Is the Media Becoming Balkanized?

Today there seems to be a lot of talk of the ‘new media’ (blogs, boards like this one, Drudge, etc), and whether it is supplanting the ‘old media’. Some feel that it is, but it’s clearly not. Blogs are excellent for organizing a ‘collective mind’ that can do a great job of fact-checking material presented to it, but it’s lousy at sourcing. Blogs don’t have bureaus in foreign countries. Bloggers don’t have sources inside government. Blogs don’t have the resource to conduct safety tests or pay for serious research like polling. I think the relationship is more like the new media complementing the old and keeping it honest.

But I think there’s a more important trend, and that is that the media is becoming Balkanized. And that’s not necessarily a good thing. In the old days, we all got our source material from the same sources - the networks, the NY Times and Washington Post, and local news. So while we differed in interpretation. at least we were operating with the same base set of facts.

But look what’s happening now - the conservatives are fleeing ‘old media’ and moving into cable TV, radio, and the Internet. That pushes the networks further to the left. On the Internet this board is unique - a mix of conservatives and liberals still at least try to debate each other. But most other message boards are split along partisan lines. Free Republic to Democratic Underground.

It seems to me that this is going to drive us all apart even further. It’s getting increasingly difficult to find agreement even on basic matters of fact, giving us no common ground at all.

This seems dangerous to me, in terms of a healthy society. If we are becoming Balkanized, civil discourse is going to become increasingly shrill and partisan, election results constantly disputed, etc.


But we still have all those things, Sam. We still have our major newspapers and our local newspapers and the TV network news and so on. It’s just that now we also have more sources of information to choose from – partisan cable networks like Fox, websites, more political magazines, etc. – presenting a wider range of viewpoints, and each calling attention to some fields of information the mainstream media ignore. The more the better, I say.

We still have them, but their audience is splitting apart. That’s my point - some Republicans probably never watch anything but FOX news. I’m sure that some Liberals get all their news from lefty blogs and internet magazines, and Republicans do the same with right-wing blogs and internet magazines. I don’t think I’ve watched a network newscast in several years. I do read the NY Times online and the Washington Post online, and I don’t hang out on conservative websites at all. But many others do.

Tonight I was reading a thread about the CBS controversy on Daily KOS, and it was like an alternate universe. That’s what got me thinking of this in the first place. It became clear to me that we weren’t just arguing interpretation, but we didn’t even agree on what the basic facts are. Who’s right or wrong is irrelevant here - what caught my attention was that the people there seem to think that those who think they are a forgery are being either willfully ignorant or shrewdly, calculatingly partsian. Because to them, the facts are obvious. And of course, I feel the same way on the other side of the issue.

A better example may be the 2000 election. I think the left honestly remembers the issue completely different from the right. We no longer even agree on what happened.

If there’s confusion about “what really happened,” it’s only because of the conservative pundits and politicians muddling with the truth in their own attempt at rewriting history. Just look at the constant revisionist reasons for waging war with Iraq, or the whole Swift Bullshitters for Bush nonsense, or even Dick Cheney’s continued insistence of nonexistent ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

There’s the truth, and then there’s the right-wing noise machine.

The differences between white Democrats and the Republicans in the United States of America are interesting, and get reported, because differences always are. But this shouldn’t obscure the fact that the similarities between them are far greater.

If one restricts one’s questions to a limited set of issues - abortion, religion and capital punishment - then the differences will be magnified. But these are largely debating issues and not ones people live their life by.

Let’s not forget the role that the various talk shows play in this. Most of them seem to have no rules regarding fact checking. As long as they can pass themselves off as “editorial” or “entertainment” they feel they have free reign to say whatever they want, facts be damned. Of course, the only use the “entertainment” excuse when they get caught. Toss in a large group of “pundits” that appear on the network news shows and it becomes very hard to tell what a fact really is.

It seems to me that here in the USA, we have more people checking facts for our sports broadcasts then we do for our news broadcasts.

“Balkanized”…what a nice choice of words.

Given the history of brainless hatred in the Balkans, I do fear I must agree. :frowning:

Sam: We still have them, but their audience is splitting apart. […] I’m sure that some Liberals get all their news from lefty blogs and internet magazines, and Republicans do the same with right-wing blogs and internet magazines.

This could indeed be a serious problem. On the bright side, though, I think the plethora of new media sources also makes it easier to be exposed to the views of one’s ideological opponents.

Googling in search of support for GD posts, for example, has led me (a staunch liberal and liberal-media-consumer, for them here what don’t already know me) to some very interesting online articles from sources like Commentary and the American Spectator and Christianity Today that I’d probably never have encountered if I had to go to a library for them, and certainly never if I’d had to shell out money for them. Reading linked material in posts by conservatives is often similarly broadening, as I’m sure you also find when you haul out your ten-foot pole to link to the Nation or Union of Concerned Scientists websites from posts by someone like jshore or me. :slight_smile:

Of course, all that shows is that people who are honestly trying to be well-informed and open-minded, and are willing to engage in discussions with people of different ideological stripes, have more opportunity than ever before to encounter responsible opposing viewpoints. It doesn’t address the question of whether news consumers on average are now getting more biased pictures of the basic facts of the news.

