In Andrew Perrin’s American Democracy, Perrin makes the argument that developments of the media over time have caused audience fragmentation. Mainly media conglomerates and institutionalized ownership of media cause isolation of ideas, and audience fragmentation and polarization by both media producers and publics.

Perrin claims that this current landscape is a concern for democracy. I would agree with that to a certain extent, but I was curious that he placed all the blame on the media for putting democracy at risk so-to-speak. I would instead argue that publics also play a large part in fragmenting themselves. If we, the publics, wanted to, we could seek out opposing opinions from different news sources.

The argument that the current media landscape creates an environment where it is easier to create an echo chamber — only listening to news that one agrees with — is true. However, Perrin doesn’t address the responsibility that the public holds in maintaining democracy too. The responsibility is a little unrealistic, but in a perfect scenario every citizen would find a somewhat neutral news source, and seek out opinions that may oppose what they usually agree with. Perrin’s book places the brunt of the burden on the media.

Perrin articulates that in the vertical structure of democracy, media, attentiveness, public opinion, voting and deliberation are components that provide a way for citizens’ preferences to be heard by the government and the government to get information to citizens. However, he picks out the media as being the only flaw in the system dissolving the intended connection between the public and government.

Even though I disagree with the extent to which Perrin blames the media for the ideological polarization of public, I want to point out how the media coverage of the Affordable Care Act contributed to the polarization of the publics on the issue. It becomes evident here that if the public cared to pay attention to coverage from different sources, they might be able to resurrect the marketplace of ideas and make a more informed decision than in the echo chamber they create for themselves.

The article “Health Care Reform VS. Obamacare”: Partisan Framing of Fox, MSNBC, NYT, and WSJ by Jeasik Ha extensively analyzes the phenomenon of how big (meaning widely dispersed, popular and relied-upon) media sources have aided in polarizing the public over the issue of healthcare.

The piece breaks down how different outlets frame the issue of healthcare. More conservative outlets, Fox and The Wall Street Journal, tended to frame the issue by comparing our nation under the Affordable Care Act to other countries in a negative way. More liberally-leaning outlets MSNBC and The New York Times highlighted the fact that our nation is already behind as a fully industrialized country with no globalized healthcare.

A major point the article makes is that the use of diction between the more liberal and conservative news sources helped to further fragment the public, polarizing them on the topic of healthcare by creating communities of people that understand the same language. Fox, The O’Reilly Factor and The WSJ consistently use the term “ObamaCare” to refer to the Affordable Care Act, which according to Ha was used almost exclusively to criticize the legislation, consequently trivializing it. Therefore, those who listened to and watched Fox or The O’Reilly Factor and read The WSJ were likely to identify with the “ObamaCare” meaning of the Affordable Care Act. MSNBC and The NYT often referred to the Affordable Care Act simply as “Health Care Reform” which frames the issue in a more positive light.

Jimmy Kimmel may have summed it up best in this video, in which he asks people on the street if the prefer the Affordable Care Act or ObamaCare.

I argued before that citizens who sought out opposing views and consumed news from different media outlets would have a less fragmented view on public policy issues. However this video (although surely edited to show the most ill-informed citizens) suggests in an exaggerated way that most people do not critically analyze media coverage but tend to catch bits and pieces along the way.

Ha’s article investigates the echo chamber that specific language creates, supporting to a certain extent Perrin’s argument that media consolidation decreases the agonistic public sphere.


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