News Outlets Should Not Be Allowed to Capitalize on Grievance Culture Politics

News Outlets Fueling Grievance Culture

I will not relitigate the Kyle Rittenhouse case because many others are doing it far better than I ever could. I am more interested in examining the cultural climate that gives rise to “media celebrities” like him and why. The “why” is compelling for one key reason: there is evidence that suggests several major news outlets appear to deliberately fuel American grievance culture (paywalled) by blending punditry and entertainment. This practice has the potential to compromise the ethics and integrity of the constitutionally protected free press.

By now, I imagine you have seen or read about the latest brouhaha over Tucker Carlson. Carlson had a documentary film crew ready to capture Kyle Rittenhouse’s post-trial reactions and scored an exclusive interview with him, which was viewed by 5 million people. Yet, this is not the latest Carlson-centered circumstance that pushed some of his colleagues out of the door. The tipping point for former Fox News commentators Jonah Goldberg and Steven Hayes was the network’s plan to allow Carlson to state false claims about the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the United States Capitol.

While Carlson and several Fox News reporters are on the extreme side of the performative news punditry spectrum, the other two large cable news networks, CNN and MSNBC, also frequently jump into the fold of raging against their competitors and their competitors’ viewers. I believe that this behavior contributes to the erosion of the American peoples’ trust in journalists.

The US has a rich cultural legacy upholding its press corps from its early days as British North America. The nation’s first printing press arrived in 1638 to be what is described as an “auxiliary enterprise” of Harvard College. Over 60 years later, the Boston News-Letter was published in 1704, followed by other publications throughout the colonies. The remaining details on the growth of the American press are history.

It was largely understood that the press must attempt to be objective in the majority of its coverage. But many of us know that accurate media coverage in the US remains elusive and is prejudged. In fact, biased media coverage could contribute to the growing mistrust Americans have toward the press.

Rather than seize this delicate moment in history to work toward restoring the public’s faith and trust, cable news outlets opt to double down on arousing emotions by volleying grievances daily to garner ratings. For Fox News, the formula is working. It has yet to be determined if the same strategy is working for CNN and MSNBC.

The academy’s journalism programs have taken some blows in enrollment, prestige, and value over the past two decades. However, this should not mean that these schools, and higher education writ large, should not stand up for journalistic ethics and principles such as fact-based statements. Higher education must challenge “acts of journalism” that are being boiled down into inflammatory and possibly dangerous rhetoric. Disinformation has become the norm in the US, with deadly effects. Higher education should throw its collective weight in support of protecting the press and standing against any so-called journalists whipping up grievances to draw ratings.

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.