The Media’s Role In Driving Partisanship

The majority of the rising partisanship in America is a result of the perverse incentives generated by a policial system ill-equipped to deal with the present circumstances. (Or something like that.) However, the media is all too glad to go along for the ride and encourage more partisanship at the margins whenever it gets the chance.

Exhibit A: Today’s Washington Post article about the Wisconsin recall, which is currently titled “Wisconsin recall: Obama signals his support for Barrett with a tweet.” Here are the first five paragraphs. (Update: The article has since been updated.)

The Wisconsin recall election Tuesday marks only the third time in U.S. history that voters will go to the polls to decide whether to oust a sitting governor. It’s being viewed as the second-most important election this year.

And for the White House, President Obama’s involvement in the race has essentially boiled down to this: a single tweet.

“It’s Election Day in Wisconsin tomorrow, and I’m standing by Tom Barrett. He’d make an outstanding governor,” Obama said in a message via Twitter late Monday afternoon.

The election-eve tweet was the latest example of the White House keeping its distance from Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democrat vying to unseat Gov. Scott Walker (R) in what has become a national battle over collective-bargaining rights and GOP budget-cutting — as well as one of the most divisive political clashes in recent memory. Polls show Walker holding the edge in the race, the White House’s efforts to stay above the fray have not gone unnoticed by national Republicans.

“Bold tweet from the President who wouldn’t actually campaign with him or step foot in Wisconsin,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus responded to Obama via Twitter Monday night.

Notice the how implicit the “us vs. them” and zero-sum nature of politics is in the article. All Obama did was tweet? He’s not doing more to support his team against those who hope to destroy them? Granted, Walker is a conservative who opposes Obama’s agenda. But in a world where every Republican victory is “blow” to the White House, how can the two parties ever compromise?

And then there’s Priebus’ tweet. How often do you hear people in the media complaining about the lack of civility in public political discourse. Well, what do you expect when you’re willing to print meaningless snarky comments that would make any kindergarten teacher demand an apology from whoever said them?

The article wouldn’t be such a deadweight if the information it provided was important or used to make a compelling argument. Perhaps the authors believe Obama’s behavior is evidence Barrett’s chances or winning are significantly lower than the 5% most betting markets and experts are giving him. Perhaps they believe there are signs Obama is drifting away from organized labor or that Preibus and the RNC are are enacting a new Twitter-based strategy. But as far as I can tell, the authors don’t believe any of those things, and therefore the information they provide serves no purpose. They just leave it out there, framed in a way that reinforces the partisan divide.

Here’s more wasted ink:

That the recall could have an impact on Obama’s chances in November is not lost on members of either party — a fact underscored Monday by an Obama campaign Web video in which manager Jim Messina cited Wisconsin as a potential swing state.

Golly! Thanks Mr. Newsman. You took a weak, qualified statement from a meaningless source and used it as evidence that the event you’re being paid to make seem important is actually important. If a high school journalism student wrote that paragraph he would be flunked.

It may seem silly to make a big deal about one online article, but when you aggregate this kind of stuff across all events and all media outlets you end up with a ton of resources dedicated to something that’s not just low value, but actually detrimental to our society. If I was a private equity bigwig I’d be drooling about the opportunity to buy a newspaper, instantly cut all the costs associated with these kinds of stories, and then immediately sell my new newspaper that now produces the same value at a lower cost.

One Response to The Media’s Role In Driving Partisanship

  1. Misaki says:

    More people get their news from TV than did 30 years ago ( Online news sites are forced to compete with shiny TV network graphics and comforting voice patterns of news presenters. And reality TV shows, etc. (see The Hunger Games)

    12. Which do you think is better for the country? Should the Democrats and Republicans compromise some of their positions in order to get things done, or stick to their positions even if it means not getting as much done?
    Compromise 85
    Stick to positions 12
    DK/NA 3

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