If you’ve been keeping up with the Kyle Rittenhouse case in the last few weeks, the chances are you hold one of two different opinions. You either believe that he is a criminal who should be held accountable on all charges against him, in which case you would be right in the eyes of CNN, MSNBC and the New York Times. Or, you believe Rittenhouse is a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and was acting in self-defense, then Fox News, the Daily Wire and New York Post might be your go-to news source. The problem with a story like the Rittenhouse case, and so many others, being taken in by different news outlets is the different narratives they form, and the divide it creates between audiences.
In 2018, Pew Research Center reported that 20% of adults in the United States said they got their news most often from news websites (33%) and tv (49%). This was more than social media (20%) and the radio (26%). With such an emphasis on news sites and television, you’d think that the information being produced between both platforms would mirror each other, and that different outlets would run out of ways to share the same stories.
In a perfect world, this would be true. News outlets would produce the facts of both sides, and a reader would get a well-rounded understanding of what was happening, with enough information to think critically about it. Unfortunately, that is not how the standard news cycle works, and we are instead left to either settle for one narrative over another, or take the extra time to do our own research.
The type of biased reporting that we see today creates problems when it comes to having discussions on issues, including on topics like COVID-19, immigration surges, or the Black Lives Matter movement — all of which have been polarized in the last two years with the help of mainstream media. Different story angles and cherry-picked information often creates narratives that mirror preset beliefs of audiences, and in turn creates echo chambers on both sides. Hard as it can be, paying attention to media outlets that we disagree with can be a key factor in having constructive discussions again.
A study by InScape in 2018 showed that of CNN’s 9.7 million viewers, only about 35% of them would watch both Fox News and MSNBC. Of Fox’s 1.6 billion viewers that same year, 37% at least briefly tuned in to CNN, but only 23% also checked out MSNBC. Some of the biggest news stories that year involved two government shutdowns, the royal wedding, the Parkland school shooting, and Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation. Think back to all the different news you consumed about these topics during this time. Depending on which news outlets you tuned into, certain coverage of the Kavanaugh hearing would focus on attempts of slander and defamation to slow the nomination process, while other reports would focus on accusations against Kavanaugh and the #MeToo movement simultaneously taking place throughout the country.
What could be easily missed between both types of coverage was basic facts surrounding the hearing, and the overall impact that a confirmation or denial would have. Additionally, conversations about Kavanaugh at the time were heated because of the different perceptions of the nominee. This prevented a constructive exchange of information, and a lack of understanding between people watching on both sides. By only sticking to news sources that reaffirm what we want to hear, and that play into our current beliefs, we hinder the ability to understand where someone else is coming from. We also prevent room for conversation on different topics because we aren’t willing to open our minds to different perspectives.
Because our news cycles are set up to cater to certain audiences, it’s up to us to branch out of these echo chambers and look for information from different sides. Even if you don’t agree with what’s being said, exposing yourself to these ideas can create better discussions and make you a better consumer of news, which is what we need in a polarized society.