Editorial: The illusion of balance

The United States has now gone a full week with a government shutdown in place. Federal offices are not functioning, government employees have been sent home from work and our economy is taking a major hit. However, our government is not the only thing failing us right now. Major media is, as well.

We at The Concordian have been following coverage of the government shutdown and taking note of the way in which mainstream media is portraying the event. It is not doing so justly.

The purpose of the media is to give the public a thorough and accurate depiction of current events. Often media outlets understand this to mean they ought to give both sides of an argument an equal amount of airtime or space. In doing so, however, the media legitimizes both sides of the argument. It is not always the case that both sides of an argument are correct. In a failed attempt to report the news in a “fair and balanced” manner, the media actually works to further misinform the American people by giving credence to both sides of an argument.

Coverage of the current shutdown is essentially a game of he-says-he-says (thanks to the underrepresentation of female members of Congress) rather than an informational breakdown of the current situation. The electorate is horribly uninformed about the current situation. They are uninformed about exactly why they got to the point where their country is without a functioning government, and news sources are doing little to explain the situation.

Instead of focusing on the blame being thrown around on the all-but-deserted Hill, news media must explain to the viewers why our government has been taken hostage by a minority faction. This minority faction has refused to cooperate unless a piece of legislation approved by Congress, the American people and the Supreme Court is defunded. Instead of hearing this story, however, viewers are likely to just hear that Speaker Boehner and President Obama are exchanging heated words.

A functioning country needs a well-informed electorate. To have a well-informed electorate, a country needs quality media outlets. Media in the United States is failing its audience.

News sources are failing to report the news, and the American people are paying the price. They just do not know it.

This editorial was written by The Concordian Editorial Staff.

1 Comment

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    The spirit of this editorial is nice, but there are some flaws that I think need to be addressed. The piece closes by discussing how a functioning “country” needs a well informed electorate. I think the proper would here would have been functioning “democracy.” But that is beside the point. I think the issue that needs to be addressed is the significance of sensationalized news and how that turns off citizens.

    There are more than a few quality news sources in this country; they just require some effort to find. Buy beyond that, it is up to the citizens themselves to take the time to become informed. We cannot and should not be spoon fed our news. What goes on in the Capitol, the actual politics, is not worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster, let alone a primetime drama. But what goes on there is still important, and citizens need to be aware. Unfortunately, we live in a country where news companies have to compete for viewership and showing video of Harry Reid and Ted Cruz politely insulting each other on the Senate floor does not make for good ratings. So, while taking the time to actually learn about what’s going might not be the most glamorous or exciting undertaking, our citizens and democracy will certainly be better for it.

    Americans are indeed paying the price for our current predicament. Yet, it seems the blame game is on the media and congress. Citizens need to step up and become more engaged. Our votes are in many ways the most powerful tool we have in shaping the direction of our country, but what is a vote if it is backed by ignorance and misinformation? As Concordia encourages students to be responsibly engaged in the world, I think the past three months have been a prime example of what this engagement should look like. From the Syria debacle, to Obamacare and the government shutdown, to the debt ceiling crisis, we are living in extraordinary times and we should appreciate that.

    It’s not easy to accept fault, but the issues raised in this weeks editorial go far beyond the media. I would hope that the Concordian’s goal is more than just saying that citizens should be upset with media. Going forward, hopefully they can encourage students to continue to become engaged.

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