President Barack Obama has pointed to partisan media as a leading culprit for the current divisions in American politics and discussion.
During a lengthy interview with NPR on July 1, the president reflected on how the country has changed during his two terms in office. Obama observed that the national mood had become more cynical over the past decade.
“I think that there has been a steady growth in people’s cynicism about institutions generally, and government in particular,” Obama said. “And some of it is justified because we have got a Congress that’s been dysfunctional now for quite some time and can’t seem to organize itself to solve problems.”
Obama added that caveat that some of the pessimism did not stem from government inaction but a divide between progressives and conservatives, which he attributed to the partisanship that has infected media over the past two decades.
“If you look at American history, there have been times where we’ve taken some tough turns ... the democratic process muddled through and we emerged better and stronger than ever before,” Obama continued.
“But I do think that part of what has changed -- during the course of my presidency, I’ve seen it -- is the splintering of media,” Obama said.
The president noted that news audiences on both sides of the political aisle have gravitated towards sources that already confirm their biases.
He said, “The power of social media and the internet has turbocharged what previously might have been marginal views or marginal groups, has made it harder to generate consensus because people aren’t looking a the same set of facts.”
Obama views these insular bubbles as a big problem for Americans to have an open discussion and exchange of ideas.
“If you are watching Fox News, you have a different set of facts than if you’re reading The New York Times editorial page,” Obama warned. “And that, I think, has led -- or increased the polarization, and that makes it harder for people to sort through who is telling the truth and how much we actually get stuff done.”
A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that there was a clear divide in where liberals and conservatives get their news.
While 50 percent of consistent liberals received their information from CNN, MSNBC, NPR and the The New York Times, 47 percent of consistent conservatives received their information from just Fox News.
These trends in news consumption have extended into American social media habits. The study found that consistent conservatives were 15 percent more likely to see posts on Facebook that only aligned with their views. Meanwhile, consistent liberals were 13 percent more likely to actually block Facebook friends for posting political opinions that they disagreed with.
In the spring, executive director Marty Baron of The Washington Post warned about the current partisan divide in media during a commencement speech to the graduating class of Temple University’s School of Media and Communication.
“Today we are not so much communicating as miscommunicating,” Baron said, according to the Wisconsin Gazette. “Or failing to communicate. Or choosing to communicate only with those who think as we do ... Too often we look only for affirmation of our own ideas rather than opening ourselves to the ideas of others.”