March 22, 2020

Cable News Propaganda is Toxic to Democracy

television broadcast antenna

Our cable news media love to talk about how deeply divided the U.S. has become. They present us with an endless parade of pundits who decry the negative consequences of this division, speculate about its causes, and offer dire warnings about what will happen to our country if it continues. And yet, the various cable news personalities (i.e., anchors, pundits, guests) rarely acknowledge their role in creating and maintaining these divisions. I, for one, find myself feeling increasingly frustrated with this state of affairs.

Some of us can still remember when most of the news we saw on television at least tried to present facts and appear free of bias. That was before news was largely replaced by opinion journalism. And while Fox News probably started this worrisome trend, followed soon after by MSNBC, I have found myself most disappointed by what I have seen happen at CNN. I think that is because they were once a respectable news outlet and still can be at times. But it now seems like whenever I turn it on, I see one "news show" after another. Each is anchored by someone different, but each repeats the same information over-and-over again in such a slanted way that it is impossible to ignore that we are hearing what someone wants us to think is important and we are being encouraged to form the opinions about it someone wants us to form. This no longer feels like news; it feels like propaganda.

What CNN is doing, and they are hardly alone in this, is trying to shape public opinion. Instead of presenting their audience with facts and encouraging us to interpret them as we will, they are telling us over-and-over again what to think and how to feel about what they are reporting. How do they do this? The anchor reports news intertwined with what he or she (or more likely his or her bosses) thinks about it. Countless pundits are then brought on to reinforce the messaging and make it look like the views being promoted are more common and/or more reasonable than they may be. The cumulative effect is that one learns what one is supposed to learn and gradually comes to feel what one is supposed to feel, usually without realizing what is happening. This is insidious propaganda, and it stopped being about informing the public a long time ago.

Who cares? We all should care because this sort of thing is not how democracy is supposed to work. People in a democracy are not supposed to tolerate either their government or their corporate overlords using propaganda against them. We should care because our news media is deepening our divisions. We should care because who wins presidential elections is supposed to be determined by the voters and not by our news media. We should care because we need factual unbiased information about the world in which we live and not appeals to emotion or attempts to create or amplify conflict. There is no question that media, including both news and entertainment media, can be used positively for the betterment of society. Unfortunately, it can also be used to enslave and destroy. Perhaps this is what we should be more focused on resisting.