I think you’re probably right that, yes, they probably are. (I think the misinformation problem is probably somewhat worse on the conservative side of the spectrum, but of course I’d think that, I’m a liberal. But there may be some hard evidence in favor of that opinion in the 2003 PIPA survey on comparative levels of fundamental misinformation among consumers of FOX News, PBS, and NPR.)

I think others have hammered the nail here; the problem is less media ‘balkanization’ than it is the increasing blurring of the line between straight reporting and editorial content, and more importantly, the apparently nearly complete lack of any standards of review and fact-checking for what gets reported via these so-called ‘new media’ outlets. Right now, most seem to be little more than rumor mills. Sorry, but in my limited experience it’s impossible to accept much of anything from these sources unless it has been fact-checked by an established news organization.

For me the level of what passes for journalism in this country is rapidly sinking to the miserable state of, say, the late 1800s.

There are any number of partisan noise machines, with a wide range of messages. For whatever reason, the right-wing one seems to be better-organized than most.

Kimstu said:

Well, this place is an exception, which is one of the reasons I hang out here. But I think the average hardcore conservative probably spends his time on FreeRepublic and the conservative blogs. And the average Liberal probably spends his time at DU and the lefty blogs. They’ve retreated into their own camps and hurl stones at each other over the fence.

It actually seems to me that the networks have moved a bit to the right, but only ever so slightly. They are afraid of “losing access” and so fear/fail to investigate what is said, and the Right Wing is the party in power of almost everything that counts. They are drawn that way. If it seems that they are moving left it may be because everything else you here, the majority of “new media” is so far to the right. If one listened to or read a lot of “alternative press” it would also make the mainstream press seem to skew right.

This is my main complaint with the current media. There is a lack of investigative journalism, just a push to stick entirely to the most verifiable facts. Then the news comes out like this:

There is no verification or pointing out of obvious falsehoods.

I don’t know if this is true.

I think the expansion, both of “new media” and of conservative media (AM radio and Fox), tend to challenge the conventional wisdom, when it formerly would be established almost by default. The CBS document fiasco is the most recent example, but I am also thinking of, say, JFK’s sex life and how it was overlooked as compared to Clinton’s.

Maybe I am an anomaly - I don’t listen to TV news much at all, and my major news source (apart from news sites on the Internet) is a moderately left-leaning newspaper. But I like my ability to contrast the news from one point of view against others.

Don’t know if I am typical or not, and I am sure there are people who only listen to one side or the other. But the option of looking further for a different perspective is available in a way that thirty years ago it would not have been. My city is a one-newspaper town. I read that, then I could listen to NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, or read another media outlet like the New York Times or the Washington Post. And if they had some kind of consensus on something, it would take a special effort to find a counter-acting viewpoint.

Which is fine, as long as there is consensus on what the important facts are. There no longer is.

I think the media is experiencing a change in attitude similar to the change in attitude towards the government largely encouraged by the media back in the 60s and 70s. The audience is much less trustful, whether rightly or wrongly I couldn’t say. But there have been enough examples of non-objective reporting, and a rise in the number of alternatives, that leads to a loss of market share for traditional outlets.

I don’t know that this is a bad thing. Let a thousand flowers bloom, let a thousand voices contend. The free market of ideas has a lot more vendors than it used to. Naturally the old monopoly holders are going to be upset.

Also true, but not necessarily only from one side. The Old West wasn’t like a John Wayne movie, clearly, but that doesn’t mean the JFK assassination was like the movie of the same name either.


Sam Stone, I agree with what you’ve said and I share your worries. When there is no more middle ground there can only be conflict.

In Orkut for example the way Bush supporters rely on a completely different media circus is incredible. They disregard anything not supportive of their position and consider most major media newcasters as “leftist rags”. Even the smarter ones “double check” info on their favorite internet sites… which many times are very dismissive of mainline media.

One things that scares me is how much false news run through smaller sites... there is this kid that keeps posting "news" about hidden nukes in Iraq... about suitcase nukes inside the USA... and only once did his mates doubt those news. PIPA polls show very well how many americans are totally disconnected from reality about WMD in Iraq. I don't know the liberal equivalent to these sites... but I bet there are plenty of consipiracy sites and fake infos about Bush.

 The worst though is the high profile Swift Veterans for "truth"...

Check out in Amazon the book reviews for Kit Kelly’s book on the Bush Family. The reviews are 1 star (conservatives) or 4 and 5 stars (“liberals”). More divided than that is impossible. “Unfit for Command” probably is the same way.

The Family reviews in Amazon

One review is quite funny:

How To Spot A Republican Shill Review 101:
(1) Look For The 1-Star Rating
(2) Discover The “Reviewer” has reviewed less than 5 books
(3) See that the review is made up of Fox News sound-bite type sentences
(4) Notice from the text that they haven’t bothered reading the book

As Rob Corddry put it, “It’s not my job to stand between the people talking to me and the people listening to me.”

“Objectivity” is now a simple, mechanical process: Find two sides to every issue, treat them as equally credible, and repeat each side’s current statements without comparison to any facts or previous statements.

That’s hardly surprising, since most of the media outlets are either dominated by right-wing demagogues or owned by pro-conservative corporate interests.

Every time someone complains about the “liberal media,” I wonder what planet they’re posting from.