On the other hand, how far does a news network have to go to avoid pissing off powerful political forces, whether influencers like the Koch Brothers or politicians who sit on critical Congressional subcommittees? But how does an electorate become informed if the content it’s fed is influenced either by advertising dollars, the fear of falling ratings, or by a parent company beholden to the good graces of powerful forces in (or outside) of the government, and how can we as news consumers know if and to what extent our news is being filtered or influenced by these pressures on news organizations. They shouldn’t be at all. That’s what a free press is all about.
Our nation is at a crossroads. There are big issues facing us about the way to take our country forward into this new century. We are desperately in need of a national conversation on everything from jobs to health care to climate change to education, and a whole slew of social and science issues. And cable news is in a unique position to both inform and feed the debate.
But we can’t seem to break through the shouting; we’ve lost the ability to “agree to disagree” and discuss civilly without attacking, swift boating or name-calling. Part of this is due to this increasing tendency to transform news in into contact sport.
But there is another issue, perhaps more critical, fueled by the incessant shouting matches when cable news shows substitute partisan sycophants for hardball interview. Call in two talking heads and let them have at it—all stands equal, no matter if there truly is a right and a wrong without the anchor stepping in to question the arguments of either side.
There is this seeming necessity to give the illusion of balance to every single issue, as if facts don’t matter, and right and wrong were merely opposite sides in a debate. In an important exchange during this week’s The Newsroom between news director Charlie Skinner (the great Sam Waterston) and CEO Leona, Skinner asserts, “We don’t pretend the facts are in dispute to give the illusion of fairness. Balance is irrelevant to me. It has nothing to do with truth, logic or reality.”