I had the bad fortune this weekend of being stuck in a car for two hours with Fox News. Fox News purports to be a “fair and balanced” source of information. But for two hours, all I heard was why everything President Obama does is wrong – or even evil. I marveled at the conviction with which commentators excoriated the president on issues such as Obamacare, the IRS, and the economy. Fox also featured a scathing criticism of Hilary Rodham Clinton, a presumptive Democratic presidential candidate.
As I listened, it occurred to me that had the car radio been tuned in to Chicago’s Progressive Talk Radio, I would have been happy as a clam while the liberal pundits wagged their fingers at Tea Partiers and John Boehner. While I might have been happier with the content, I would have been no closer to the objective truth about national affairs.
When I was studying journalism in college, we were taught that objectivity was the ideal. A reporter or news anchor should give no hint of his or her own political leanings. Unfortunately, it is hard to find unbiased media outlets in this politically polarized environment. I find this frustrating and potentially dangerous.
I once read that people with a particular world view tend to seek information that confirms their opinions while discounting or even ignoring material that contradicts it. Furthermore, when a group of liberals (or conservatives) gets together, they tend to become more extreme in their positions.
If this is the case, there is not much hope for progress in the political realm. I think print, online and television news outlets could take a lesson from University of Chicago economist, Matthew Gentzkow, who recently won the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association. Said Gentzkow in a New York Times interview, “People here [at U of C] have a low tolerance for shallow, simplistic liberal ideas and shallow, simplistic conservative ideas.” (Chicago Tribune, “What do you want, a medal?”, April 21, 2014)
Maybe the University of Chicago should publish a national newspaper. I would read it.