How Mainstream Media Destroy Truth and Democracy through Both Sides Reporting

Julie Hotard
Aug 26, 2019 · 7 min read

The role of a free press in democracy ought to be to report the truth so voters can make informed choices. In both government and the economy, we need transparency. It’s how we see when the system isn’t working and correct it.

Part of the reason why media don’t often bring transparency is that major media are themselves large corporations with a strong status quo bias.

That bias may be part of the story of the 2016 election. It seemed as though media were trying to influence the election to make it close, so government gridlock and the status quo could prevail.

Media may have thought they were covering the bungling Trump campaign favorably enough that Hillary — whom the polls said had said would win, until Comey’s letter — would end up winning by only a small amount, rather than by a landslide. That could have left Congress in gridlock. Media often pursue a misguided idea of “balance” between Republican and Democratic party views and successes.

In spite of this, the public is fortunate to have a small number of skilled investigative journalists who do bring transparency to government and corporations. We need more of these.

Mainstream media have had their institutional culture hijacked by the Right Wing, who are using media’s ingrained habits for the Right Wing propagandists’ own purposes.

How Mainstream Media Strategies Enable Political Propaganda

Many news consumers believe that CNN and other mainstream media are either nonpartisan or else Left Wing biased. This isn’t so.

Right Wingers constantly claim major media and social media are Left Wing biased. Right Wingers repeat this statement — even in mainstream media — until many people accept it as truth. Those on the Left may not even realize, and seldom point out, that major media are Right Wing biased — much less repeat this fact over and over as a major talking point. So most people don’t know it.

Many media news stories and TV panels are drawn from partisan Republican sources, which are often riddled with lies. An artificial “both sides” balance between Left and Right would dictate that about 50% of media stories would come from Right Wing sources. But the numbers are often much higher than that.

Here are some news situations that are easily hidden when lies are widespread, as they are now. The con artist party in Congress constantly blocks the other party from making popular policies into law. The con artist party makes unreasonable demands and then shuts down the government if the other party doesn’t give in. The liars give tax cuts to the super wealthy and then propose to balance the budget by slashing the social safety net.

Liars also deregulate big corporations so they can pollute, commit fraud and otherwise harm the public. Not only do the corporate campaign donors face no accountability, but the con artists grant them millions of dollars of government subsidies, while they ignore the needs of the public.

So what is the result, after decades of this? Has the power of the con artist party been erased in huge landslide elections?

No. Instead, the result is that Congress OVERALL has a 20% approval rating.

How do Republicans get away with all this, and still get elected? Here’s how. Media blame all the harmful things Republicans do on “Congress” or “government.” Republican talking points say the financial crisis of 2008 was the fault of “big government regulations.” Media’s typical story in crises or problematic government situations is that “Congress” can’t get along, compromise, come to an agreement or do its job.

Mainstream media blame “both sides” for dysfunction in government that is overwhelmingly caused by Republicans. Voters believe this “news” and vote accordingly. Since voters believe both parties are equally at fault, many vote for the party that at least recognizes the apparent truth that government is “evil” — the party that promises to “drain the swamp.”

Republicans constantly bash the government. Even GOP incumbents often campaign on anti-government platforms.

Republican talking points have persuaded many voters to think of Democrats as part of “evil” government and Republicans as anti-government, and thus “anti-evil.” Evil is a powerful and emotionally charged concept in a nation like the U.S., in which fundamentalist Christians have such a large amount of cultural and political power. Some Christian religious organizations have increased their political power by merging their organizations with the party of con artists.

Voters remember what media repeat most — which turns out to be the Republican talking points, which become “conventional wisdom.” Voters elect people who “know” this “accepted wisdom” that seems totally true because it’s been repeated so often.

Part of the responsibility for the success of Right Wing propaganda lies belongs to Democratic politicians and pundits. They should have made talking points out of issues like the tax cut for the wealthy and Trump’s subsequent proposal to slash Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They should have repeated these points every time they appeared on TV or wrote a newspaper column.

It’s not too late. Democrats still can use this kind of strategy now and in the future.

Still, mainstream media share the blame for their own Right Wing bias. Media let this situation sail right on by, giving it little attention. Media fill up their pages and broadcasts with Trump’s insulting tweets, plus whatever Left wingers and Right Wingers are focusing on. They use an entertainment approach to news, plus the “both sides” approach.

The entertainment approach to news, where every insulting or silly tweet from Trump is focused on, is a disservice to a democratic society. It deprives the public of vital information.

The Both Sides (BS) approach is used by media for the purpose of trying to be neutral, rather than biased. But the Both Sides approach only works if both sides really ARE equally credible. Otherwise, media give a large advantage to con artists, by treating their lies as equally credible with truth.

For Democrats, media’s Both Sides approach is like being framed for a crime you didn’t commit. Not only does the Democrat suffer for the Right Wing liars’ crimes, but the Right Wing politician doesn’t suffer at all.

Democrats and the public ought to demand media stop its “Both Sides” approach. Also, Democrats need to become less compromising themselves, and less mistakenly empathetic toward con artists.

Empathy is great toward most people. But when Democrats try to be empathetic to con artists, they end up being enablers.

More Democrats must become more willing to make a forceful case in favor of their own policies, rather than constantly compromising and bending over Rightward to see the Right Winger’s point of view. By making this mistake, Democrats have ended up experiencing unrequited empathy — and allowing Right Wingers to control government — because they have been voted in by the people with whom liberals were giving so much empathy. Feeling empathy for our opponents needs to take a back seat to getting out the vote for our own party.

Republicans have managed to have their cake and eat it too. They destroy government and make it dysfunctional, pleasing their corporate donors who want the public to be helpless against harm done by corporations. Then Republicans campaign as being against government because it is so dysfunctional, acting as if they are not part of it.

Right Wingers successfully shift the blame for their actions to the Democrats, with the active support of media. Voters get deceived constantly, resulting in strong support for the candidates of the party that claims to be blameless for government’s mistakes and failures.

If a group had a goal of devising a mainstream media system that would make it super easy for con artists to destroy democracy, they couldn’t have devised a more effective democracy destroying system of mainstream media than the one we now have.

When media give equal credibility to lies and truth, they are enabling liars, con artists and criminals. They are choosing the role of the apath — the person or group who is in denial of abuse, con artistry and criminal behavior.

Democrats and the public ought to demand media stop its “Both Sides” approach, because it results in bias toward liars. The entertainment approach needs to be stopped too. It doesn’t inform. It distracts.

Even if the public has to demonstrate with signs in front of major media offices, saying what we want media to stop and what we want them to focus on instead, we need to make this shift of media focus happen.

Also, more Democrats need to become less compromising, less mistakenly empathetic and thus enabling toward con artists, and more willing to make a forceful case for their own vision. Some are doing so. We need more of this.

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