Journalism and Politics: A Misinformative Romance

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In modern-day America, sound journalism is imperative. It should provide a crystal-clear image for the general populace about everything from despicable terrorist attacks to fluctuating stock prices. When politics enters the picture, journalism can be not just an informative platform, but an entertaining one as well. Politics has relied on journalism to burlesque campaigns and elevate politicians, something it has done quite effectively over the course of myriad American elections. In fact, politics and journalism are so intertwined that neither can advance and prosper without the other. While the prevalence of political stories employs journalists around the globe, the very nature of political journalism is to pedestalize civics and affairs of state. These fields have gone hand-in-hand since the inception of American journalism, and will continue to do so for as long as both fields exist. Aside from the symbiotic relationship these these two fields have had, they also differ in certain core beliefs: diversity versus egalitarianism, truthfulness versus sensationalism, nationalism versus globalization, and of course, censorship versus transparency.

No subject is more politicized than immigration, which propagates diversity in journalism and, subsequently, diverse arguments. The influx of immigrants from a swath of nations has melded together viewpoints that continue to influence reporting. Just as a news source as a whole can be biased,1 the individual journalist carries a certain degree of opinionation as well. However, the underrepresentation of minority journalists2 is also a pressing bone of contention. The Atlantic sheds light on this particular issue, stating that ethnic minorities comprised an estimated “21.4 percent of graduates with degrees in journalism or communications between 2004 and 2014,”3 however continued that “less than half of minority graduates found full-time jobs, while two-thirds of white graduates did.4 These industry-wide disparities are a clear indication that although the topic of immigration initiates widespread interest in journalism, white journalists are frequently favored by news outlets over their minority counterparts. Diversity in a field strengthens not only the influence of that field on a global scale, but also brings to the table a difference in viewpoints. This diversity of opinion is crucial in today’s day and age, which sees an intense rate of international travel, bringing along with it variety in sentiment. Diversification of the field of journalism brings more viewpoints to the table, allowing politicians to understand societal issues from varying angles. However, politicians frequently face a choice between supporting journalists who write favorably of their political campaigns, and admonishing journalists who challenge them. As a result, political journalism is essentially watered down, giving predominance to journalists that agree with the current state of affairs and don’t question authority, in due course eliminating both ethnic and ideological diversity in journalism.

With regard to politics specifically, it is incontrovertible that the work produced by each and every news source, irrespective of origin, contains a position, or institutional frame. A Pew Research Center study based on a representative online survey finds striking differences in news habits along the ideological spectrum. For instance, liberals often cited the New York Times, CNN, or NPR as being their primary sources of news and information, whereas conservatives cluster tightly around Fox News.5

The study also found that liberals were more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than specific political parties or news channels, effectively reducing, although not eliminating altogether, their exposure to biased media.6 Bias may be expressed either by a tinge of favoritism, unrecognizable to the naked eye, or by an overt partisan stance on controversial issues. Regardless, even organizations such as the Associated Press and Thomson Reuters, media outlets often regarded as relatively objective and impartial, do frame issues to a certain degree. The Associated Press, for instance, was criticized for its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, where “Israeli children’s deaths were reported at a rate 7.5 times greater than that of Palestinian children.7

This inherent bias, coupled with a news organization’s desire to reach more readers, at times transforms journalists into sensationalists. Concerning oneself with the potential reception of a particular news story instead of the truth behind it seems to be a commonplace wrongdoing in the months surrounding the ‘16 United States presidential election, but has existed ever since the dawn of mass media. “Fake news,” as it is termed, has been a significant matter of contention across the United States. According to Pennsylvania State University, the term “fake news” can be applied to “[s]ources that intentionally fabricate information, disseminate deceptive content, or grossly distort actual news reports.8 In fact, fake news is so pervasive nowadays that the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has released a summary on identifying manipulative content.9

Readers are captivated by politics, and thus the maintenance of a relationship with the political landscape is paramount in order for the journalism industry to thrive. However, journalists often overstep the line of truthfulness in an effort to increase readership, and this often proliferates fake news. Recent elections, including the German federal, French presidential, and United States presidential elections, have also seen candidates upholding interestingly nationalistic rhetoric, which has been interpreted by journalists in varying degrees of the reporting spectrum. Most notably, Marine Le Pen, president of the right-wing populist National Front and former candidate for France’s presidency, has championed full-on French nationalism.10 Infamous for contrasting globalization with patriotism, her beliefs seem to convey that those supporting open-border policies in the French Republic are seditionists, a notion that has struck a bitter note with several immigrants seeking asylum in France. She was also condemned for equating Muslim settlements in France with the Nazi occupation during World War I.11

US president Donald Trump has also been accused of inciting hatred on numerous occasions, and of objectifying women.12 Analogous to Marine Le Pen, Mr. Trump has advocated for American nationalism — expressing that citizens should “buy American and hire American”13 — as well as for a crackdown on illegal immigration and terrorism. He has deemed undocumented Mexican immigrants rapists and has discriminated against Muslims and women, in his recent travel bans and vulgar, misogynistic remarks.14

