Our Comey Echo Chambers

By Nora Shepard

We’re all living in the same reality, right?

Just making sure, because lately it feels like we are increasingly separated. It seems like objective events are leading people to wildly different conclusions. It seems like we’re all living in our own, increasingly isolated echo chamber; we’re reading news that confirms our existing biases without even realizing it (or maybe we do and just don’t care). We follow people on social media who agree with our views. We like, share, and comment on think pieces that are aligned with our perspectives. Then those same people and publications put more time and more money into more of the same, perspective-paralyzing, thoughtless garbage — — because that’s what earns high click-through rates.

The Comey testimony coverage is a shining example of these echo chambers. The hearing was overall fairly critical of Trump, though you wouldn’t know it from reading only conservative outlets. On the flip side, Comey didn’t exactly provide a smoking gun, either (a fact obfuscated by more liberal outlets).

The Washington Post published an article yesterday during the hearing that tracked tweets by MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News. What these three politically different publications chose to headline reveals something naively toxic about our current news climate.

In general, MSNBC (liberal) only ran headlines that negatively portrayed Donald Trump. Fox News (Conservative), on the other hand, took quotes out of context and ran them as misleading headlines. Both publications used loaded language to evoke an emotional response from the reader, tapping into their audience’s preconceived notions of Trump and Capitol Hill.

This sounds like an issue of bias — but bias isn’t exactly the problem. We all have bias. The problem is the practice of hiding bias behind the modern notion of “objective journalism.” This practice isn’t limited to the obvious networks like MSNBC and Fox News.

Breitbart, a conservative publication (extreme right bias), printed the above headline and went on to emphasize that Comey’s written testimony that Trump was not under investigation proves that Trump was “right”. While the fact is true, it’s not the whole story and the headline is intentionally incendiary and misleading. Another article they published outlined the winners and losers from the testimony. The losers included mainstream media, liberals, and (of course) Obama. There was only one winner — Donald Trump.

Dailykos, on the other hand, is a liberal outlet (extreme left bias). The headline above is from an article that laid out this quote along with many others. They were all negative quotes about Trump or his administration. And while they did not offer blatant commentary on the quotes, they used inflammatory adjectives to describe them, intended to rile up their primarily liberal audience. Perhaps more importantly, nothing was mentioned of Comey’s comments about Clinton meeting with Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Conservative outlets painted yesterday’s testimony as a celebratory event, whereas liberal media viewed it as confirming their darkest suspicions. But neither is entirely accurate. As with everything else, there are shades of gray in the “Comey versus Trump” saga. The testimony was certainly bad for Trump, but Comey did confirm some of the most hotly contested claims Trump has made in the past few weeks. Conservative outlets clutched onto the latter; liberal ones grasped the former. Both, together, tell a complete story.

We’re becoming increasingly separated as a society, but we only have ourselves to blame. These outlets continue to publish inflammatory half-truths because we read them and don’t ask for more. We read them because we like to pat ourselves on the back and be right. But frankly, echo chambers aren’t helping anybody and are actually hurting our collective progress. If news outlets continue this trend, we will all be in the same world, but we won’t be living in the same reality at all.

Nora Shepard is the content manager at NewFounders, a coalition of leaders using innovation to reconnect people with politics.