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Parking In Information Safe Zones

There is more evidence—as if we needed it—about the increasing political polarization of America.

A New York Times report on Nielsen ratings for the two political conventions shows that viewership on liberal networks increased during the Democratic convention, while conservative TV attracted more viewers during the Republican convention.

Specifically, 45 percent of viewership for the Republican convention went to Fox News. The rest was divided among the other five major networks.

That figure is higher than 2016, when it was 30 percent, and 36 percent in 2012.

MSNBC’s viewership surged to 30 percent of Democratic National convention viewership, up from 18 percent during the previous two conventions.

David Axelrod, a Democratic strategist and CNN political analyst, told the Times, “It speaks to the larger point that we are siloed in our media choices.  We have a polarized country, and that is reflected in the media choices we make.  We have an opportunity to create virtual reality worlds that affirm our points of view.”

This trend does prompt a “chicken-or-the-egg” debate.  Is Axelrod correct that we choose coverage that best represents our views or are media outlets orienting their coverage to what their viewers want?

It is possible that both are true, and that we are caught in a loop that grows ever tighter.

This trend creates safe media spaces for consumers, but it is bad for democracy. How can citizens and policy makers be expected to search for common ground, while treating each other with respect and decency, if they have shut themselves off from other points of view?

“We are more polarized than we were in 2012 and 2008,” Axelrod told the paper.” The elasticity in the electorate is even less. It wasn’t great then; it’s even less now.”

As a talk show host and commentator, one of my ongoing challenges is to consider perspectives that are different from my own.  Frankly, I often fail.  My tendency is to search out information that reinforces what I think I know and to gather selected facts that bolster an argument.

That habit is rooted in fear, a fear of finding out I am wrong, a fear of having my world view upset by new information. The motivation for self-preservation is strong.

But it is also stagnating. I was watching a documentary about the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards over the weekend.  About aging he said, “I’m not getting older, I’m evolving.”

Mr. Richards certainly has his faults, but he has a practical approach to remaining fresh and relevant.  Evolution means change, growth, and development, and that comes from being open to new or different information.

I used to think that the expansion of news sources meant we would be exposed to a broader cross section of ideas, but it is not headed that way.  Instead we simply have more opportunities to find our own information safe zone.



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