A People’s Media for a People’s Election
I was majorly excited when Cenk Ugyur announced that Bernie Sanders would be interviewed on the show, which just aired this evening. I think the interview brought up some great points, my personal candidate preference aside, and the most interesting of them has to do with the media.
This will be the first election in which those of us who grew up largely in the new millennium will be able to vote, and this election cycle has grown on me considerably. I’ve been, personally, an apathetic voter due to my running belief that the establishment and factionism rule American politics- case in point, Republican obstructionism for the past 8 years and the largely circulated “inevitabilities” of a Clinton Democratic bid/presidency. But the rhetoric has started to change, and as the race continues to surprise with the power of anti-establishment politics, my interest is piqued.
Following an election, though, is a lot more work on my part than I had expected. What people often don’t realize about following the election is that we very rarely, if at all, get to make our own decisions about candidates and their positions. Not because we don’t have access to the platforms from the candidates’ viewpoints (yes, even the Trump campaign has published its own standpoints on the official campaign website), but because the common voter in America is probably getting their fix, myself included, primarily through digital and televised media. And while that may seem like a good way to stay in the loop, it’s surprising just how much leniency the media is given and just how much that leniency tends to mark our ballots for us come election day.
We’re almost like hostages, the general public, in that we are almost bound to place our faith in media just because of its prevalence. Modern-day society is unavoidable to those of us who wish to survive the capitalist grinder, and if we want to play the game we’re almost immediately inundated by media bombardment and corporate influence. From concert halls to scholarships to football fields to the teams playing in them, big business is plastered all over like those price stickers on new notebooks that never seem to come off cleanly. The presence of media in dictating our lives is linked simply to the fact that it’s become a part of our routines, which are intertwined with the digital world. According to internet live stats, about 40% of Americans have an internet connection today, up from <1% in 1995, and 87% of Americans have television access for their news, according to the American Press Institute. With such a plurality, we can expect a news culture of increasing frequency, and the proof is in the pudding; 33% of Americans, according to that same report, check the news consistently throughout the day. That means Yahoo!, CNN, Huffington Post, and the like repeatedly all day. With the rise of social media, which has become ubiquitous with the smartphone revolution, the concept of “trending topics” allows the news to reach more people more frequently than ever before. It’s almost impossible to avoid, and avoidance, as the much-used phrase suggests, is equivalent to “living under a rock”. So when we’re almost required to check the media for our election quick fix, we look to the most “trusted” sources. And that’s a question to be answered based on partisan influence and basic prevalence. According to Pew Research, the most trusted sources of news include CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox News in descending order, with a corresponding percentage of people who have heard of the outlet (all percentages are above 90%). Essentially, if we’ve heard of it, we’re probably highly exposed to it, and therefore we trust it.
But do these outlets really deserve our trust, beyond the basic partisan lines that divide their bent of commentary? That question is a little harder to define with numbers. As Pew suggests in their own study, “well-trusted” may just equal, in their baseline poll, “well-known”. We may feel limited to trust the core media resources, the big players in the corporate game, because we just know them better than other outlets. And that doesn’t necessarily translate to accuracy of content provided. According to Politifact, about 60% of all the content delivered through Fox News, one of our top-5 most trusted news sources, is inaccurate. In fact, all the major sources have unsettling rates of inaccuracy or bias, so much so that we fail to find in that monster of a list any sources that are not classically considered “liberal” or “conservative”. And the media bias doesn’t stop there. Not only will you find partisan bias of our presidential candidates in big media reporting, but you will also discover the ugly truth behind the highly-controversial Citizens United ruling that legalized corporate campaign financing; like the video suggests, some of our big-player media corporations, like parent companies Time Warner and Comcast, have actually donated to specific campaigns and specific candidates within parties. Watching a CNN Democratic debate is different from watching the same debate knowing that CNN’s parent company has actually pledged copious amounts of money to the Clinton campaign. With media bias, there’s no telling how subtle tweaks can weasel their way into televised events; camera angles, speaking time, and even the phrasing of questions to candidates can reflect a secret bias or subtle show of loyalty to the network’s candidate of choice.
But just because big media is puppeteered by the establishment (or the very, very, very rich anti-establishment), we’re not subjected to their will. To exercise our own right to the facts, we need only click around. Independent news media is doing quite well indeed, and I dare you to fish around for any one big news story that doesn’t have an opposing opinion or complement (with acceptably reasonable accuracy) in a smaller outlet. Our choices are plenty, in fact, and all we need to do to break free of the media trance is to make use of the freedom which the internet provides. Facts are facts, regardless of who says them. If more news outlets like “The Young Turks” and unfunded, unpledged organizations continue to gain organic appeal, we’ll find ourselves in a veritable zoo of factual media. We just need to look a little closer, and take those big-player news stories with a tub or two of Morton’s iodized salt. It’s the people’s election, after all- why not find out what the people have to say? To close it out, I’ll also put it out there that nobody is “subject” to the media with social media sharing services. With a keyboard and the truth, anyone can become a purveyor of facts. Let’s just make sure our standard for accuracy and investigation is higher than 40%.