Why the rise of emotional political news coverage is dangerous
Mainstream news has seemingly become a network of endless emotional outrage. News channels emphasize stories that result in strong ratings, and these stories are chosen to provoke emotional responses to help the news media business. Many individuals often forget that news media and journalism, while pillars of a democratic society, are also businesses with potential for exploitation. Businesses seek to maximize their profits. News media has forgone their traditional role to provide facts, thus allowing viewers to use their discretion towards topics, and now provides endless opinions regarding select news stories.
This has been problematic as opinions are wide-ranging and many individuals will seek the comfort of those who are like-minded. Opinion-based news has emphasized stories that seek to garner emotional responses.
Last weekend, NFL players mass protested President Trump’s remarks concerning players who kneel during the National Anthem. Surprisingly, President Trump’s remarks unified NFL players, while simultaneously uniting many NFL fans against these protests. Many New England Patriots fans booed their team after the players kneeled during the National Anthem. Prior to this game, no Patriots player had protested during the National Anthem, but the President’s comments provided a rare unifying moment for the players. Sports news media provided a nearly completely unified response in support of athletes who kneel in order to bring awareness to social issues. This past weekend in response to NFL boycotts and concern about lost viewership, NFL players stood by one another in support of their right to free speech, but far fewer NFL players knelt during the National Anthem. Also important was Oakland Raiders running back, Marshawn Lynch, wearing a shirt saying “Everybody vs. Trump.” Once again, the news media stood in unison in support of these more limited protests.
However, there is seemingly a disconnect between sports media and NFL fans. According to CNN, “Reuters conducted a survey in the wake of Colin Kaerpernick’s ‘taking a knee’ for the national anthem and found that, although a majority said he had a constitutionally protected right to protest, 72% of Americans thought his display was unpatriotic.” Media analysis presents the viewer with the notion that kneeling is a popular form of protest, without proving their assertions. Why is this so? Media understands that emotional content drives viewership. By presenting topics that are highly divisive and political in nature, sports media provides its viewers with select topics, which will provide extensive discussion.
These divisive issues provide the sports networks with hours of potential coverage, in order to allow various “experts” and “analysts” to provide their insight on the situation at hand. ESPN has spent almost an entire year discussing Colin Kaerpernick’s kneeling during the National Anthem, with shows such as First Take mentioning it almost every single day, even though “Marshawn Lynch hasn’t stood for the national anthem for the last 11 years.” Shows such as First Take are dedicated to individuals providing their opinions about emotional topics. It is important to understand that this phenomenon translates almost identically to general news media.
President Trump and many Republicans have referred to some news as “Fake News.” This term is misleading as most news presented by credible outlets is true but somewhat partisan. “Fake News” can include news headlines that are essentially clickbait, something designed to make readers want to click on a hyperlink especially when the link leads to content of dubious value or interest.
One such example is when “CNN posted an article claiming that under the GOP’s American Health Care Act “rape and domestic violence could be pre-existing conditions.” The Washington Post two days later performed a basic fact check confirming despite critical claims, the GOP health bill doesn’t classify rape or sexual assault as a pre-existing condition. Clickbait is not only exaggerating information, but in this case, it presented a blatant lie. It is particularly important because this example of clickbait intends to garner an emotional response. Emotional politics is particularly damaging as Susan Heitler of Psychology Today says, “Extreme emotions tend to block out ability to update new information. They also block ability to share an alternative perspective in a way that the other person will take it seriously.”
Emotional politics allows individuals to form isolationist bubbles, where they seek shelter from individuals with varying viewpoints. This concept can also be referred to as groupthink. The New York Times published an article presenting current political partisanship data. “Today, according to Pew, 91 percent of Republicans view the Democratic Party unfavorably, with 58 percent holding “very unfavorable” attitudes toward it. Among Democrats, 86 percent view the Republican Party unfavorably, while 55 percent hold it in a very unfavorable light. Partisans also tend to have dim views of individuals. A large majority of Democrats find their political opponents especially rigid, with 70 percent saying Republicans are more close-minded than other Americans. Democrats said Republicans stood out in other ways, too: 42 percent found them more dishonest than other Americans; 35 percent said members of the other party were more immoral than the rest of the nation. While a smaller share of Republicans found Democrats especially rigid, larger proportions — between 45 percent and 47 percent for each category — said Democrats stood out for their immorality, laziness or dishonesty.”
Not only do large components of both major political parties have extremely negative views of their opponents, but an equally large group of individuals from both political parties viewed the individuals within the opposing party as unpleasant compared to the rest of the population. This partisanship continues to be fueled by the clickbait nature of our news media.
The growing importance of social media and its use to disseminate information has played a major role in creating a clickbait-oriented news media. Pew Research polls indicate that two-thirds of Americans “get at least some of their news on social media – with two-in-ten doing so often.” A whopping 78 percent of Americans ages 18-49 get their news from social media, while 55 percent of those ages 50+ do the same. “About one quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) get news from two or more of these sites, up from 18% in 2016.” This growth of social media’s role in the dissemination of news is further indicative by President Trump’s constant use of his personal Twitter account. Twitter has benefited tremendously by the President’s use of his Twitter account. Twitter has stood by its decision to not delete any of President Trump’s tweets regardless of their content, claiming that his tweets are newsworthy and of public interest. President Trump’s staffers have consistently acknowledged that he utilizes his Twitter account as a tool to communicate with ordinary Americans, since he believes much of the news media is dishonest. The general premise of our current political situation is the rise of social media and its success in integrating the news media into its platform.
News media plays a critical role in the structure of a democratic society. News allows individuals to stay informed of pressing matters, and to decide how these issues will affect them. The introduction of social media has forced news media to conform to a changing technological landscape, which utilizes personalized algorithms to disseminate information. News media has capitulated to the changing society, and abandoned its role of providing simple facts. Americans are now presented with an endless number of speculations, and can no longer rely on the mere presentation of facts. It is necessary for the American public to understand the change within news media, and to no longer succumb to the deceiving outrage of emotional news.
Mitchell Nemeth is pursuing his Masters of Law at the University of Georgia. He has been featured in the Red & Black and The Arch Conservative. His Twitter handle is @mnemeth88.