a factor leading into the explosion of political apathy and distaste for both sides that has been evident on the internet and channels like Comedy Central, although they do tend to have a liberal bias.
In addition to attacking the other side there is also a lot of fear mongering in the news. To TV marketing professionals, fear sells. Especially the latest update on Flu Outbreaks or the newest threat to national security. Debt riots seem to be a particular favorite recently. The only thing scarier than the impending doom of economic collapse in your own country is being able to watch it happen to some other nation halfway across the world. A good way to watch out for this type of fear mongering is to look for sensationalist imagery being used, such as pictures of women and children with masks on or in a war torn neighborhood (Moeller). They love to mention the terrorists and the disintegrating conditions of governments and dictatorships overseas.
The importance of an unbiased source of information for voters is simply something that cannot be stressed enough. There are many opinionated talking heads on news channels like Fox and MSNBC who talk with such confidence that they seem to be always right. A great source of election information is interviews with the actual candidates or video/transcripts of the debates. One of the many pitfalls voters have to avoid is simply being swayed by the explosion of internet memes and erroneous issues being brought up on the internet. Things like Big Bird’s defense of PBS in the face of Romney’s one line during the debate about defunding is all great for a laugh but is only part of the broader issue . There are other factors to consider such as a possible conflict with Iran and alternative and sustainable energy plans to reduce reliance on Middle Eastern oil and military involvement.
The fear of impending doom from certain news coverage can make people very susceptible to picking up and supporting ideas that they know nothing about because they heard someone they consider intelligent and educated spouting them. For instance the tea party, which is supposedly a grassroots movement is actually funded by the very billionaire Koch Industries corporations that they claim to be opposed to (Mayer). This type of undecided voter is dangerous because of the ease with which the biased news can manipulate them to vote one way or another.
Unfortunately, a large portion of these voters are the elderly who are more diligent in their duty to go vote, but tend to vote based on their medicare and social security benefits. “Polls show that a majority of elderly voters nationally oppose changes in Medicare or Social Security.” (Nagourney) Some voters will inevitably vote based on erroneous issues or biased and falsified accounts of communists infiltrating the government. But one can hope that their votes will be balanced by extremists on the opposite end of the political spectrum. The best way to inform yourself and stay updated on politics is to draw from a variety of sources and try to focus more objectively on the facts and economics.
Mayer, Jane. “Covert Operations.” The New Yorker. Condé Nast, n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.
Moeller, Susan. “Media Literacy 101: How to Detect Fear-Mongering — Pakistani Nukes & Swine Flu.”
Huffington Post. AOL, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.
Clark, Krissy. “Ignorant Voters.” Weekend America. American Public Media, n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2012.
Brennan, Jason. The ethics of voting. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Chalif, Rebecca. “Bias on MSNBC & Fox News An Empirical Analysis of the Content Found on Cable
News.” Electronic Media and Politics. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2012.
Nagourney, Adam. “Medicare Rises as Prime Election Issue.” New York Times. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov.
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