April 8, 2009

Dems and Republicans Debate Implications of Current Media

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The Cornell Democrats and The College Republicans found common ground in Rockefeller Hall last night during a debate concerning media bias and its effect on civic education. The debate was sponsored by the newly founded Freedom and Free Societies. The sponsors of the debate defined civic education as education enabling citizens to make informed decisions concerning public policy and elected officials.
“Bias is inevitable,” said Prof. Barry Strauss, history, one of the judges of the debate. “You have to force yourself to look at different points of view regularly and accept [that] media bias is real.”
While both republicans and democrats agreed that bias exists within the media and results in the decline of civic education, they disagreed on why and how the bias is elicited.
With a flip of a coin, the C.U. Democrats began with their opening statement, citing accredited statistics to claim that Americans have become very distrustful of journalism. They reasoned that this distrust comes from the “decline of journalistic standards,” where journalists have abandoned their duty of civic education. The C.U. Democrats claimed that journalists have abandoned diligence and research and stopped challenging politicians “in efforts of equivocating non-partisanship.”
Furthermore, the C.U. Democrats asserted that the media has become more about “style over substance” and “feeling over fact.” They noted that the media does not report on the implications of the governmental policy, but instead comments on the performance of the politicians, asserting presentation rather than policy. The C.U. Democrats reasoned that because the media focuses on superficiality and entertainment rather than analysis, citizens are not being properly informed about the facts that harmed their civic education.
Though the College Republicans agreed bias has reduced trustworthy media as well as civic education, they offered a different perspective as to why bias exists. While C.U. Democrats emphasized ambiguity in media partisanship where reporting focuses on narratives and entertainment, College Republicans argued that it is “because of partisanship that has put journalistic integrity [into] question.”
College Republicans do not believe there is necessarily a decline in diligence and research, but rather a “fundamental decline in journalists being able to disregard their own partisanship” and inability to look at facts objectively.
The College Republicans cited a statistic from MSNBC that claimed that more journalists support liberal causes and further argued that most of the media today manifest a liberal bias. Furthermore, they cited statistics that claimed that many staff writers even assert and admit their Democratic partisanship.
Instead of presenting objective facts and allowing citizens to formulate their own informed decisions, “journalists want to influence and persuade [citizens],” the College Republicans asserted. Furthermore, the College Republicans claimed that “journalism without objectivity becomes propaganda” and puts democracy at stake.
When asked by the judges what objective reporting would look like, both parties agreed that it would be difficult to eliminate bias altogether. While College Republicans stated that objective journalism would entail facts and only facts, C.U. Democrats maintained the need for facts and clear analysis, seeing as how non-partisanship is almost impossible to achieve in today’s media.
“We need to be demanding in seeking out the facts,” Will Baldwin ’10 insisted. “People can go out there and embrace sources that are both entertaining and factual.”
“It’s not fair to expect objectivity from the media because people don’t demand objectivity,” Laura Johnson ’10 said, referring to the economics of news corporations. “They expect entertainment. Consumers would have to make it favorable to present objective journalism so [news corporations] can have favorable ratings.”
Despite the heavy emphasis on media bias in the debate, Holly Garnett ’10 remains optimistic in the integrity of journalism.
“I have faith in our journalists,” Garnett said. “If journalists fail [at their duty], people, such as bloggers, will call them out on it. For that reason, I don’t think journalists are the be-all-and-end-all of where people get their civic education.”