Ruminations January 26, 2014
Is Fox News dividing the country?
-- Tom Ashbrook, host of National Public Radio’s On Point, had this lead in to last Monday’s show: “[Roger] Ailes as controlling, angry, fear-mongering, manipulative. His creation, Fox, as having divided the country. Of course, Fox isn’t alone on the field of politically-charged cable news. There’s MSNBC, doing its thing round the clock.”
Aside from the perfunctory reference to MSNBC, the show was dedicated to the problems of Fox News providing, in the opinion of Ashbrook and his callers, misinformation to the general public. Is it true? Is Fox dividing the nation?
In a sense, Fox is dividing the nation. Consider the broadcasters on the left (including those left of center to the leftist-extremists): MSNBC, PBS, ABC, NBC, and CBS. Now consider those on the right: Fox. If it weren’t for Fox, there would be no division at all.
Is this good? Of course. Only in totalitarian societies is there one and only one interpretation of the news. Should we sit back and relax? Hardly.
When Ashbrook and his guests discuss Fox News it is not from the perspective of differing views but more from the perspective of “how can Fox get things so wrong and why do people listen to them?” One caller said that she had recently moved from Madison, Wisconsin – a liberal bastion – to the boondocks of Wisconsin. She was clearly upset that others in her new area had wrong views and were being presented with the wrong information by Fox. It never dawned on her or Ashbrook that there was a different interpretation of events or that the ex-Madison caller could have been wrong (Note that the caller never specifically stated what her conservative opponents were wrong about – just that they were wrong).
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at New York University and a self-professed liberal, undertook a study in which he surveyed some 2,000 Americans. William Saletan, who reviewed Haidt’s book in The New York Times, said that "Haidt found that self-described liberals, especially those who called themselves ‘very liberal,’ were worse at predicting the moral judgments of moderates and conservatives than moderates and conservatives were at predicting the moral judgments of liberals. Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.”
Todd Zywicki writing in the Volokh Conspiracy summarized Haidt’s survey results as follows: “moderates and conservatives can understand the liberal worldview and liberals are unable to relate to the conservative worldview, especially when it comes to questions of care and fairness. In short, Haidt's research suggests that many liberals really do believe that conservatives are heartless bastards--or as a friend of mine once remarked, ‘Conservatives think that liberals are good people with bad ideas, whereas liberals think conservatives are bad people.’”
Five principles. Haidt talks about five principles within society. They are harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity. Liberals tend to be concerned with just the first two – harm/care and fairness/reciprocity. Conservatives are also concerned with the first two but they are also concerned with the other three. As Saletan says, “…Haidt’s startling message to the left [is] [w]hen it comes to morality, conservatives are more broad-minded than liberals. …The hardest part … is getting liberals to open their minds.” It follow that conservatives have a greater ability to understand liberals’ worldview than liberals ability to understand conservatives.
Back to Fox. Putting On Point in perspective, it does make the views of the host and participants more understandable, although, according to Haidt, that’s not the conservatives’ problem.
While Fox’s motto of “fair and balanced” may not be 100 percent accurate (it does tip to the right) it does make an attempt at fairness. Consider liberals who regularly appear or have appeared on the network: Dennis Kucinich, Al Sharpton, Mara Liasson, Kirstin Powers, Sally Kohn, the late Geraldine Ferraro and Juan Williams (who was fired by NPR for appearing on Fox News).
But has Fox deliberately put out false information as did The New York Times when they called the Tucson shooting by apolitical Jared Lee Loughner “political violence,” for which the Tea Party and Republicans were largely responsible?
And then there was CBS with a caption put over an image of then candidate George W. Bush which read, “Snipers wanted.”
Is Fox divisive? One could make the argument that it is the mainstream media that has created the divisiveness by choosing to present only one side of the news. The sad part is that liberals, in spite of Haidt, will never take a self-examination because they have the reinforcement of the mainstream media. And the mainstream media reinforces its own prejudices – including the prejudice that Fox News is a misinformation provider.
Because liberals tend to listen only to their own supporters we will need more people like Jonathan Haidt and fewer like Tom Ashbrook.
Quote without comment
Jonathan Haidt, writing in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, 2012: “But [Dale] Carnegie was in fact a brilliant moral psychologist who grasped one of the deepest truths about conflict. He used a quotation from Henry Ford to express it: ‘If there is any one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own.’ It’s such an obvious point, yet few of us apply it in moral and political arguments because our righteous minds so readily shift into combat mode.”