On the front lines of America’s culture wars: Cable news
Every day when I wake up, I turn on cable TV news to see what I missed while I was sleeping. I stopped expecting anything that even vaguely resembles an honest, down-the-middle newscast a long time ago. Biased journalism is not exactly something new. But what I’m getting now on a seemingly endless loop is something new, I think — or, at least, something different.
What I’m witnessing now, each morning, is America’s divisive culture war playing out on television. So even before breakfast, we’re being fed a steady diet of information that divides us, that tries to convince us that “the other side” is not simply wrong but is on a mission to destroy America. What a lovely way to start the day, right?
On Fox, we get the same culture war stories every day — stories about the mess on our southern border, about mask mandates, about parents upset with what their kids are being taught in public schools. They’re all legitimate stories, but it’s as if nothing else is going on in the world.
On CNN, they’re still obsessed with Donald Trump. Tune in any morning — or for that matter, almost any time during the day or night — and you’ll get a lot about Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, which CNN anchors routinely call an “insurrection.”
On Fox, mask mandates are bad, a threat to personal freedoms. On CNN, mask mandates are good, they save lives. On Fox, you get the impression that Dr. Anthony Fauci is a disaster. On CNN, he’s a national treasure. On Fox, you’ll see dramatic, newsworthy video of massive caravans moving north from Central America to the United States. This is not a story in which CNN is especially interested. No one tunes into Fox News to hear what a great job President Biden is doing, and no one tunes in to CNN to hear what a lousy job he’s doing — or that Donald Trump wasn’t responsible for the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The fact is that cable news — because the line between news and opinion is blurry, at best — has become one of the most divisive institutions in all of America.
A recent poll conducted by the University of Virginia’s (nonpartisan) Center for Politics found that roughly 52 percent of Americans who voted for Trump either “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that it’s time to divide America into two separate countries, with either red states or blue states seceding from the union.
Fewer Democrats who voted for Joe Biden agree, but still a large number — 42 percent — want the same thing: the breakup of the United States of America along ideological lines.
There’s been talk about secession before in this country, and not only in 1860 in the lead-up to the Civil War. But mainly it’s been nothing more than idle chatter coming from the fringe. Not anymore — not if those poll numbers are even close to being correct.
And there’s more. From the right, George Mason University’s F.H. Buckley has a book out, “American Secession,” in which he argues that “there’s much to be said for an American breakup.” And from the left, The Nation’s Richard Kreitner’s book, “Break It Up,” contends that “we must finally finish the work of Reconstruction or give up on the Union entirely.”
It would be unfair to lay all the blame on cable news for what we’ve become: the Divided States of America. But it would be unrealistic to believe that cable news bears no responsibility for the deep divisions in our country.
Cable news didn’t create those divisions, but cable news’s relentless repetition of the same hot-button culture war issues has made the divisions worse. And the more cable news panders to its audience, the more the “news” people throw red meat to their viewers, the more they rile them up and entice them to come back for more — the more divided we become.
The culture war that tears the two sides apart may not be good for America, but it’s good for the cable news business. There’s lots of money, after all, in turning Americans against each other.
Bernard Goldberg is an Emmy and an Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University award-winning writer and journalist. He was a correspondent with HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years and previously worked as a reporter for CBS News and as an analyst for Fox News. He is the author of five books and publishes exclusive weekly columns, audio commentaries and Q&As on his Patreon page. Follow him on Twitter @BernardGoldberg.
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