German chancellor Angela Merkel, although not as ardent of a nationalist as Le Pen or Trump, has partaken in her fare share of tacit discrimination, exemplified by her proposed ban on burqas,15 an action France has had on the books for five years now. Both journalists and politicians are historically homogenous contingents; the difference, however, lies in politicians’ utilization of historical occurrences to elevate their popularity, whereas journalists utilize them in order to point out potential flaws in demeanor or policy. In fact, it is this fine equipoise that has acted as somewhat of a ‘checks-and-balances’ system between politicians and the media. The German federal, French presidential, and United States presidential elections, however, have caused that equilibrium to fluctuate quite a bit. It is interesting to discern the several works of journalism condemning nationalist and conservative movements during the rise of their leaders, but merely an iota supporting them or qualifying them objectively. Journalism, especially political journalism, must operate under the auspices of nonpartisanship; the prevalence of this notion extends all the way to Thomson Reuters’ officially sanctioned ‘Handbook of Journalism’, which encourages all staff to “park their nationality and politics at the door.16 Throughout the aforementioned elections, journalism has seen a high point in terms of popularity, but a low point in terms of integrity.

The dialectic of censorship versus transparency has also proven to be a salient topic, especially in the West, where democracy is strongest. Journalists reporting in nations with oppressive regimes are, often by coercion rather than choice, forced to either sugarcoat their words or lie altogether. Censorship, which has impacted several music and film industries, as well as the sale of books and educational material, hasn’t spared the field of journalism. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, upwards of 1200 journalists have been murdered while reporting between 1992 and present-day.17 Their wide assortment of reportage topics has included business, human rights, crime, corruption, war, and even sports. However, among the beats covered by these victims, the majority of journalists are murdered while reporting on political issues; according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this constitutes an overwhelming forty-six percent of all homicide victims in the journalism industry.18 According to a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the ten countries where the press is most restricted, “Eritrea and North Korea are the first and second most censored countries worldwide.”19

This list continues with Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan and Vietnam as close successors. Overall, low-GDP, third-world nations, or states with highly oppressive authoritarian regimes are the worst jailers of journalists, especially with regard to politically unstable or controversial issues. However, political censorship of journalists is a problem even in democratic nations like the United States, although in a comparatively tacit manner. With regard to the American political milieu, journalists, already cajoled by sensationalism, feel pressure to adhere to the ‘political status-quo’ and tailor their writing to a larger audience; improved reception towards their stories appeases advertising revenue. Although this is justified from a marketing standpoint, it gradually begins to morph verisimilitude into sheer entertainment. The battle between the utopian feature stories people hope to hear and the inevitable truths they must hear fuels a climate of self-censorship, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as the “exercising of control over what one says and does, especially to avoid castigation.”20

 

  1.  Gottfried, Jeffrey, Michael Barthel, and Amy Mitchell. “Trump, Clinton Voters Divided in Their Main Source for Election News.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. January 18, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  2.  “IU Bloomington Newsroom.” IU survey: U.S. journalists say they are less satisfied and have less autonomy: IUB Newsroom: Indiana University. May 1, 2014. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  3.  White, Gillian B. “Where Are All the Minority Journalists?” The Atlantic. July 24, 2015. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  4. Ibid.
  5.  Mitchell, Amy, Jeffrey Gottfried, Jocelyn Kiley, and Katerina Eva Matsa. “Political Polarization & Media Habits.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. October 20, 2014. Accessed May 02, 2017.
  6. Ibid.
  7.  “A Study of Bias in the Associated Press – Censored Notebook, Investigative Research.” Project Censored. March 20, 2014. Accessed May 04, 2017.
  8.  Novotny, Eric. “Library Guides.” What is Fake News? – “Fake” News – Library Guides at Penn State University. February 10, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  9.  How to Spot Fake News. Library Policy and Advocacy Blog, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. Infographic. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  10.  Stelter, Brian. “Facebook to begin warning users of fake news before German election.” CNNMoney. January 15, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  11.  Waterfield, Bruno. “Marine Le Pen to face prosecution for comparing Muslims to Nazis.” The Telegraph. June 19, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  12.  Sakuma, Amanda. “Donald Trump Surrogates Have Their Own Baggage With Women Voters.” NBCNews.com. October 26, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  13.  Diamond, Jeremy. “Trump pushes ‘Buy American, Hire American’ policy in Wisconsin.” CNN. April 18, 2017. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  14.  Davis, Sara D. “More women accuse Donald Trump of aggressive sexual behavior – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. October 14, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  15.  Penny, Laurie. “Angela Merkel’s burqa ban is sexist, racist and wrong.” Angela Merkel’s burqa ban is sexist, racist and wrong. December 7, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  16.  “Handbook of Journalism.” Reuters. Accessed April 26, 2017.
  17.  “Journalists Killed since 1992.” Journalists Killed since 1992 – Committee to Protect Journalists. Accessed May 03, 2017.
  18. Ibid.
  19.  “10 Most Censored Countries.” Committee to Protect Journalists. Accessed May 03, 2017.
  20. “Self-Censorship.” Oxford Dictionaries. Accessed May 3, 2017.

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