News Media loses the election

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In the days leading up to November 6, the re-election of President Obama appeared to be anything but certain. Every major news network called the race a “toss-up,” or “too close to call.” National polls showed differences of as little as 0.2% between the two candidates. But come Election Day, the country was shocked to see Obama win not by a small margin, but decisively. In fact, President Obama won every single battleground state with the exception of North Carolina. How could such a thing happen without any indication or warning? Despite what an overly-eager commentator might say, it was not a sudden upset and should not have been unexpected. Our lack of information regarding the state of the race was a symptom of a larger problem. Blame for the disconnect between reality and our perception of reality should go to the media.

The most obvious offenders are the blatantly biased networks such as Fox News, which pander only to people who already have set beliefs. However, Fox never had much credibility to begin with. Because Fox is well known for giving a distinctly conservative slant to its reporting, it is not often taken seriously. Nobody besides staunch Republicans seriously believed its claim that Romney would win with over 300 electoral votes. Therefore, it is unable to have a very great effect on the general populace.

The more subtle and pervasive danger is the current state of the mainstream media. The news is a business, and each network exists primarily to provide dramatic and superficial entertainment. A cynic would say that the media intentionally built up interest in the race by characterizing it as impossibly close–even though all polls and statistics were in Obama’s favor, however slightly.  But it seems more the case that the media has become trapped by its commitment to being unbiased. In today’s intensely polarized political landscape, this means more than presenting the truth in a plain, impartial way. Rather, the media presents both sides of any dispute as equal, regardless of facts. Though a consequence of this was an inability to express anything resembling Election Day’s outcome, the problem goes much deeper.

If a politician lies or changes his position, the media cannot make note of it without being accused of bias. This makes it unable to criticize or evaluate the policies of either side. The media is also unable to provide essential services such as fact-checking, keeping us from holding politicians accountable for their statements. That is what made an election cycle such as this one possible, with each candidate telling a wildly different narrative supported by wildly different facts. For the first time, the facts themselves are up for grabs. Everybody has his own version. While it is one thing to disagree on what should be done and why, the truth should always be indisputable. The neutering of the media is bad for voters and bad for our democracy. Somebody trying to make an educated decision regarding politics is faced with picking which version of reality he believes. Because of this the individual is deprived of meaningful political debate, but more than that, the individual is deprived of the truth.