If you’re a Republican, you probably think this op-ed is “fake news.” Indeed, a full 92 percent of Republicans believe that news sources “report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading” either “a lot or sometimes,” according to a recent Axios/SurveyMonkey poll.
But it’s not just Republicans. Democrats (53 percent) and Independents (79 percent) are similarly skeptical.
What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Or to communicate effectively, at least, with trust and credibility.
It’s not just the news media that Republicans and Democrats doubt; they also mistrust each other. Not exactly a newsflash, but the situation entails more than a lack of trust; it’s actually a lack of understanding about who comprises the political parties.
Scholars Douglas Ahler and Gaurav Sood found that “Americans overall are fairly misinformed about who is in each major party — and that members of each party are even more misinformed about who is in the other party.”
While this might not be a newsflash, it is more evidence of growing partisanship. What’s so bad about that?
“The danger of mega-partisan identity is that it encourages citizens to care more about partisan victory than about real policy outcomes,” said Lilliana Mason, a University of Maryland political scientist. “We find ways to justify almost any governmental policy as long as it is the policy of our own team. What is best for America, Americans, or even small children is secondary to whether our party’s team gets what it demanded.”
Small children? That’s a timely topic, considering the circumstances on the southern border where the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance policy” forced the separation of migrant children from their parents. Party affiliation is a good indicator of whether one supports or denounces the policy.
A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that while 66 percent of all American voters opposed the policy, 55 percent of Republican voters were in support. It’s largely a matter of what team you play for, Red or Blue.
Life can be so simple when viewed in this way: Red vs. Blue, Conservative vs. Liberal, Build That Wall vs. Give Us Your Huddled Masses. Once again, another boring newsflash: Life’s not that simple.
Looking deeper into the controversy surrounding separated migrant families, much of the debate is summed up by one side arguing that people breaking the law deserve consequences (e.g., your children get taken away) and the other side asserting that even illegal immigrants deserve human decency. Boiling down this issue into two simplistic sides, however, ignores the complex history of immigration on the Mexican border.
Limited space here prohibits an exhaustive explanation, but let’s just say the problem is “nuanced,” according to Stephanie Leutert, the Director of the Mexico Security Initiative at the University of Texas.
“First off, while the current administration has tried to tie Central American migrants to MS-13, government data reveals that gang members crossing irregularly are the rare exceptions,” she wrote. “The current crisis hasn’t been caused by a sudden influx of migration, either. The peak in apprehensions of irregular migrants actually took place some 17 years ago.”
“Yet there’s no one simple description of a migrant,” Leutert continued. “To understand Central American migrants means first abandoning the depiction of the ‘Northern Triangle’ of Central America as a homogenous region. All three countries (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) have different histories and contemporary political realities, along with varying security and development indicators that help explain today’s situation.”
The point is that most news items are too complicated to be boiled down to “either/or” issues; doing so only presents a “false dilemma.” To truly understand our world, we must break out of this “us vs. them” thinking. Easier said than done, considering a recent Pew Research Center study that found Americans increasingly incapable of separating fact from opinion.
So let’s connect the dots: As Americans become ever divided into political camps, they distrust each other more, discredit the news media more, and lose the ability to differentiate fact from opinion — all resulting in a skewed vision of the world. I could pin my hopes on teaching people media literacy, but I’m beginning to believe it would be futile. People nowadays are just going to believe whatever they want to believe.
Besides, there’s a 92 percent chance that Republicans will discredit the words here anyway — if they even bothered to read them.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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